Get Reel in the North

Moe with a pair of lunker Manitowaning Rainbow

With the 2nd annual Manitoulin Ice Showdown just days away, I thought it would be interesting to get some different techniques and fishing perspectives from a few well-respected anglers who target the lakers and rainbow that everyone will be after this weekend.

With over 200 years of fishing experience behind them, these anglers know their stuff. I asked each to outline how they catch trophy fish regularly, and if they could only use one lure, what would it be? Here is what they had to say.

Kris Bain

Kris is the owner of Junction Tackle Company, pro staff for numerous tackle companies, a tournament angler and a past winner of the Wawa Ice Fishing Derby. 

When chasing lake trout on the hard water, I like to cover my bases—knowing that they are a feeding machine and will not pass up on a big meal (especially bigger fish). 

Kris Bain with winning lake trout from past Wawa Derby.

When I’m tournament fishing, I’ll lay out a large (10- to 14-inch) dead bait, either a herring or sucker on bottom, rigged with a custom gorge hook on a heavy fluorocarbon leader. I’ll use a bait needle and thread the hook through the mouth and put the hook top of the back as fish almost always swallow their prey headfirst. 

I am old school and enjoy the tug of a large fish on a hand line so I use a tip-up with a wide arbour spool rigged with 20-25 lb big game monofilament. When a fish strikes your large bait, let them run! Don’t get trigger happy and set the hook until the fish stops! If you set the hook before that, you can miss the chance on a winning fish! In some cases, massive fish don’t entirely stop but will slow down after a long run.

Once you are fighting the fish on a hand line, make sure your line is strung out on the ice away from obstructions and not all tangled. This way, when the derby winning fish decides to take a heart-pounding run or two, you don’t have your hand caught! 

As for my jigging rod, I’ll typically have three lures rigged. All baits draw a fish’s attention from a distance and for different reasons! Lure one: Sebile Vibrato, this lure combines both flash and vibration with a realistic appeal most lake trout will not turn down! Lure two: a large white tube, this lure is time tested bait that provides the profile and contrast of a wounded baitfish darting and slashing through the water column that triggers significant strikes and slack-lined takes! Lure three: Williams Whitefish, this lure provides a tantalizing flash, wobble and profile that fish can see from a long way off! Tipping the spoon with a piece of cut bait or even a feathered treble has proven to be fatal to a big hungry laker!

One lure: Sebile Vibrato

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Luke Wassegijig

Luke with a pair of solid whitefish.

Luke is an ice fishing guide and charter captain, co-ordinator of the Manitoulin Ice Showdown and avid outdoorsman.

When I am chasing rainbow through the ice, I like to look at the lay of the land. I scout for tributaries that flow into the bay and mark a prominent spot that the bows will congregate.

Fishing shallow in four to 10 feet of water is where you will find me. I like to set up by drilling a few holes close together. Put out a deadstick with power bait (orange, always orange) or shrimp on it at one hole, and the other I will hook up a Williams Wobbler using the flash to get the fish active and bring them in.

One thing to always remember is to ice troll, keep moving. If you don’t see fish coming in, move to a different location. 

Try to stay away from the crowds. Rainbow is a spooky fish, lots of above ice activity will shut them down.

One lure: Williams Wobbler

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Aaron (Bone) Case

Aaron (Bone) with a Lake Manitou beauty.

Bone is a founding member of Ontario Fishing Guys, tournament angler, Junction Tackle Pro Staff and has fished lake trout on Manitou for over 35 years.

I am a bottom lake trout angler. I like to target the base seven feet of the water column. On Lake Manitou, you will find a lot of anglers like to fish high. It is not uncommon to see guys fishing 10 feet below the ice. Up high, you are only going to get the active fish that are feeding. Dropping down to the bottom, you can entice fish, both active and neutral, to take a swipe at your bait.

I prefer to use spoons, starting a foot off the bottom and working it up a few feet at a time. Flashy spoons work the best: Williams Whitefish, Williams Nipigon and Frostbite Dinner Bell all work well. Always keep the lure moving; that is the key. Lake trout are eating machines, and as long as you can catch their attention, the chances are reasonable—you will ice fish.

If the fish appear to be neutral and uninterested, I will make the switch to something more subtle, like a big white tube or hair jig.

One lure: Williams Whitefish

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Danny Bacon

Danny Bacon with a very nice Lake Manitou laker.

Danny is a member of Ontario Fishing Guys, pro staff for several tackle companies and a seasoned tournament angler.

For me, I love to deadstick a large bait right on the bottom. I will rig up an eight to 10-inch herring. I find that big fish tend to be lazy. They want to exert as little energy as possible. A large deadstick bait provides the perfect opportunity for a sizeable lazy trout to see an easy meal. 

Don’t be afraid to use large baits. Lake trout have a big mouth for a reason. They are feeding machines and will often take on a large baitfish.

Once the deadsticks set up, I will turn my attention to the second hole and start jigging with a Sebile Vibrato or big white tube jig to bring them in. 

I have noticed over the years that sometimes the lure choice is not as important as the cadence you have when jigging. An active, always moving lure with the right rhythm can sometimes make or break your day. A helpful tip is that you can add a silver blade to the tube to give it a bit more flash. I have found this beneficial to entice fish to the area when they seem less than interested.

One lure: Sebile Vibrato

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Matt Eles

Matt Eles with a lake trout taken on a white tube jig.

Matt is a Pro Staff member of Junction Tackle and an accomplished tournament angler.

Lakers are one of my favourite fish to target on the hard water. They are ferocious feeders, super aggressive and incredibly fun to catch.

Without a doubt, my favourite method to catch the tanks is with a three- to four-inch white tube jig. I usually like to fish in the 40- to 60-foot depth range, finding a plateau that the fish will be feeding on. I will start fishing anywhere from five to 20 feet off the bottom. I keep a close eye on my graph to look for rising lakers, and once I see them coming up for the tube jig, I start reeling. It truly is amazing how fast they can close on a bait. 

I’ve had times when I was reeling as fast as possible and they still closed and slammed it. One thing that I cannot stress enough is put a stinger hook on your tube. A size six or eight treble just past the last tentacles of your jig will increase your catch rate. I probably get 80 percent of my fish on the stinger; lakers are famous for swiping at a bait.

Putting out a deadstick is another method with which I have had great success. A large bait, six to 12 inches on a quick-strike rig sitting on the bottom, is deadly. Generally, you catch your bigger fish with this method.

One lure: White tube jig (of course)

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Moe Gauthier

Moe with a pair of lunker Manitowaning Rainbow

Moe is a charter captain, ice fishing guide and avid outdoorsman.

The best thing I can tell you about catching that 10-pound plus rainbow is that they can be unpredictable: the fish cruise the bays and coastal areas in search of their next meal and are always on the move.

Look for a contour to fish in the five- to 20-foot range. You want to find rock flats with the ideal condition of rocks meeting up with a weed bed. The fish will tend to congregate in this area and it makes for a natural fish highway.

I will start by setting up a deadstick with either fresh roe or orange Berkley Power Bait. Orange has proven to be lethal on the Manitowaning ‘bows, but be sure to bring a jar of green along. I have seen days where colour matters, and while orange is king, some days they might be on the green.

In the second hole, I will use a spoon to call them in. I have success with silver and gold. However, be sure to bring an assortment of colours like pink and purple; some days it requires something a little different.

Rainbow is a fun fish to catch. You can see them catch a glimpse of your lure flashing. They will charge in and stop on a dime, slowly turn and smash your power bait. You just never know how they will react to the presentation on any given day, but if you put yourself in an area to succeed and use a proven technique, you will have success.

One Lure: I hate to say it but Orange Berkley Power Bait. It seems so simple, but it works.

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The Manitoulin Ice Showdown is mere days away, and with all this great information, I suspect we will see record weigh-ins. I am jealous of all the anglers that get to fish this weekend; get out there and catch a monster.

Keep your lines tight.