Over the past decade or so it’s been really interesting to follow the ice fishing industry grow as new products have made heading out in cold weather and catching fish much easier than it used to be. I don’t have any numbers to base this on but I feel like ice fishing has probably been the fastest growing segment of the entire fishing industry at least in our part of the World in the past decade.
The ability for us to be mobile on the ice while staying comfortable combined with the excellent fishing opportunities that exist all across Ontario’s Sunset Country Region and places like Lake Winnipeg make it a great time to be an ice angler. After an initial investment in gear like an auger, a few rods, a flasher and a bit of tackle you’re all set to fish year after year. If you have the means to get yourself a portable shelter and a snowmobile or ATV to pull it with, there is no stopping where you can go to catch fish.
Getting Out There
While I spend a lot of my time ice fishing on Lake of the Woods one of the things that I enjoy most about winter is that we can access bodies of water by ice and portage trails that we are not able to access in the open water without a plane or some major work portaging into a remote lake. The scenery in these places is always top-notch and the fishing is usually off the charts good because the fish see little pressure. It’s like going back in time in a way.
From my back door I can leave my house on my snowmobile and be fishing in less than ten minutes on a great walleye, lake trout or crappie spot. Thanks to more conservative limits imposed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and more conservation minded anglers than there were even five years ago, fishing on Woods is tough to beat for several species and access is easy.
Part of the fun on Lake of the Woods is we can use GPS and the detailed mapping available today to land and drill holes on precise spots like the flat side of a hump loaded with walleyes, a sharp ledge where lake trout feed or the saddle that crappies load up on for the winter. I have a smaller Humminbird 385ci GPS unit that I can mount on the handlebar of my ATV or snowmobile. (see photo) I can power this machine with the cigarette plug on my machines and because it has an internal GPS antenna there are no other cords needed. This is an older model unit that has since been replaced by the new Helix machines that are brighter and faster. Look for more new smart phone apps coming with detailed mapping and GPS capabilities on them as well.
When we go fishing on the remote lakes one of the best ways to plan trips is to use the Ontario Fish ON-LINE website which provides great mapping and includes a listing of all the fish species that have been documented in a given lake. It’s fun to use and it provides an incredible amount of information for anglers. It even includes stocking records of some of the stocked rainbow and brook trout lakes across the region.
Finally, the Ontario’s Sunset Country website visitsunsetcountry.com is the place to check out if you want to fish in Northwest Ontario and base yourself out of a fishing resort or cabin. Several operators stay open through the winter and these guys can put you on fish and set you up for a great trip. Most of these outfitters have years of experience around where they are based so they can share hot fishing locations with you and let you know where unsafe ice conditions may be.
We have probably seen the peak as far as new products for ice fishing but everything from rods to augers to shelters to clothing continue to be tweaked to be made better. Frabill has been a leader in designing ice fishing equipment for many years and have been a supporter of mine for the past seven or eight years. They let me design the perfect rod for ice fishing in Canada a few years ago as part of their Ice Hunter line of rods. It’s a 38” heavy action rod that is not as heavy as it sounds. It has a soft tip for working a spoon for walleyes yet it has enough backbone to land a 20 pound lake trout. It’s the perfect rod for Lake Winnipeg and its king kong walleyes as well. I use it for all of my walleye and lake trout fishing. They have redesigned the rod for this winter to make it more sensitive and gave it a little different look. I like a slightly longer than normal rod like this one for hooking and landing big fish because you get a little more shock absorption to prevent tearing hooks out and it lets you wear the fish down a little easier.
With augers there is a big trend towards four-stroke and propane powered models. I don’t have a lot of experience with these although my friends that have them have had good things to say. I’m old school in that I have used a two-stroke gas powered auger for years and have rarely had an issue so I stick with that. I feel like the two-stroke models are the most durable as well which is something to consider if you do a lot of snowmobiling and rough travel.
Shelters and clothing are being built warmer yet lighter, making it comfortable to get out there no matter what the conditions are.
With tackle, the trend is in UV painted baits that are more visible to fish in typical low light ice fishing situations. Northland Fishing Tackle has been leading the way in ice fishing tackle for decades and they now have their popular Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons and Macho Minnow Spoons available in these bright UV colours. They look great for sure. My experiences playing with them last year were all good on both Lake of the Woods and the shallower, darker coloured inland walleye lakes. I always tip my spoons with a minnow head for walleyes – that is my go-to bait all winter on the ice.
Make plans to go somewhere new on the ice this winter and fish for a new species or two, outside of what you’re comfortable with. Trying new locations and experimenting with different techniques will educate and make you a better angler in the end. If you have never dropped a large dead bait on a quick-strike rig below a tip-up for pike, make it a priority to do it this March. It remains the absolute best way to catch a big pike on any body of water! If you always use a jig and minnow for walleyes, expand your tackle this year to include a spoon or lipless rattle bait. Take a trip somewhere on your bucket list and have some fun! If that means staying at a nice resort for the weekend with your friends or family and having fun while getting in a bit of fishing, make it happen. If it’s some remote back lake you have been thinking about trying to get to for years, go for it! Be safe our there on the ice and have a great season! Big fish wishes for all!