Overlooked Options in Sunset Country

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IMG_0204_1  IMG_0268_1 IMG_0394_1 When it comes to ice fishing in Northwest Ontario it’s no secret that it is one of the most widely known “hotspots” across the ice belt. There are few places where you have to multitude of options for different species of fish as well as varying types of lakes to fish. Across the Sunset Country Region there are actually upwards of 75,000 bodies of water, many of which hold great fish populations!

We all know that Lake of the Woods is a popular destination for ice anglers and for good reason. World Class opportunities exist for walleye, lake trout, crappie, pike, whitefish and perch. Access is easy and there are some great places to stay around the lake. There are some hidden gems around the region that receive a little less attention but offer top-notch fishing. Here are a few of my favourites with some hot tips on how to put a few more fish on the ice.

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Rainy Lake Area Crappies
Aside from being full of trophy walleye and pike, Rainy Lake has crappies…a lot of them. Most of the arms and bays off the main lake hold healthy populations of big crappies and though they do get some fishing pressure in areas, there are plenty of untouched schools to find.

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There are also a whole bunch of smaller lakes surrounding Rainy to the west, north and east that are kicking out some slab crappies. One of the best is Sawbill Lake, a remote body of water that is literally a crappie factory.

When it comes to finding crappies under the ice, they are very predictable. They do school up and usually you will find them in the deep holes or basins of the bays that they live in. Typically these fish are going to be found in 28 – 35 feet of water but they could be slightly shallower or deeper depending on the body of water.

They are easy to spot on electronics and I usually don’t even drop a bait down the hole until I see fish. They are easy to spot because they are usually suspended a few feet above the bottom but there are days when they seem to be tight to the bottom. My favourite bait is a 1/8-ounce Northland Doodle Bug Spoon. Crappies love red and pink so those are my go to colours. I’ll usually tip the spoon with a couple of Impulse Waxies, it’s not very often that you need meat to catch crappies. Spoons are great because they get down to the bottom quickly in the deep water, but there may be days during the middle of the winter when you need to bust out the small soft plastics and really finesse them to bite.

Head North To Red Lake for Trout
Red Lake, located a couple hundred kilometers north of Kenora is at the end of the line for paved roads. In this remote area are some of the best lake trout waters in Canada with big lakes like Trout and Medicine Stone and countless smaller ones sprinkled across the landscape.

IMG_0184_1This is snowmobile country because you are in a remote area so aren’t going to see the ice roads that you do in more populated places. Many of the lakes that you can access in the winter are fly-in only during the summer so you can imagine how good the fishing is. My friend Ian Cooke owns Five Lakes Lodge just south of Red Lake and he has had dozens of hundred plus fish days with his friends and clients. He keeps a cabin open for the winter and can offer advice on where to go.

As far as finding and catching fish, it’s pretty simple. Try some bluff walls or points and vary the depth of water that you fish in. A white tube jig or spoon will catch them just fine. If you drive the extra distance up to the Red Lake area, you can be almost guaranteed to catch lake trout until your arms are sore. This is great walleye country as well!

Walleye Whacking in Sioux Lookout
Located on the east side of massive Lac Seul is the town of Sioux Lookout. Throughout the open water season, thousands of anglers visit the many resorts that are dotted around this area because it is one of the best places on the planet to go walleye fishing. Ice fishing is popular amongst local anglers and several resorts now stay open year round to accommodate ice anglers. Much like fishing in the Red Lake area, snowmobiles are going to open up many more options for places to fish.

Lac Seul along with Minnitaki and Big Vermilion are a couple of the bigger bodies of water with top-notch fishing, and then you have countless smaller lakes that again, are only accessible in the winter so you can imagine how good the fishing is. Many of the walleyes in this country will be found in shallow, dark water lakes. These will be the most beautiful, golden walleyes you have ever seen and while the fishing is good all season, the late March timeframe really shines because they move close to predictable spawning locations and there will be plenty of big pike hanging around to catch as well.

The new Northland Buck-Shot Flutter Spoon is going to be a great bait for these shallower, dark waters. In testing late last season, they were by far the best walleye bait for these shallower fish. Tip it with a minnow head and hang on tight! Of course there is a lot more to explore across the Sunset Country Region than what is suggested here but these are all great places to visit with truly World Class fishing opportunities.

Sunset Country Ice Fishing Notes­­
There are literally hundreds of resorts and camps located across the Sunset Country Region and though many of them close up shop for the winter there are plenty that stay open to host ice anglers throughout the winter. Check out www.ontariossunsetcountry.ca for a full listing of places to stay and some great general fishing information, I guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for! Also: The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources put a great tool online a few years ago that makes fishing and exploring very easy in Northwest Ontario. Called Fish ON-Line, we can get on this website and look up the fish species found in any lake in the province, the stocking lists for stocked lakes, we can make maps, it’s really a great thing. Just search Fish ON-Line on Google and you’ll find it. Be prepared to waste hours idling around on this site, it’s very informative.

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About Author

Jeff Gustafson, known in the fishing World as Gussy, grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. He took out his first guide trip at age 14 on Lake of the Woods and has made his living in the fishing/outdoor industry ever since. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Gussy has always been self-employed as a fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer as well as fishing promoter. Today his fishes the Walmart FLW Tour pro bass circuit and as many local bass tournaments as he can find the time to enter and he is the host of his own TV program called Fishing with Gussy, which airs across Canada. You can find him online through his website at www.gussyoutdoors.com

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