Fishing in Sunset Country

Kind of like an ice cream cone!

If it's true that "variety is the spice of life", and you're an angler who has yet to discover Ontario's Sunset Country, you're in for a pleasant surprise.  

A fishy spice market of epic proportions. 

Indeed, having lived in this watery Garden of Eden for almost 40 years now, I feel a tinge of sadness for visiting anglers.  I mean, with so many lakes and rivers, so many species of fish and so many unique opportunities, how in the world do you decide where to go?

Black Sturgeon Lake is one of the thousands of lakes in Northwest Ontario
Black Sturgeon Lake is one of the thousands of lakes in Northwest Ontario

Case in point: there are 100,000 lakes in Northwestern Ontario. One hundred thousand - that is more water than land - if you decided to fish a different lake every day, it would take you 274 years without a day off to cast a lure into each one of them.  

Now, let's complicate your decision-making process even further.  Among those one hundred thousand fish-filled, pristine bodies of water are the single largest concentration of lake trout lakes on Earth.  

Northwest Ontario has the single largest concentration of lake trout lakes
Northwest Ontario has the single largest concentration of lake trout lakes

And the fish are all wild, red-fleshed, holy terrors - no need to artificially stock up here - that will eagerly bite a lure you cast or troll in the summer - or vertically jig through a hole in the ice in the winter. 

Yet, it is nothing compared to the mind-boggling variety of choices you're offered if you're a walleye or muskie angler.  Owing to a fortuitous combination of climate (growing degree days) and lake types (morphometry), Sunset Country represents the Heartland for both species of fish.

Indeed, on the walleye side of things, lakes like Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Wabigoon Lake, Red Lake, Lac Seul, Vermilion Lake, and the Winnipeg River are known to anglers around the world. Yet, they're only the icing on a cake of lip-smacking delightfulness.

Massive muskies roam the waters in Northwest Ontario
Massive muskies roam the waters in Northwest Ontario

In fact, when folks contact me to recommend a Sunset Country walleye lake for their upcoming vacation I always tell them to think of Northwestern Ontario as a giant ice cream cone, with the well-known waters being the chopped nuts, cherries, and sprinkles dusted on top.  

The topping's decadently delicious, but so is the creamy, soft chocolate filling and the crunchy waffle cone. Those tens of thousands of slightly smaller lakes and rivers are hidden just beneath the icing waiting for your tongue to savor and explore them.  

You can drive to many of these walleye waters and fly-in lodges and outposts are the ultimate trips. There are over 400 outfitters from the borders of Minnesota and Manitoba all the way up to the Hudson Bay Lowlands. You also have your choice of three, four, and five-star resorts, housekeeping cabins, campgrounds, and outpost cabins that will tug at your heart for the rest of your life.  

Gord with a Sunset Country walleye
Gord with a Sunset Country walleye

Indeed, I have it on good authority that the person who first said "the world is your oyster" was a walleye angler summing up the wondrous array of opportunities awaiting anglers in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country.

Or, wait a minute, was it a muskie angler?  For the fact of the matter remains, you will find no greater concentration of marquee muskie lakes and rivers than you will discover crammed into this magnificent corner of Northwestern Ontario.

Let me drop a couple of names to remind you: Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Rowan Lake, Manitou Lake, Cedar Lake, Thaddeus Lake, Indian Lake, Eagle Lake, Wabigoon Lake, Lac Seul, and the Winnipeg River. I bet more 30-, 40-, and near 50-pound fish are collectively caught in these lakes each year than in the rest of the world combined.  

 'Nuff said, right?  

Heck no, for that would be a disservice to the countless lakes and rivers that offer outstanding fishing opportunities for speckled trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, yellow perch, whitefish, and black crappies.

Great looking largemouth bass!
Great looking largemouth bass!

Indeed, what so many visiting anglers often fail to realize is that many of these "other fish" also exist in the lakes and rivers they're fishing for one of the better-known species.

Matter of fact, just yesterday, a friend who was up visiting from Toronto was walleye fishing with me, and after shore lunch - what, you've never eaten fresh fish cooked over an open wood fire before - I suggested we change up and enjoy the afternoon casting for northern pike and bass.

"You mean we can catch bass and pike in this lake, too?" my friend asked incredulously, his eyes, now, as wide as saucers and a grin stretching from ear to ear.

"Unless you'd prefer to cast for muskies or vertical jig for lake trout," I replied straight-faced, pulling his chain even further.

We settled for the bass and pike and when the day ended, my friend confessed it was the most fun-filled day of fishing he'd ever enjoyed.  And when he awoke this morning, the grin still gracing his face, he rubbed his arm in mock tenderness and said it was still sore from reeling in so many fish. 

I simply laughed and told him it was what one should expect when they visit Ontario's Sunset Country where variety is the spice of life. 

About Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer is the fishing editor of Outdoor Canada magazine and field editor of In-Fisherman magazine. He is the co-host of the Real Fishing Radio Show and host of Fish Talk With The Doc.

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