As waters across the Sunset Country Region began to freeze over for another winter, anglers will get the desire to get back on the ice because there are fish to be caught. We have some of the best ice fishing opportunities in the World right here in NW Ontario but caution needs to be taken early in the season before most waters really firm up during the dead of winter.
When you start to consider when it is actually safe to get out on the ice, it’s really not worth risking your life just to catch a few fish. Fortunately, fresh, early season ice is strong so you typically aren’t stepping out onto rotten stuff like you might later in the ice season. When ice is clear and blue it is twice as strong as the white honeycomb ice you’ll see at the end of the season.
When it comes to how much ice is recommended to safely venture out, the guideline standards are four inches for activities on foot, six inches for ATV’s and snowmobiles and twelve inches for a regular sized vehicles. When I was younger I had a crazy desire to get out on the ice as soon as I could on some of the stocked trout lakes and I’m pretty sure that I stepped out on to ice that was probably not inside the guidelines. Basically if you step on to the ice and you can feel it or see it flexing, it is not ready yet.
There are stocked trout lakes located all across Sunset Country. Most of these lakes contain colourful brook trout but some have rainbows and splake as well. Splake are a cross between brook trout and lake trout. The first ice period is known to be one of the best times of the year to catch these fish and for the ice angler, it works out pretty well because most of these waters are small and relatively shallow. The best fishing is found around shallow cover along the shoreline, so you don’t have to venture out very far. We used to always set up in four to eight feet of water, around fallen trees or rock stick-outs along the shore.
Beaver huts are also attractive cover for stocked trout but caution should be taken around any beaver huts anytime during the ice season. If it in an active hut, beavers will keep a spot open where they can pop out if they need to. One way that you can tell if a hut is active is if there is a big feed pile in front of the actual structure. These feed piles will be a stockpile of green limbs and branches that provide food for the beaver family throughout the winter. Don’t get too close to an active hut.
Use common sense out there, folks. Obviously, any area that has current is not going to have good ice, ever. Caution should also be taken any time you are around swampy or muskeg areas. These areas get snow build up around them early in the winter which will insulate the ice, preventing it from getting thick. As well, there is often some current in these places if there is a creek nearby and the mud bottoms hold some heat. I have gotten stuck a few times in these types of places in the past and I avoid them altogether now.
Ice fishing season is almost here, tell your friends and family where you’re going if you head out and stay safe. No fish is worth risking your life for.