Abitibi Lake Ice Fishing Adventure

This is the first time I’ve started an ice fishing adventure with a trip to the mall but according to my partner, my 13-year-old daughter who simply must have the right shoes for her grade 8 graduation, not stopping to shop in Timmins would be unacceptable. We’re on our way to giant Abitibi Lake, north of Highway 101 and straddling the Québec border, and after the purchase of a pair of sleek black heels we’re back on the road. “You’ll want to wear some heavy socks with those on Abitibi Lake,” I say.

James and Islay Smedley on Lake Abitibi

East of the town of Matheson we are on the lookout for the Munro Lake Road where we meet our guide Steve Trimmer and his friend Guy Lauzon, an ice fishing veteran of the 70-km long, 20 km wide lake.  At times it would be possible to snowmobile up the road but it’s late March and the ploughed bush road has large sections of gravel and mud between packed snow so we drive up to the 20km mark to unload. After a 15km snowmobile ride we arrive at Abitibi Lake’s Chesney Bay and follow Steve and Guy to an area about a km out from the mouth of the Abitibi River. There are dozens of other parties fishing and large ice shacks dot the six km-wide Bay. “How do you decide where to fish,” I ask. Steve and Guy shrug and explain that it’s all about the same depth. “Just choose a spot and fish,” says Steve.

Sure enough every hole we sink has about six feet of water. “The fish bite all through the day,” says Guy as he hauls in a small ling followed closely by several 16-inch walleye. I jig various presentations and results come with a small buckshot rattle spoon with a minnow head or tail on the treble. I land a 21-inch walleye and Steve follows with a 22-inch fish from his set line. When Islay finally gets her portable camo tent set up, complete with sleeping bag, snacks, book and ipod, she starts catching a mixture of walleye and sauger.

The crews first catches on Lake Abitibi

The first thing we notice is how light in colour the fish are. If their eyes were red the ling, sauger and walleye would look albino, especially in contrast to Abitibi’s ultra dark waters. The other surprise is the abundance of mooneye, a silver plate-like fish with large yellow eyes. “I think there’s a guy in Matheson who pickles them,” says Guy. Although Islay wants to try eating one, or better yet, bring a small one home for a pet, we decide to release the little silver fish.

Guy was right, the walleye and other Abitibi Lake inhabitants bite well through the long, warm sunny day. Although there’s plenty of daylight left, we pull the plug at 6pm, head back into town for dinner and to prepare for the next day on the ice. 

Change of Scenery

Next morning we leave Guy to his day job but Steve’s 13-year-old son Patrick joins us on a narrow trail off Hwy. 101, eventually linking up with the Ghost River. We follow the river to Ghost River Bay then head north on the lake about 8km to the far shore.


Family fishing on Lake Abitibi with James Smedley

Once again there is a consistent depth and no structure so we choose a spot out of the growing wind, tucked in behind a small island. “You know if you were really tall you’d have a hard time drowning in Abitibi Lake, its all six feet deep,” I say as I set up my pop up shelter and Islay spreads out her sleeping bag in her camo tent. “Well I’m barely 5 feet Dad,” says Islay and we pledge to stay clear of potential danger areas like the narrows between the two main sections of Abitibi a few km to the Northwest.

Islay sets up a jigging rod on a balance in front of her tent and immediately starts getting mooneye. By the time these persistent little fish thin out and the sauger and walleye start hitting, Islay is deep into a book and the consistent bite narrowly out-competes the allure of her comfortable tent. In fact, some bites go undetected for extended periods and Patrick and I are forced to take up the slack.

I’m reluctant to leave my shelter because the action is steady and I’m feeding the filet knife of Steve Trimmer. A life-long angler Steve admits to being new in the guiding business but he performs his duties with expertise and enthusiasm, producing heaps of fried potatoes and fish served on pieces of thick brown paper. The meal helps to ward off the chill but the steadily increasing wind is driving big wet flakes and visibility is diminishing. Islay holds off as long as she can and then say’s what we’re all thinking. “Maybe we should go now.”

By the time we’re packed up it’s a total white out and I have to fire up the GPS to ensure we avoid the narrows and make it back to our trucks at the end of the Ghost River Trail. After a long slow ride we’re back at the truck and on the road, heater blasting.

On the way home I agree to stop at the mall again for a few hours. After all, my daughter was extremely patient during our two days of ice fishing. But truth be told, I would prefer to spend the extra hours checking out more of this intriguing lake.

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For more information on ice fishing adventures in Northeastern Ontario visit www.northeasternontario.com

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com

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