How to Catch Big Bass, Walleye, Muskie and So Much More
Editor's note: Co-inventor of the legenday lindy rig walleye lure, co-founder of In-Fisherman Magazine, and Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame Inductee Al Lindner knows the way big fish think. In this exclusive article, Al shares some hard-earned secrets to help the Sunset Country angler conquer the most challenging species of the region. The fish are bigger and wilder in Northwest Ontario: read on, as Al tackles the big boys, species by species.
Ontario has perhaps more walleye lakes than anywhere else in the world, and Northwest Ontario is home to some of the best walleye fishing on earth. On many lakes, you need to do no more than cast a jig tipped with a 3-inch soft plastic tail near river mouths and rapids. In others, targeting shoreline points or offshore humps with jigs tipped with minnows or soft baits, or live-bait rigs baited with leeches or nightcrawlers will do the trick. Trolling deep-diving crankbaits along the edges of prominent main-lake structures is an option as well, anywhere from about 8 to 25 feet deep during summer.
Savage and ferocious northern pike are abundant in nearly all Northwest Ontario waters, capable of growing to 20 pounds or more nearly everywhere they swim. Pike ply shallow bays in spring, deep main lake weed beds in early summer, and sometimes, drop into deep cool waters like lake trout during the heat of midsummer. As such, be prepared to fish shallow at times with spoons, spinners, and large flies; mid-depths with big bucktails, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits during others; and to vertically jig large soft baits on 1-ounce plus jigheads when the action shifts deep offshore.
Catch Gigantic Pike in Northwest Ontario!
Northwest Ontario is home to monster muskies with broad shoulders and means attitudes. As adaptable predators at the apex of the food chain, they feed on a variety of forage from walleyes to suckers and ciscoes to whitefish. Muskies may be atop rock reefs one day, lounging within weed beds the next, and then suspended between rock islands on your next fishing trip. Their frustrating nature demands versatility, from casting large bucktail spinners, jerk baits, or top waters in the shallows; to trolling deep-diving crankbaits; or vertically casting oversized soft plastic lures along main-lake structures.
Northwest Ontario is blessed with many fine smallmouth bass fisheries. Most have an abundance of shallow rock points, humps, and reefs that smallies call home throughout the summer and fall. Versatile smallmouths are opportunistic feeders that seasonally forage crayfish, minnows, insects, and other targets of opportunity. Being both aggressive and curious, smallmouths respond to a variety of lures including topwater, jigs, plastic worms, crankbaits, spinner baits, straight-shaft spinners, or flies, generally in 15 feet of water or less during the summer months.
In the cool lakes of northwest Ontario, largemouth bass tend to inhabit back bays with weeds and wood cover, rather than main-lake points or weed beds. Focus on lily pads, reeds, submerged fallen trees, and coontail or cabbage weed beds, anywhere from the shoreline out to about 8 feet deep. Use snag-resistant lures like spinnerbaits, weedless Texas-rigged soft baits, or bass jigs dressed with soft bait trailers that slither between weeds or wood, or top waters that ride above submerged cover.
Crappies spawn in reeds in spring in northwestern Ontario, and then spend much of their season moving in and out of sandy bay mouths in search of minnows. Depths of 15 to 20 feet are typical in summer, with 35 to 45 feet common in fall. Vertically jig 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs that imitate small minnows, tipping them with a small crappie minnow if available. Crappies school heavily and are readily appear on depth finders as fish suspended above the bottom. Drop your jig to or just above their level, and hold it there until they strike.
Deep, clear, cool lakes are home to lake trout. Other than brief periods during spring and fall when lakers penetrate the shallows, they tend to remain quite deep throughout the year. Depths of 40 to 100 feet are common, particularly around mid-lake structures adjoining even deeper water, or where deep holes provide summer refuge from warm water. Vertically jig 1-ounce or heavier white bucktail jigs tipped with soft plastic tails; or troll large wobbling spoons on three-way rigs, using wire lines and weights of 6 to 10 ounces to penetrate the depths.
Some of the world's largest brook trout inhabit fast-flowing rivers year-round in northwest Ontario, while others spend a portion of their year feeding in sub-Arctic coastal waters before returning inland to river environments. Due to the power current areas of the rivers that brook trout prefer, you usually need heavy lures that get down and stay down in the strong current. Cast heavyweight spoons, #2 or #3 Vibrax Spinners, or #5 Countdown Rapalas in and around rapids and current breaks. Where the water is less turbulent, try flyfishing with streamers for brilliantly-hued brookies.
If you want to vacation in Sunset Country try out some of these great tips and get the travel guides and maps that are available!