Make the most of early season fishing in Sunset Country

It makes me happy to see that the ice has disappeared from most area lakes across northwest Ontario and a new open water season has begun. My fishing tournament season in the U.S. is keeping my busy into June so we are staying south for the next while. I’m missing the early ice out around home this year but some of my best fishing memories in the boat over the years have been during this timeframe, chasing pike, bass and lake trout.

As anglers we have to remember that for the past five months our lakes have been covered by a blanket of ice which I think kind of cools down the activity levels of most fish. When the ice goes and these fish see the light again, they know that it’s time to start getting more active and they often move to predictable locations, in search of food and warmer water.

Pike spawn shortly after ice out in the shallow, weed filled back bays of the waters that they live in. Late in the ice season we target the mouths of these bays but now that the ice is gone you want to get way back into these bays and find the warmest water that you can. A lot of the old weeds, specifically where the reeds and lily pads remnants are, that grow back later in the year, are where you’ll find pike right now. These old weeds hold some heat and help the water warm. They also provide cover for the pike fry once they hatch, giving them their best chance to survive.

When comes to catching pike, you want a good pair of polarized sunglasses to help you see some of these big fish laying around in the shallow water. You know you’ve found a good one if you think you are looking at a big log, then it moves. I like to make long casts past some of these fish with a large soft plastic jerkbait, then swim it in front of them. If you don’t spook the fish, they’ll likely bite. Spinnerbaits and other baits that are relatively weedless and shallow running are the top baits this time of year. Pike are relatively active so it usually isn’t too difficult to get some action.

Bass fishing is phenomenal the first few weeks following ice out. They are almost dormant during the winter so they are eager to eat once they see the light again. You can find fish both shallow and deep for the first couple weeks of the season. Some smallmouths will stay on their deep water wintering spots for a couple of weeks, the same flats and humps that are good in the fall, before dispersing towards shallow water. There is another group of smallmouths and you can include largemouths with these fish, that immediately bust a move towards shallow water, looking for the warmest water they can find. These fish will usually be found in the shallower lakes and bays.

When it comes to catching bass, it’s all about finding them and they’ll be easy to catch. They haven’t seen a lure in months so they are fresh and ready to go. Know that they are probably going to be grouped up however, so it can be hero or zero. If you find them, you’ll catch a bunch. Suspending jerkbaits are tough to beat for shallower fish, while a 4” jerk shad style minnow bait on a jig head is tough to beat for the deeper fish. I always keep a Ned rig handy as an extra option for both shallow and deep bass. 

Suspending jerkbaits are a great lure for early season smallmouth bass. – Submitted photo

Lake trout are a favourite of Sunset Country anglers because we have a bunch of great waterbodies to catch them, they are good eating and for the first month of the season they are aggressive. They love cold water and can be found shallow in the spring before spending the summer in deep water. The best thing about lake trout fishing is that all of the lakes that have them are so beautiful. Clear water, pine covered shorelines, it’s Sunset Country at its finest. Trolling spoons and crankbaits are a great way to cover water and find active fish. You can catch them fishing from shore with a piece of meat on waters that allow the use of baitfish and you can catch them casting and jigging with a jig and soft plastics. 

It’s a great time to go fishing so enjoy the start of a new season.