Home to some of the world’s most legendary lake trout waters, Ontario’s Sunset Country continues to draw more ice anglers each year thanks to the quantity and quality of lake trout as well as picturesque natural surroundings. It’s one of those few winter angling destinations where there’s a really good chance your next jig drop could be a trophy fish.
Yet, they all fight like trophy fish.
Pound-for-pound there’s no other winter quarry that offers the athleticism of this poorly-trained Rottweiler with fins.
Biologically speaking, the lake trout is a cold-water species that feeds heavily to sustain its movements throughout large, deep and cold waters. So, the fish can be here today, gone tomorrow as they search out food.
To locate active biters, Kenora-based guide Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson recommends that anglers keep on the move, seeking out four different types of high-probability areas.
First, early-season lake trout can often be found near deep bluff walls that they use corral and ambush ciscoes. Other times, trout can be located near the mouths of shallow, weedy bays that hold forage or near isolated main lake humps that also attract prey fish species. Likewise, trout will use successive saddles and points with adjacent deeper water to intercept food.
Far and away the best way to catch winter lake trout is by jigging. And while heavy bucktail jigs, Heddon Sonar blade baits and Airplane Jigs have caught fish for countless decades, soft plastics have become the new must-haves, baits like 4- and 5-inch Flukes and white tubes paired with jig head weights proportionate to water depth. Similarly, 1/2- to 1.5-ounce spoons like Buck-Shots, Hopkins and PK Lures all produce fish in spades. Some anglers will station dead bait impaled on Quick Strike Rigs below tip-ups over key structure while fishing surrounding holes.
So where do you start? Although Ontario’s Sunset Country offers lots of great lake trout waters, three solid bets include Lake of the Woods, Crow (Kakagi) Lake and what Gussy calls “the back lakes.”
For anglers seeking numbers of fish and consistent action, LOTW’s Whitefish Bay and Crow Lake are recommended. For larger fish potential, explore LOTW’s Regina Bay. And, for those anglers seeking additional adventure and quite literally an experience “off the beaten track,” Kenora-based guides Jeff Gustafson, David Bennett and Dean Howard can offer custom trips to waters with both numbers and trophy potential.
I know first-hand that you cannot go wrong with any of the above locations. Some of the best times I’ve ever spent on the ice were 50 fish days on Crow Lake with my father, who fished the lake each winter for 25 years. And Lake of the Woods? It is still home to the biggest lake trout I’ve ever seen caught. As for chasing lakers on ‘the back lakes,’ well, that’s daydream fodder still in the research and development stage.
So, if you haven’t fished lake trout through the ice, you must. It’s bucket-list material that rivals anything that swims in fresh- or saltwater—no Dramamine required.
BTW, Ontario’s lake trout season doesn’t open until January 1st, so you’ve still got time to plan your own trip this winter!
Dean Howard: (807) 465-4148