Tough to Beat

From abundant trophy-sized fish to ideal ice conditions and a real winter, Sunset Country is an exceptional location to experience true northern ice fishing.

I have written columns like this one in the past, explaining why Northwestern Ontario is such a great place to go ice fishing. Here I’ll state it again, because I truly believe we have the best easily accessible ice fishing opportunities in North America. Few places offer the top-notch, hard-water fishing for the multi-species that we do in Sunset Country.

The best testament to the fishing is the number of media people who visit our region year after year for photo shoots or to film TV shows. Just about every TV fishing program that has filmed an ice fishing show has visited Northwest Ontario in recent years. From In-Fisherman to MidWest Outdoors, Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing to Lindner’s Angling Edge, they have all filmed many shows in our part of the world, and the reason is simple. Great fishing, beautiful scenery, and good places to stay. It’s a reliable place for them to come to catch fish and have the scenic backdrop that we do.  

When it comes to ice fishing, walleyes are the king, much like they are during the summer months but we also have excellent fishing for lake trout, crappie, northern pike, whitefish, stocked trout, burbot, and perch.  

In between the bass tournaments that I fish, I do quite a few guided trips every year on the ice. On most days, we mix it up and spend time fishing for lake trout, crappies, and pike during the day, then have fun with walleye during the evening “prime time” just before dark. Not only do we catch good numbers of fish, we catch trophies of all of the above mentioned species. Consistently

Across the region, there are plenty of hidden gems. Read further to learn a few of my favourite tricks for catching each species and check out just some of my recommendations on waters to visit.  


We have two general types of walleye lakes across the Sunset Country Region: the bigger waters like Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake offer a lot of structure and big water; then we have hundreds of smaller, shallower lakes that typically have stained water.  

On many of these smaller, coloured water lakes, walleyes roam throughout the winter in the main basins. Fishing around points or corners seem to be high percentage spots.

On the larger lakes, fishing main lake structure is the best way to catch a bunch of fish throughout the winter. Humps, points, and flats are all good bets.  

On all of these lakes, the fishing really heats up in March as walleyes make predictable migrations towards shallower spawning—creeks and rivers or shallow bays—where they will spawn shortly after the ice goes out. This is the best time to catch a big walleye.  

Walleye can be found in most lakes around Sunset Country, so when you find walleyes, catching them is usually easy with small spoons or jigs tipped with minnows. 

Jeff's Recommendations For Walleye: Cedar Lake, Lac Seul, Red Lake area, English River, Sturgeon Lake, Lake Savant, Pickle Lake, Rainy River/Lake

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That Offer Walleye Fishing

Lake Trout

Lake trout lakes exist across the region and are unique because they are deep, clear and often remote. Lake trout waters fall into two categories for me as well.  Bigger lakes typically offer the best shot at trophy fish in the 20-pound-plus category, while many of the smaller, inland lakes can offer great action with numbers of fish in the 2- to 8-pound range. 

Many of the best lakes offer a mix of trout of all sizes. Since they like the cold water so much, they are aggressive during the winter months and will often eat a lure if it somewhat resembles a baitfish that trout are foraging on. 

I seldom vary from using a soft plastic tube jig or fluke-style minnow bait on a jig, but spoons and vibrating baits will work as well. Keep in mind that many of the best waters have special restrictions during the winter, banning the use of fish parts for bait and requiring barbs to be pinched.  

Jeff's Recommendations For Trout: Clearwater West Lake, Minnitaki, Crow Lake, Lake of the Woods, Winkle Lake, Lower Manitou Lake, Perrault, Big Vermillion Lake, Anishinabi Lake, Red Lake, Crystal Lake, Seine River System

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That offer Lake Trout Fishing


Across the southern part of the Sunset Country Region, crappies are plentiful and exist in most of the larger bodies of water as well as dozens of smaller lakes. 

In the winter, crappies congregate in deeper holes in the main basin areas of the lakes or the bays that they live in. Once you find a good spot, it’s usually good year after year. Many of the resort owners will be able to point you in the right direction for where to look for crappies.  

They almost always hang a few feet above the bottom, so they are easy to spot on your electronics, and once you find them they are easy to catch with small spoons and soft plastics.  

Jeff's Recommendations For Crappie: Wabigoon/Dinorwic Chain, Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods (Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls area) Rugby Lake, Lake Despair 

*Click this Link to Find Lodges that Offer Crappie Fishing

Northern Pike

Out of the 10 largest pike I have ever had my hands on, at least eight of them come up through a hole in the ice. While we have excellent open water pike fishing here in Ontario, the real giants show up most often during the winter—particularly late in the season, when they stage in front of the shallow bays where they will spawn shortly after ice out.  

They can be caught jigging aggressive lures like rattle baits and large soft plastics, but the best way to catch a monster is to use a large dead bait, like a cisco rigged up on a quick-strike rig beneath a tip-up.  

Jeff's Recommendations For Northern Pike: Red Lake, Vermilion Bay area, Sturgeon Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lake St. Joseph

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That Offer Northern Pike Fishing

Stocked Trout

Around many of the larger communities, there are several stocked trout lakes that offer great ice fishing. Most are easy to access with good numbers of fish. Brook trout are the most common, but some lakes are stocked with rainbow trout and splake as well.  

Stocked brook trout in Sunset Country. Photo by Tracey Chartrand

These fish are aggressive in the winter and can be caught in shallow water, close to shore on most days. Jigging small spoons or fishing set lines with live minnows have been the top tactics for me.  

For a complete listing of stocked trout waters across the Sunset Country Region, visit the Ontario Fish ON-Line website.


Ice fishing for whitefish has grown in popularity over the past decade, as more anglers have experienced how fun they are to catch and how good they are to eat. 

Aggressive during the winter, whitefish often suspend and act like lake trout. Their small mouths requires that anglers use smaller baits (I like small spoons tipped with a minnow head). 

Fish main lake areas in 40 to 70 feet of water, and if they are around you’ll find them quickly.  

Jeff's Recommendations For Whitefish: Cedar Lake and Shoal Lake 

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That Offer Whitefish Fishing

Burbot (Eelpout)

Most of the deeper lakes across the region have plenty of burbot; we just never see these cold water lovers during the open water months. Burbot are the only fish in our lakes that spawn under the ice, and when they do in February and March, the fishing can be fantastic. 

Concentrate your effort around rocky humps in 30 to 50 feet of water, shallower on some lakes. On good lakes you can catch them during the day, but on nearly all waters, they bite really well at night. My best bait is a rattling spoon tipped with some frozen shiners blobbed up on the hook. Shake the spoon on the bottom to create a muddy spot to attract fish.  

Jeff's Recommendations For Burbot: Lake of the Woods is loaded with them and nearly all of the trout lakes have plenty as well

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That Offer Burbot Fishing


Perch are plentiful in most lakes around the region, but the big ones are usually found in the larger mid-depth lakes. We most often run into them while we’re looking for walleyes and when I do find them, I get excited.  Perch are great eating and easy to catch. 

Usually they are shallower than walleyes, and they seem to school by size more than any other fish I know. So if you’re only catching babies, keep hunting.  Small spoons tipped with a minnow head are a proven bait. 

Jeff's Recommendations For Perch: Eagle Lake, Lac Seul and Lake of the Woods

*Click this Link to Find Lodges That Offer Perch Fishing

Travel Tip: 

If you're using Sunset Country's website, check out their Accommodation Finder. You can search by species of fish, whether the lodge is open year-round, or if you require certain services such as wheelchair accessiblility—it's all right there for you! 

Feel like giving them a call? Sunset Country staff work right in Kenora, Ontario and can help you with any questions you may have about the region, it's fishing, lodges, hotels, you name it. Give them a shout to learn more: 1-800-665-7567 or email

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. 

Recommended Articles

Looking for somewhere new to fish?

The Morson area of Lake of the Woods is fantastic!

Has not having a passport kept you from vacationing in Canada?

It's easier to get than you may think!

Discover The Winnipeg River

From fur traders to trophy anglers, the beauty hasn't changed.

A Guide to Sunset Country Museums

Learn while you visit!

Going fishing in Ontario?

Your lodging has just the boat you need!

10 Reasons to Avoid Ontario

Haters of wilderness, wildlife, and quiet: best steer clear.

5 Amazing Sights You Can Only See By Boat

From mermaids to boat-in museums, the Northwest corner of Ontario has some of the coolest sights to see on water!

5 Essential Boreal Experiences in Ontario's Sunset Country

Freshwater fishing, forest hiking, and sunset views await in this pristine paradise

5 Obscure Facts About Northwestern Ontario: Were You Aware of These?

Here are 5 facts that most people don't know about Sunset Country.

Outdoor Medicine

Here's why experiencing the natural world is good for you—and your health.

Bringing Your Pet to Canada

What You Need to Know

Heading Across Canada?

Here's what you need to know about Sunset Country (from the giant moose statues to the even bigger waterfalls)

Tips for Spring Walleye Fishing

Find out the best places to find walleyes.

There's more than just fishing in the Red Lake Region

Although the fishing's pretty good too!

Outdoor Adventure in Ontario's Northern Paradise

On the links, on the trails, and on the water–discover why Kenora has it all this fall!

Plan your trip

Book the the trip you never got to take this summer

5 Amazing Things About Spring

Spring is a welcome sight after a long winter in Sunset Country!

Spring Fishing for Northern Pike

Northerns are hungry after the spawn and are ready to bite!

Tips from a Fishing Legend

Big Bass, Walleye, Muskie and So Much More

Going Fishing in Canada?

Get the answers to your questions

What makes Wabigoon such a great lake to fish?

Well for one, it has potential for the next world record muskie!

Search Sunset Country