Early season pike and lake trout

Most of the ice across the Sunset Country region should be gone this week so that means anglers who have waited through another long winter can get back in the boat and do some fishing. We are fortunate that in northwestern Ontario, we always have fishing seasons available throughout the year so we can always get out to catch something. Some states and provinces fully close the fishing season for all species for a period of time in the spring and no fishing can be done.

Walleye and musky are the only species that are fully closed right now. The new season for walleye starts on the third Saturday in May, as it does every year, while musky anglers have to wait until to third Saturday in June. Both of these species spawn in shallow, obvious locations, so they are protected while they do their thing.

Bass fishing is excellent throughout the first couple weeks of the season. They don’t eat a lot during the winter, so once the ice goes, they really turn up the activity and fishing is as good as it is all year. The bass season is open, but on most waters, it is a catch and release only season until July 1.

Crappies can be found once the ice goes out. Usually in the same deeper basins that they spend the winter in, where they can be found for a couple of weeks before they migrate to shallow water to spawn later in May. They are fun to catch when they get up shallow, usually around some kind of cover like pencil reeds, beaver huts or wood you can find in the water.

For anglers who enjoy fishing for bigger fish, it’s a great time to target lake trout and pike, which are plentiful across the region. Both species are active in the cold water so fishing can be really good. They also show up in predictable locations in the spring, making for some good fishing opportunities.

Pike spawn shortly after ice out in shallow, weed-filled bays. Because the vegetation usually hasn’t sprouted up yet, they rely on old vegetation from last year to provide cover while they spawn. This usually means old pencil reed or bulrush patches. They lay around in these shallow bays, soaking up heat from the sun, spawn and then start moving back to deeper water. If you sneak around in these shallow bays with a good pair of polarized sunglasses, you can spot these big pike and then catch them with large soft plastics or shallow running baits. A weightless jerk shad on a big EWG hook is tough to beat because you can rig it up weedless and run it through all kinds of cover. It also stays high in the water column, which is important in the shallow water.

Lake trout prefer the cold water and actually need it to survive more than any other species we have. In the summer, that forces them into deep water. In the spring, the water is cold throughout the water column so they act as eating machines for the first month or so of the season before they head for the deeper water. It’s a great thing for anglers.

When it comes to finding lake trout in the spring, look for wind-blown points and shorelines, if you get out there on a day when the wind is blowing. The wind-blown shorelines seem to attract trout, which are pursing the bait. I think the wind also allows us to get closer to the fish by masking any noise we make with our boats. Trout live in clear water so they know you’re there sooner than most fish do. Trolling with crankbaits or spoons is a great way to make contact with fish because you can cover a lot of water. Once you find an area that seems to be holding trout, you can fish a soft jerkshad style bait on a jig head and do well. Shore fishing with a piece of sucker meat or a dead cisco is also a fun way to spend the day.

The off-season for us in the Northwest is always long but a new open water season is here so get out there and make the most of it! Happy fishing.

Spring is a great time to catch lake trout across Sunset Country, when they can be found in shallow water.