Tips and Tricks for Ice Fishing Success

Tips and tricks to help you catch more fish through the ice in Sunset Country this winter.

The Ice Will be Here Soon!

It’s time to get back on the ice! When we finally put the boats away at the end of the season, I usually look forward to a little bit of downtime—maybe some hunting. But after a few weeks without fishing, I have the ice fishing gear dug out and ready to go. For our American friends who traditionally travel to Sunset Country to go ice fishing, most of you missed 2021 and maybe even 2020 so you must be chomping at the bit to get back up here and catch some fish.

Walleyes are plentiful across the region

explore your endless Options

I’ve said it before—the best thing about ice fishing in Northwest Ontario is that we have so many options. I’m fortunate to live on Lake of the Woods where we have top-notch fishing for walleye, pike, lake trout, crappie, burbot, perch, and whitefish. Literally have had guide trips where we caught all of those different species in one day. It’s significant because there aren’t many places you can do that.

Across the region, there are some incredible fishing options, many remote with little fishing pressure and some giant fish to catch. Many of our communities have ice roads to get you out on the hard water but if you are able to bring a snowmobile or ATV you can access the best ice fishing in the world.

Spoons are a great option for ice fishing

check The weather and know some important dates

One thing about this part of the world, we get a real winter. Typically we have safe ice on most waterways by Christmas and by New Year’s Day, you can go wherever you want. There have been a couple of mild years where the ice on the big, deep trout lakes was still a little sketchy for the January 1 opener, but most years you’re good to go wherever you want, avoiding any areas with a current of course. In January and February, it can be cold, so if you’re planning to visit us during those months, a shelter of some kind is probably a good idea if you plan on fishing for multiple days. We get snow too, enough in most years that truck driving around on the lakes (off of a plowed road) is usually not an option.

Venturing onto a fresh piece of ice in Sunset Country

Seasons are open for most species all winter with a few important dates to remember. The lake trout season opens on January 1 and remains open the rest of the ice season. Walleye season closes on April 15, otherwise, except for the odd lake-specific regulation, you can fish for everything. Of course, it’s always a good idea to check out the Ontario Sportfishing Regulations guide to familiarize yourself with the rules on the body of water you plan to fish.

know the Best Time to Visit

Over the years I’ve been asked many times when is the best time to come. Most outfitters and resorts are going to start operating around the trout opener in early January and then run through March. Most years we can still get on the ice in early April, especially if you go farther north but it’s tough to plan way ahead for an April trip because some years the ice is done at the end of March. I’m all about fishing as late as it’s safe to do so—the days are longer, the weather is nicer, and fishing is as good as it gets. If you do plan for that late-season stuff, you have to be nimble with the conditions because a week of warm weather can make the ice unsafe. Booking a trip with an outfitter or resort is a good idea because these people can keep you up to date on the conditions prior to your arrival.

Late-season lake trout

If trout are your target species, the early season can be a prime time to get out there. They are active under the ice all winter and many of the best spots are fresh for the season opener. If you want to catch trophy pike and walleye, the late season is good because the biggest specimens of these two species show up in predictable locations, just outside of the shallow spawning areas they will use shortly after ice-out. If it’s the action you desire, mid-winter fishing is excellent for the number of walleyes, whitefish, perch, burbot, or crappies.

Catch jumbo perch like this through the ice!

Choose a Resort

Across the Sunset Country region, there are several resorts that stay open through the winter to host ice anglers and snowmobilers. It might be wise to do a little research to see who has the best options for you. You can visit a multi-species mecca like Lake of the Woods or travel a little farther north to gain access to waters that are fly-in only in the summer. As I said, there are opportunities to access ice with vehicles but snowmobiles and ATVs later in the season will give you many more options to get to the best spots.

Resorts in the area offer you a chance at multiple species - including slab black crappies

Ask the resort owners when they think is the best time to visit based on your fishing expectations and what you want to catch.

decide if you want to Hire a guide 

Whether you hire a guide or not is up to you but it’s a good idea if you’re visiting new water, you learn where it’s safe to travel and you’ll see the type of stuff you should be fishing. The resort owners can likely point you in the right direction as well.

The lodges can help you select the best baits for the fish you're after - plastics work magic on lakers!

Keep in mind, if you hire a guide, they are probably happy to teach you the ins and outs of fishing a general area but please respect their spots that they have worked hard to find. Unless you are invited back to fish in these areas, don’t poach their spots. The fishing is good enough across the region that you can often find similar locations of your own once you know what to look for if you want to do your own thing.

Jeff's wife Shelby with a giant northern pike - consider hiring a guide!

For our returning guests, we welcome you back and I hope you have a great season on the ice. For new visitors to Sunset Country, have fun out there, I hope you catch the biggest fish of your life this winter!

We've got big lake trout in our lakes - maybe it'll be your turn to catch one!

To help you plan your winter ice fishing trip, order your free copy of the Sunset Country travel guide and fishing map.

About Jeff Gustafson

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. His outgoing, genuine, friendly attitude makes him a natural outdoor writer, fishing and hunting guide." You'll see him fishing the Bass Master Tournament Circuit where he's has had a lot of success against the best bass anglers on the planet. Jeff also fishes many bass tournaments in Ontario's Sunset Country, his home base. 

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