Ice-Out Opportunities in Ontario
Arguably the most wonderful time of the year for anglers but not just because you can make it to the boat launch. Ice-out spring conditions offer anglers a chance to dip their feet into unchartered waters targeting fish they don’t normally spend their seasons on.
Spring is also one of the best times of year to figure out new-to-you bodies of water. New weed growth and in some cases high water can help you explore structure you never knew was there. And sure, not every fish on this list will be the apple of your eye, but if you can figure out these fish, you can learn more about the fish you target. Because as we know, it’s a fish-eat-fish world out there.
Understanding more species, and targeting more species will make you become a better angler. Plus, while you’re waiting for your season, whether it be muskie, walleye, or bass to open, here are some fish in the same food chain to try your hand at.
Lake Trout or Splake
Perhaps one of the easiest times to catch any trout species is in the spring. Lake trout come in shallow to feed on other fishes’ fry, insect hatches, crayfish you name it. Lakers turn into eating machines as soon as that thermocline snaps and that’s not even the best part.
The best part is you can fish right from shore for them if you happen to be landlocked, a unique opportunity indeed. There’s a short window period of about three weeks to get out there and target these otherwise finicky beasts from the depths, so don’t waste it.
Though pike are willing eaters year-round, if you want big girls in shallow water, a great time to target them is as soon as the ice is off. They’ve already spawned, but they are hanging around shallow weed beds with deep drops putting their feed bags on.
Look for reefs with reeds on them, 3- to 8-foot weed beds and fallen lumber. If you have a fishing kayak, take advantage of those warm spring days to work on your sunglasses tan while you cast towards heavy structure in skinny water.
Be sure to check regulations before targeting these before the third weekend in May when most of Ontario opens for pike. There are plenty of year-round opportunities, but you don’t want to make the mistake of going for them too early where it isn’t allowed.
Carp are not often referred to as a cold water target, but they still need to eat. On those warm sunny days about a week after ice out, you’ll start to notice a transition in their patterns. If you’re going to go for carp in the spring, first off, be aware of when/where they are spawning, and like all good sportsmen, let them do their things.
Secondly, carp are active in the spring but the bite will be in the late afternoon to the evening, so don’t rush down to the water in the morning and get fed up halfway through the day and leave.
Don’t just rig bottom baits for them, try baits a couple of feet down in the water column, or just below the surface, cold water carp behave differently than in the summer.
Stocked brook trout are most often open year-round. Check the fishing regulations in your area to see if there are any additional opportunities.
Brook trout are a real treat for all anglers. Why not do a hike into a scenic brook trout lake, set up a campfire pit, and cast from shore? Come spring, brookies can be found in anywhere from 25 feet to 1 foot of water, perfect for shore fishing or portaging in a light canoe.
Had I not been such a slow learner, I would have started targeting panfish a lot sooner. From bluegills to crappies, panfish offer a wide variety of tactics and techniques. You can find them in weed beds, fallen lumber, or even sand bars in the spring.
Steelhead and Brown Trout
These fish are no secret to anglers come springtime. Browns can be found in just about every great lakes tributary in southern Ontario and steelhead can be caught in every great lakes tributary across Ontario.
Rainbow trout can also be caught in lakes where seasons permit, take advantage of stocked lakes and head up with small watercraft, or walk the shore!
Now we wait
In just a few short weeks, the ice will diminish and we can all finally get back on open water. In your excitement, don’t forget that most of these opportunities can be taken advantage of right from the shore. Using both conventional and fly fishing gear, your open-water season is right around the corner!