Sunset Country Lake Trout a New Year’s angling tradition

When we turn the calendar over to 2021 later this week it will be reason for all of us to have some kind of renewed optimism I hope. After what has been a tough year for everybody, hopefully the end of the pandemic is in sight and we start to get back on the road to normal living. Can you imagine how good it will feel to walk into a restaurant with some friends and grab dinner, without having to wear a mask?

For all of the anglers out there, we have another reason to be happy – January 1 marks the lake trout opener across Northwest Ontario. The lake trout season then remains open through September before the season closes again to protect these fall spawning fish.

Lake trout are a popular species during the winter because they are a cold water fish that is aggressive under the ice. They often bite artificial lures and we have great trout fisheries across the region. In a typical year, many of the resorts around the region host US anglers who travel north to catch these unique fish that are not found in many places south of Sunset Country.

Another appealing aspect of lake trout fishing are the deep, clear water lakes that host these fish. They are some of the most scenic and beautiful bodies of water in the world; classic Canadian shield lakes with rocky, pine covered shorelines. Many have rock walls where we can view pictographs, from anglers that came before us.

It’s no secret that many of the best trout lakes in the region are remote and require snowmobiles or ATV’s to access them. For many, that further adds to the appeal of fishing for lake trout, getting on a back lake somewhere that has no cell service and you can enjoy being in the outdoors.

When it comes to picking a lake, if you fish for lake trout, you probably have a couple of lakes that you like to fish. We have some waters that are known for big fish, while there are others that kick out big numbers of fish that typically don’t grow very large. If you like action and want to keep a few, these are the lakes to visit. As a general rule, if you want to catch a big laker, you should focus on some of the larger lakes. The Ontario Fish ON-LINE website can give you a good idea of which lakes have trout populations across the province.
All that being said there are still some good waters that have easy access for folks that don’t have access to a snowmobile and can maybe only get out in their vehicles. Crow Lake in Nestor Falls and Regina Bay on Lake of the Woods (Sioux Narrows) are two of the top places that come to mind. Crow Lake has a good population and Regina Bay is a great place to catch a trophy lake trout.

As I mentioned earlier, lake trout are known for their aggressive nature, especially in the cold water under the ice so on many days, they are not difficult to catch if you put a bait in front of them. Since the water in trout lakes is so clear, lake trout use their sight to their advantage when hunting. Historically, an airplane jig, a spoon and a tube jig are proven fish catchers. White is my favourite colour. Traditionally, tipping these baits with a piece of sucker belly meat or a minnow has been popular but restrictions on using “meat” for bait on many of the best trout waters have proven that meat is not needed on most days.

I have had good luck on all of the above mentioned baits in the past but in recent years, I most often use a four or five inch soft plastic jerk shad like a Z-Man Scented Jerk Shad rigged on a 3/8 oz jig. It’s a bait that my friends and I use a lot for bass and walleye in open water but it’s the perfect smelt and cisco imitator, the primary forage in many trout lakes.

One last thing to remember about fishing for lake trout is that they can show up anywhere in the water column, from right under the ice all the way down to the bottom. Move your bait throughout the water column as you fish and keep note of where you see fish showing up on your electronics.

If I could use an analogy to describe lake trout, it would be that they are like sharks under the ice, constantly on the move, looking for food. When you go fishing, keep moving around until you make contact with fish and then hunker down if you find a good spot or copy your success on similar locations around the lake. It could be a point, a bluff wall, a deep hole or even the mouth of a shallow bay.

Happy fishing in 2021.