The best bites are right now

Now that the ice is out on just about all the water across Sunset Country, anglers are itching to get into their boats and start catching some fish after another long winter.
Long winter is a relative term. I know we had it pretty easy over the past few months, but it’s still a long time from November until April for us to fish out of a boat.
Luckily, we now have another six months or more of open water to fish our hearts out.
The early season offers some of the best fishing opportunities of the year, despite the fact there aren’t as many open seasons as there are during the actual summer months. Some areas are totally closed to fishing to protect spawning fish while some species are off-limits altogether for the time being.
Here are my three top bets for early-season fishing options for three popular species of fish.
Since we still have a few days left to chase walleyes before the season closes April 15, there is no better time than now to make a run for the Rainy River.
That’s on my agenda towards the end of this week. In fact, I want to try to get down there one more time to film a TV segment for season two of my show, “Fishing with Gussy.”
The Rainy River annually gets a massive run of walleyes from Lake of the Woods and there is no place in the region where you can go and catch as many big fish as you can there right now.
A quarter-ounce jig tipped with a minnow or a piece of scented plastic is tough to beat for catching fish.
If you like to chase toothy critters, then you know it’s prime time to get shallow for big pike. Fish that spend the majority of the year in deep water and out of range of most anglers make an annual pilgrimage to shallow water immediately after the ice goes out of our lakes to spawn.
They hang around for a week or two before moving back to their deep-water haunts.
Look for the biggest shallow bays on the lakes or rivers that you are fishing. If there are creeks pumping warm water in, even better. These creeks attract a lot of smaller fish that pike prey on.
Large, shallow-running, subtle baits that can be fished slowly are the key. Rapala Glidin’ Raps have produced big fish in the past if there are not too many weeds around.
Large bass-sized soft jerkbaits can be rigged weedless for those places that don’t allow lures with treble hooks. They also can be fished tantalizingly slow and hovered in front of hungry fish.
If you stick to shallow water, you’ll find pike over the next couple of weeks.
We are fortunate in the northern part of the province for the opportunity to fish for smallmouth bass early in the year. In southern Ontario, for instance, the bass season actually is closed until late June (anglers are not even allowed to fish for bass).
Since we have a much smaller population of anglers, and some of the best bass fisheries in the province, we are able to fish for bass year-round. There are restrictions on keeping fish until July 1, but at least we can get out and chase the favourite fish of many in our region.
The early season is a feast-or-famine type of deal. Smallmouths will be in large schools for the first couple of weeks of open water until they start to disperse along shorelines. Find them on main lake points or reefs leading into shallow bays where smallmouths will spawn in about a month.
Suspending jerkbaits like a Husky Jerk are tough to beat for finding and catching bass at this time of year.
The water on our large lakes is extremely low right now—a result of a dry fall and easy winter without a lot of snow. Hopefully, we get our fair share of rain over the next few weeks to start bringing that water up a bit.
Until lake levels rise, be careful out there as rocks and reefs that usually are not hittable with a motor might be now.

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