Living on the north end of Lake of the Woods, we have some of the best ice fishing opportunities in the World. I consider myself spoiled when you consider we can catch walleye, pike, perch, crappie, lake trout, burbot and whitefish all in the same day. It’s a great place to fish and over the years I have shared some fun days with friends from all over North America.
This past weekend I had a few friends from Minnesota travel up to northwest Ontario to join a few of us from Kenora to head farther north to the Red Lake area for an ice fishing adventure. My friend Ian Cooke, the owner of Five Lakes Lodge had been inviting me to come up to do some ice fishing for years and it finally worked out. It may have been the coldest last weekend in March that I can remember but we had fun and caught a bunch of fish.
The main target of this trip was to try and catch some trophy pike, which the area is known for. We had no problem catching plenty of walleyes to eat as well. Despite cold temperatures and a stiff north wind for the entire weekend, we hunkered down near some of the shallow bays where pike will spawn after the ice goes out and caught a bunch of big ones using tip-ups with large dead baits rigged beneath them, in 12-20 feet of water.
When I say big pike, I’m talking fish in the 40 inch range. That is a tough mark to crack on most waters across the region. All seven of us on this trip caught a pike over 40 inches, with the biggest being a chunky 43 inch beast that Eric Naig from Northland Fishing Tackle put on the ice. It was an impressive fish.
As a bass angler for much of the year, we get annoyed with smaller pike in open water that steal our lures. But late March and April is prime time to catch these trophy predators as they move towards the shallow, weed-filled bays where they will spawn just after ice out. It’s the perfect combination, because we know where they are headed and they have a good appetite as they prepare for the rigors of spawning. I love to see these big fish.
While you can catch some pike jigging with lures, there is no better way to catch them than with a large dead cisco or sucker minnow rigged on a quick-strike rig, beneath a tip-up. We set the baits about a foot off the bottom and leave them alone. Usually within 15-20 minutes of setting up on a spot we would start getting hit. We were using big baits with hopes that some of the smaller fish would leave them alone and it seemed to work because most of the fish we caught were big.
The walleye fishing was excellent for the little time that we did it. We just set up of the end of a point in 25-30 feet of water and had no problem catching some nice fish for dinner, using a Buck-Shot spoon tipped with a minnow head. We even caught a few nice burbot, one of which may pal Sean McAughey cleaned and prepared for us. I have to be honest, they are not bad to eat. He filleted the fish, cut it up into chunks then boiled it for a few minutes. The pieces have a very similar texture to lobster and after being dipped in garlic butter, they were very tasty.
We don’t often take ice fishing trips but it was fun to try fishing some new water, see some new country and share a weekend with friends. With the current weather situation, the ice conditions are still good but they will start to deteriorate as the weather conditions improve. If you are still getting out on the ice, have fun and stay safe!