Epic Ice in Northwestern Ontario
Talk about an early Christmas present. With the lack of snow combined with crisp cold nights, the ice is building up brilliantly across Northern Ontario with very few, if any, reports of slush. I've been out several times now and last week drove the quad over 14 inches of solid blue ice. With that being said, it is shaping up to be one of the best ice-fishing seasons ever.
"The ice is early compared to most years," says Fort Frances-based ice angler Tom Batiuk, who is also the Marketing Manager for HSM Outdoors. "It was early last year, too, my first trip being on November 20. I was able to duplicate that again this season.
"I walked out for crappies, one of my favourite fish to target on early ice. I found them in the basin, right where they should be, and my wife and I enjoyed a stellar four hours of fishing."
Batiuk says that with the minimal snow cover on the thousands of small and medium-sized lakes in Northwestern Ontario, conditions are perfect for pulling a small sled with your gear. But he is really looking forward to the days ahead when he can snowmobile into the backcountry.
"My favourite thing is to do is make new tracks in fresh snow on remote waters for some of the best fishing that Northwestern Ontario has to offer," says Batiuk. "Lake trout, walleyes and crappies are my favourite species. In the Fort Frances area, you’re only limited by the amount of gas you can carry in your snowmobile. There are portages and trapping trails into almost every fishable body of water, so I spend hours on Google Earth formulating plans for the next remote adventure."
Buddy Michael Stokes, who runs Shangri-la Camp in Sioux Narrows and specializes in ice fishing expeditions in his Ice Castle, agrees that it is looking a lot like Christmas and a fantastic year for hard water angling.
"The weather has provided the area with a smooth and constant decline in temperature," says Stokes, who adds that the many small and medium-sized lakes, as well as Lake of the Woods bays, have a solid foundation of clear ice.
"I haven’t dropped any lines down holes in the ice yet," chuckles Stokes, "but that all changes tomorrow. Black crappies be warned!"
A little further north, in the Sioux Lookout region, guide Colin Gosse has been ice fishing for almost three weeks now and with the perfect ice-making conditions, he expects anglers will be adding extensions to their augers early this winter.
"I hit the ice for the first time on November 27," says Gosse. "It was just a quick two-hour fish, but I enjoyed the best lunch possible. Fresh speckled trout. Our area lakes have a foot of ice with minimal snow cover. The bigger lakes, like Lac Seul and Minntaki, have 10 to 12 inches. If the lack of snow continues, I expect we'll need auger extensions by mid-winter. And with this solid base, I think we're looking at a great safe ice season with minimal slush."
Like a lot of anglers, Gosse first targets the numerous small and medium-sized trout lakes that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources stocks each year.
"I have the same addiction that you have with squaretails," Gosse chuckles. "I usually target specks, splake and rainbows first, but I'll throw in the occasional trip to the Dryden area for black crappies as well. I want to target walleye, whitefish and northern pike more this winter if I can pull myself away from the crazy lake trout fishing.
"I look forward the most to targeting the prehistoric trout in Minnitaki Lake, while still going after the other species for action. Minnitaki is my favourite lake because there is nothing better than catching giant trout on light tackle."
Over in Dryden, a good friend and local guide, John Jakobs started the ice fishing season with a big bang.
"I went over to Clark's Resort on Edward Lake to fish for walleye," says Jakobs, "and there was well over a foot of ice. I drove my truck right out to Wayne's heated shack. He said it would take me five minutes to catch a limit, but he was wrong, it took eight minutes. I did catch and release a 22-inches, though, so if I had kept it, he would have been right. It was the shortest start to the season ever."
Finally, in the Thunder Bay region, Nate Andrychuk, the much-in-demand guide at Moosehorn Lodge during the open water season, says the lack of snow and cold weather is making for high-quality ice and perfect fishing conditions.
"I expect the ice to keep building up quickly," says Andrychuk. "The longer we go with little snow, the faster it is going to thicken. First, ice is always a great time to be on hard water. The fishing is always good.
"This time of year I am running around my hometown of Thunder Bay hitting the local speckle trout lakes. It is just a blast fishing for them. I venture over to Nipigon a lot as well. There is amazing fishing in that area.
"I can’t wait to get out for lake trout again. They are probably my favourite fish in the winter. I know it is hard to beat ice fishing for walleye, but those lakers just get your blood pumping. My favourite baits are hair jigs tipped with minnows and Jigging Rap. The fishing is always great, but I am especially looking forward to the good times with family and friends. There is something special about sitting in a warm ice hut with good people, eating good food and catching fish. It is hard to beat."