Ice-fishing season upon us

My fishing buddies, Jamie Bruce and Sean McAughey, are about as hard-core as it gets for getting out on the water or on the ice.
They don’t let weather conditions stop them and every free day they have, they find someplace to wet a line.
In fact, they’ve been on the ice a few times already, catching stocked brook trout, crappies, and walleyes on a number of small lakes around the Kenora area.
Although the big lakes are not yet safe for ice travel, the smaller, inland ones are good for walking out, according to these boys. This past week, they’ve seen four-six inches of ice on the lakes they have been fishing, which is plenty for walking on.
Many of the small lakes in our region offer great fishing opportunities, particularly early in the season while oxygen levels still are pretty good. A lot of these lakes go through a mid-winter lull, when oxygen gets pretty slim, and then see a revival of life towards spring as run-off water rejuvenates them.
The stocked trout opportunities that exist all over Northwestern Ontario are unique because we have a whole bunch of small lakes that previously had little to no life in them that now offer anglers a place to catch fish that are beautiful, fun to catch, and great to eat.
These fish do not reproduce in most cases, so they are considered “put-and-take” fisheries. The MNR stocks these lakes usually every other year, and they cycle with regard to some having great fishing one year while a different one up the road may be better the next year.
My experience has been that these fish grow quickly. One year you may catch big numbers of small 10- to 12-inch trout, then for the next couple of years you won’t catch as many but the size will be better.
The MNR has a great online tool I feel is under-utilized by area anglers. The FISH ONLINE website offers a huge amount of information about fishing across the province, including the stocking information for all lakes.
So you can get on there and look at a map that highlights the stocked trout lakes, as well as the stocking records, so you know which lakes have been stocked recently and with how many fish.
If there is a lake that you drive by all the time, and always have wondered what fish may live in it, this website will tell you the name of the lake, as well as the documented fish species that live in it.
I literally can get on this site and spend hours looking around, it’s really a great tool (you can find it by searching Ontario FISH ONLINE on Google).
The reason I’m talking about stocked trout is because right now, the early ice time frame is the best time of the entire year to catch them.
One thing many people don’t realize is that you really can’t fish too shallow for these fish. When we drill a series of holes, it’s almost always the shallowest ones that produce the best—in as little as three or four feet of water.
If there is a log extending into the water, or an old beaver hut along the shore, drill next to them as these fish will hang around them much like bass do in the summer.
Just be careful around active beaver huts because the beavers will keep a hole open around the hut so the ice is not safe.
Rigging up for these fish is pretty simple. I like to jig a small spoon tipped with a piece of shrimp or minnow. On my second line, I like to hook a live minnow through the tail on a small jig and let it do it’s thing.
Sometimes the jigging will work better; other times the still line will work better.
Let the fish tell you what they want.