Getting to travel around North America to go fishing really does give me an appreciation for how great we have it right here at home in Ontario’s Sunset Country Region. The scenery that exists around our lakes and rivers is unmatched and the multi-species fishing opportunities cannot be found anywhere else, especially when you consider the generally smaller, protected bodies of water.
While nearly everybody that fishes in this part of the World gets out and catches a walleye or two each open water season, the reality is, around Lake of the Woods and the hundreds of smaller lakes scattered around the region there are a bunch of other species to catch as well.
This summer, spend a day or two chasing a new species of fish, not only will doing so make you a better angler because you will be forced to learn something new, I promise you will have fun. The challenge of finding and catching fish outside of our comfort zone really does make an angler feel pretty good. Here are some options for you to try something new this summer. Land a Lake Trout
Hands down the toughest fighting fish that we have in our part of the World, lake trout opportunities exist across Northwest Ontario. The Clearwater Bay and Whitefish Bay areas of Lake of the Woods are my favourite places to fish but there are dozens of smaller lakes with ultra clear water and little human presence that offer great fishing as well. Lake trout are a cold water fish and spend the summer months in deep water. While this may turn some folks off to fishing for them, it really makes knowing where to look pretty easy. Anglers should focus their efforts on 60 – 100 feet of water and look for sharp drop-offs near main lake points and humps.
Trout feed primarily on baitfish like herring and smelt and they will push schools of these minnows up against these sharp ledges. Your baits should mimic the baitfish that these trout are feeding on so four to six inch soft plastic minnow baits like a Northland Impulse Smelt Minnow or white tube jigs are great options.
On most days, lake trout are easy to find on your electronics because they are typically suspended in the water column as opposed to sticking to the bottom. Driving slowly until you mark a fish or even better, a group of fish is a good tactic, then simply stop the boat and drop your bait over the side.
Since you want your bait to get down to the fish quickly, anglers should use heavy ½-3/4 ounce jigs with the plastic attached.
Lake trout are aggressive by nature so on most days they cooperate with angler’s efforts. It should be noted that some waters like Clearwater Bay have special regulations to protect lake trout so make sure you have a look at the Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary before you hit the water.
Catch a Bass on a Topwater Lure
While bass fishing continues to gain in popularity across Northwest Ontario, there are still many anglers out there who just don’t get it. At many of the boat shows and events that I attend people consistently ask me what my favourite fish is to catch and why. Here it is. Bass are my favourite because they have an aggressive attitude and can be caught on artificial lures better than they can on live bait on many days. It is normal to catch a small bass on a lure bigger than the fish itself. That is just the attitude that these fish have. They’re feisty.
The biggest rush in bass fishing is catching a fish on a topwater lure. It’s so fun because you visually get to watch the fish strike your lure. Sometimes they jump right out of the water and hammer it, other times they just sneak up and slurp it under. One thing I do know is that the minute you take your eyes off of the lure is when a bass will hit it.
Throughout the summer the only thing that is required to fish a topwater lure is relatively calm water. If it is too windy or choppy then bass will have a hard time locating the lure and the lure won’t work as well. Fishing early and late in the day when winds have laid down is best but sometimes all you have to do is fish the calm side of the lake.
Plenty of bass stay in shallow water all season long so there are always fish to catch. Not only is this a fun tactic but it is a tournament winner as well. Topwater lures have played a role in just about all of the tournaments that I have ever won in this part of the World. Expect to catch both numbers and big bass on topwater baits. My favourite bait style is a popper like a Jackall SK Pop Grande. It’s a smaller profile popper that a smallmouth can easily get in its mouth. Prop and walking style topwater baits work great as well. Slab a Crappie
Though black crappies are not native to our part of the World, they are established in many watersheds throughout Sunset Country. It is thought that they were originally brought into the region through bass stocking in the 1920’s and 30’s. Crappies were likely mixed in with the bass and they took off from there. Over the years anglers likely aided further transplanting.
Even though they do grow large, crappies are fun to catch because usually once you find them they are found in large schools, offering plenty of action. Crappies are also great eating, very comparable to walleye.
Crappies are not located in every body of water but they seem to be present in all of the bigger lakes and rivers around Kenora and Fort Frances as well as dozens of smaller lakes. Knowing that a body of water holds crappies is the first step. Once you know that a lake has a population it’s all about getting on your electronics to find them. As the summer progresses into fall, crappies will predictably move to the deeper basins of the lakes or bays that they live in. They typically suspend a few feet off the bottom over mud bottom areas where they feed on small invertebrates that emerge from the mud.
Large schools of crappies will show up on your sonar or Side-Imaging and once you find them, throw a marker buoy nearby to mark the school, then get over top of the fish and drop jigs tipped with small plastics down on them. Northland has a whole lineup of Impulse soft baits designed for panfish that are realistic, scented and work great for crappies all year round.
This summer, get out there, expand your options and find a new species of fish to catch. You will become a better angler and have some fun at the same time!
ON THE ROAD WITH GUSSY
GUSSY PLACES FIFTH IN QUALIFYING FOR HIS FIRST CUP! HOOKED MAGAZINE UPDATE:
HOOKED: What made the difference this year in your ability to have success at every event?
JEFF GUSTAFSON: I think that the experience of fishing at this level for the past few years and getting my butt kicked plenty of times has just made me a better angler. I think I pre-fish better and more efficiently and getting to fish some of these lakes a second or third time gives you some familiarity.
What does it mean for you to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup? It’s taken me four years to make it to the FWC so I’m jacked about it. It’s a long, tough season and it’s very competitive so it’s not easy to make. You can’t have a bad tournament, or even a bad day. I was fortunate this year to catch my limit every day of the season and that’s what it takes. While I didn’t have any amazing days, I was consistent and that is what you need to do to have success in the long run. Hopefully I can keep it rolling!
What is your game plan now you have qualified? The pressure is off somewhat now that I’ve qualified for the Cup. I’m going to spend some time doing some research in the coming weeks but I’m going to go down there as prepared as possible and work hard all week. I’m going to enjoy every moment and try to have as much fun as I can. After the season is over I’m looking forward to fishing all of the great tournaments that we have across the Sunset Country Region with my buddies, they are always the highlight of the year for me!
It’s been a great season thus far on the Walmart FLW Tour for me, by far my best yet. Now in my fourth year fishing these pro level bass tournaments the experience of getting my butt kicked a bunch of times looks like its finally starting to pay off. We get points where we finish in each event. At the end of the six event season the angler that ends up with the most points is the Angler of the Year, a very prestigious award that brings with it a $100,000 cash prize. It’s a big deal. The top 35 anglers in the 170 angler field also qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup tournament, the season-ending championship that will take place in August. My best finish on the season was a fourth place at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. Follow the results online at www.flwoutdoors.com