Love at First Light

Backcountry Brookies and Rainbow Trout That Are Worth the Trek

After the Bay of Quinte outing spent with some inspiring women, I knew it was only a matter of time before we were back on the water together. Or in this case, ice.

I headed out on a Friday evening making my way to meet the ladies at Calabogie Lodge Resort. Lori, Jeannine, and Ashley were already there, heating up pulled pork for dinner, instantly turning the workweek into the weekend.

Shortly after dinner, the dining room table was strewn with ice gear, while Ashley filled us in on all the tips she’s learned over her years of hard water angling. We stay up far too late discussing our game plan, eventually breaking away from one another to get some sleep, deciding 5:30 am would be our wake-up call.

Lori was nice enough to supply us with a four-wheeler and a snowmobile to get us into the pristine backcountry lakes we mapped out. We were definitely the first ones on the trails. At -24° C that morning, I don’t blame others for waiting until daybreak.

These ladies could’ve been complaining about the cold, and having to lug all of the gear, but instead of dread they were filled with enthusiasm, and it was contagious. Without sounding ungrateful for all of the amazing fishing partners I’ve had, it’s an incredible experience to have found this camaraderie with fellow female anglers, and we had only known one another for a few months.

As the sun rose, we arrived at the first lake. Rainbow trout were on the docket this morning. Ashley went out with her spud and spikes to check the ice. Since this lake was new to us all during the winter, we weren’t going to risk it.

When we knew the ice was plenty safe, we drilled all of our holes at once so we wouldn’t be making unnecessary noise as the day went on. After all, we came all this way for the quiet, and that’s the way trout like it too.

Our morning was slow, and I missed two very aggressive hits (story of my life), moments later we hear Jenn call “Fish!”

Ashley and I bolted to the point Lori and Jenn had been hole-hopping. On the drop of her tube, Lori had hooked a beautiful rainbow that was full of vim and vigour. We grabbed a couple of shots, then Lori guided it back into the water to swim another day.

As Ashley and I discussed possibly moving our gear over, Jenn sets the hook on another fish. Funny how fish either prove us dead wrong or steer us just right.

Staying until dark, we loaded our gear in the sleds, joking about winter camping so we wouldn’t have to leave the lake for civilization.

Ashley and I went without fish that day, but seeing Jenn and Lori both catch fish on their home water through the ice was well worth our dry spell. Lori even caught her first Ontario trout that day – and she didn’t stop with rainbows.

Up next were brook trout. Heading in at first light, we were once again the first ones on the trails. A different lake meant another ice check. This lake was slightly smaller, but the access was considerably further away from where we wanted to fish. Discovering there was more than enough ice, we brought the four-wheeler out to save our backs dragging the huts and augers.

Jenn and Lori would drill the holes, I’d clear them, and Ashley would hole-hop with her sonar to check depths, cleverly writing them in the snow beside each hole. Just another trick I learned from Ashley on this trip.

We had perfect harmony in our teamwork, I can’t stress enough how much more fun that made our outings. You’d swear we’d been fishing together for our entire lives.

I kept gravitating to two holes that sat at 17 feet deep; something felt right about the way the shoreline dipped down suddenly, and the scraggly cedars on the crumbling rock hinted there may be fallen trees below.

Without a sonar, I relied on dropping my bait down until my line went slack, then doing a short reel crank to keep it just off bottom. When my bait, a spoon tipped with wax worms, went unnoticed for about five minutes, I decided to reel in a bit more line. I guessed I was sitting about 10 feet down when I got my first hit. I lost what was clearly a brook trout right at the hole.

A few moments later, I did the same thing: hit bottom, reeled up to 10, and I was on another fish. They had officially found the spoon in the tea-stained water below.

All brook trout are gorgeous in my mind, but being my first fish of the year, it was extra special. I marvelled at its perfect blue dots, Ashley got a quick photograph, and back to the water it went.

Once I caught three more, the fish schooled over to Ashley and Lori’s baits that were sitting in holes of 21 feet. They may not have been monsters, but that didn’t stop us from running each and every time to see one another’s catches. By mid-afternoon, we practically had highways in the snow between each hole just from running to take photos.

As a group, we’re already planning our ice fishing expeditions for next season. We have high hopes for at least one northern Ontario trip to target more trout species, and our winter camping aspirations may become real. For now, you’ll find us, or not, on the backcountry lakes of central Ontario.

About Alyssa Lloyd

Alyssa Lloyd is a photojournalist based out of Kenora working with Ontario's Sunset Country. The outdoors has been the center of her work and personal life for as long as she can remember. As an angler, Alyssa spends most of her time time chasing multiple species on both conventional and fly gear. 

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