Northern Ontario Ice Fishing in Superior Country

Come experience the great outdoors while catching a few fish for supper. There is no better destination for winter ice fishing than Superior Country.

Winter is a difficult time for some people to feel motivated to get outdoors. It can be cold, often a bit windy and all that snow and ice makes getting around trickier. Yet ice fishing is the perfect balm to make winter short and sweet. You get to experience the great outdoors in a unique way while catching a few fish for supper. And there is no better destination for winter ice fishing than Superior Country.

Ice fishing is good for the soul - Photo Gord Ellis

Numerous Species and Thousands of Lakes to Explore

Northern Ontario ice fishing allows you a wide variety of options. You will find stocked inland lakes that have brook trout, splake and even rainbow trout. Walleye and pike are plentiful and found in literally hundreds of lakes large and small. Native lake trout grow to huge size in Superior Country and are found in the area’s largest lakes. Perch are another common winter catch and are among the finest of all fish to eat. Other popular winter species include whitefish and burbot, two species also known to shine on the supper table. So there is a plentiful supply of species to pursue.   

An ice shack on Lake Superior's Black Bay - photo Gord Ellis

All the Modern Conveniences

Modern Northern Ontario ice fishing is a lot more comfortable and efficient than it used to be. When I was a kid, all the holes had to be dug by hand, usually with a hand auger than never seemed quite sharp enough. In 2021, power augers are common, and the modern ones are lighter and sharper than ever. You can even get augers that are powered by a lithium battery. These units are both quiet and smokeless. Ice hole cutting technology has come a long way.

Power auger cutting holes - Photo Gord Ellis

Speaking of technology, the modern fish-finder has become an important and useful part of modern Northern Ontario ice fishing. The ice fishing units made by companies like Humminbird, Vexilar and Marcum allow you to see under the ice with sonar. This shows you both the bottom, your lure or bait and the fish that are being attracted. Ice fishing with electronics is like an outdoor video game and brings the pursuit to a whole different level. Many units also have built in GPS, so you can mark your hotspots on the ice and return to them with ease.  

Ice fishing shelters  have changed the game for ice anglers - Photo Gord Ellis 

Rent an Ice Fishing Shelter or Bring Your Own Portable Version

Another huge change is the number of portable ice fishing shelters available to the modern winter angler. Although it can get cold in Superior Country, when you are nestled into a shelter with a propane heater going, it is pretty darn comfortable.  There are two main types of portable shelters, the pop up or hub style, similar to a hunting blind or flip over shelters that are usually built into a sleigh. Both are excellent for keeping you out of the elements and fishing effectively. I think shelters are especially helpful when fishing with kids. Nothing ends fun like getting cold and/or wet. A warm shelter is a perfect place to warm up your hands and feet. There are also some outfitters in Superior Country that rent out ice shacks, which are just mini-cabins heated by a wood stove.  You can fish through the floor and stay warm. Some of these cabins even have cots for sleeping or having a nap. That is truly ice fishing in style.

Walleye on the ice with ice fishing rod - Photo Gord Ellis

Minimum Gear Required

One of the other beautiful things about ice fishing is you don’t really need a ton of actual fishing gear. The most basic set up is just a spool of monofilament line, a few hooks and sinkers, a stick or “gad” and flagging tape. You attach the hook to the line, drop the baited hook down the hole, then make a loop and attach the flagging tape. The loop is placed on the stick over the holes and then you wait. When the fish bites, the flagging tape slips off and signals the angler. Most ice anglers now prefer to use an ice fishing rod with a spinning reel. This allows you to jig a lure or set it up on a balance. It’s a little nicer and smoother to fight a fish with a short rod and the drag helps when big fish take long runs.

Gord Ellis with  lake trout - Photo Gord Ellis

Bait + Lures for Superior Fish

As for bait, generally minnows are the go-to in the winter, either fished on a hook or on a lead head jig. Active, medium to medium/large sized minnows will attract nearly all species of fish in the winter. When fishing perch or smaller sized trout, you may need small minnow. Larger fish such as pike, walleye and lake trout are attracted to large minnows or four to five inch suckers.  Use a treble hook on larger bait. Worms work well for perch and brook trout, especially when tipped on a jig.

Ice fishing  artificial baits top left to right Airplane jig Jigging Rapala Bucktail jig white tube jig and Swedish Pimple spoon - G. Ellis photo

As for lures, there are a few old standbys that will serve the Northern Ontario ice angler well. Basically, my five go to lures include a bucktail jig, white tube jig, Airplane jig, Swedish Pimple and Rapala Jigging Minnow. All these lures will catch a wide variety of fish species. For larger, more aggressive species like lake trout or pike, the Airplane Jig, Swedish Pimple and white tube jig are heard to beat. The smaller sized Jigging Rapala and bucktail jigs are attractive to brook trout, rainbow trout, splake and whitefish. Have a few different sizes of each lure and you will be well stocked for all situations.

Loading up a sleigh full of gear for ice fishing - Gord Ellis photo

Drive-to or Arrive by Snowshoe: Arriving at Your Ice Fishing Lake is Part of The Fun

How you get to lakes for ice fishing will vary depending on how far you have to travel. There are some good lakes that are right along roads and highways, so you can pull a little sleigh with your gear and fish easily. Some fisheries require a little more travel, so a set of snowshoes, or a snowmobile, will help in that situation. Many of the better fishing lakes have well travelled snowmobile trails to them, which will make it easier to snowshoe on them.

Devin Ellis and Channelle Boucher with walleye - Gord Ellis photo

Ice Fishing in Superior is Good For The Soul

While catching fish is the focus of ice fishing, the mental and health benefits cannot be overstated. Fresh air and wide- open spaces are the perfect cure for cabin fever. You can self isolate in the best way possible, with just you and the fish. Plus, the physical exercise benefits of a snowshoe trip into a back lake are many. You will be lean like a bird dog at the end of a winter ice fishing season.

Tom Armstrong with a nice lake trout caught on a tube - Gord Ellis photo

Northern Ontario ice fishing is a great way to get through winter and the times we are living in. Come to Superior Country and see what the Northern Ontario ice fishing life experience is all about.             

About Gord Ellis

Gord Ellis is a lifelong resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario and a full time journalist, broadcaster, professional angler and guide. He is the senior editor of Ontario Out of Doors magazine, Canada's best read fishing and hunting magazine. Gord is a regular on CBC radio's Superior Morning and writes a monthly column on Ontario for the Northern Wilds magazine, in Minnesota. He has written over a thousand feature articles and columns for publications as diverse as Sentier Chasse Peche, in Quebec, the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail. He is a long time member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and has won better than 25 national awards for his writing and photography. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin.

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