Get Reel in the North – The great equalizer

Phil Hembruff caught and released this Lake Manitou monster walleye February 9, 2020 at 31.75" and 15.75 pounds. Phil was searching for lake trout spots to fish in the Manitoulin Ice Showdown 2020.

Welcome to the inaugural ‘Get Reel,’ a weekly column about fishing on Manitoulin and Northern Ontario. My name is Dave Patterson, founder and coordinator of the Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic, a charter member of Ontario Fishing Guys and lifelong angler. I have been fishing the lakes, creeks, rivers and even puddles of Manitoulin and surrounds for over 40 years. You will find me out fishing with Bone (Aaron) and Danny (fellow Ontario Fishing Guys) any chance we get, looking for that next trophy fish. Every week I will give readers some fishing pointers, tell you what’s biting, what’s hot and perhaps share a tall tale or two.

I like to say that ice fishing is a great equalizer. You don’t need a $50,000 boat, $5,000 worth of electronics or all the latest and greatest gear to get out and catch your trophy walleye, pike or trout. Manitoulin, and Northern Ontario as a whole, provide ample lakes teaming with cooperative fish to give even the most novice angler a day they will remember. 

A warm jacket, functional boots, an auger, fishing pole and a bit of grit will provide hours of outdoor activity and a healthy meal or two. Always remember that no ice is safe ice and always exercise caution. If you don’t know the ice conditions, don’t go out.

When heading out on the ice, always create a plan beforehand. Knowing where to go (and informing someone that you are heading out on the ice), what fish you are targeting and to catch them when you arrive are the three keys to success.

Know the lake

Nothing turns people off ice fishing faster than not catching fish. Sitting on a piece of freezing sheet ice for hours on end and not reaping the rewards of a fresh fish dinner makes for a long day. 

The first thing I do if I am not familiar with the lake I intend to fish is head straight to Google maps and get a lay of the land. Look for the best area to head out on the ice and plan how to get there.

My next step is to open the Navionics Web application. Navionics provides a free chart of most lakes, and you can glean some incredible fishing spots or, at the very least, get an idea of where to start your adventure. You can download the app from the Google Play, Apple App Store or on your desktop at webapp.navionics.com. There is a paid version for $29.99 that provides other useful features.

What fish to target

Having a game plan and preparation will make your day out on the ice much more enjoyable. Every fish is unique in how they spend their winter months and feeding habits. 

Decide on the fish you are going to target and do some online research on their winter habits. Perch, for example, like the large weedy flats in about 20 feet of water in Lake Mindemoya while the walleye prefer some structure, rock shoals, points or quick drop-offs.

If you are new to fishing or an old pro, the website www.ontario.ca/fishonline can be one of the most useful tools in your preparation arsenal. It gives you a lake by lake list of what species are present and what stocking has taken place in years past. 

Manitoulin is unique in that it offers almost every game fish in Ontario and all within a 30-minute drive from nearly any location on the Island.

What to use

There are so many options at the local tackle stores that sometimes it can feel overwhelming. I will let you in on a few of my absolute must-haves in my ice fishing tackle box.

Perch: 1/16-ounce jig tipped with a little white grub or small white soft plastic tail; 1/4-ounce Northlands Buckshot tipped with a minnow head or white plastic tail a simple hook and sinker with a small piece of shrimp from your local grocery store

Walleye: 3/8-ounce Northlands Buckshot tipped with a minnow head; Northlands Eyeball (white glow) tipped with a full live minnow; Rapala jigging rap; a simple jighead tipped with a live minnow; an assortment of flutter spoons

Lake Trout: Williams Whitefish; 5-inch white tube jig; Swedish Pimple tipped with a chunk of sucker minnow

Whitefish: 2.5-inch Meegs jig; 1/16-ounce jig tipped with a small brown soft plastic tail; an assortment of 2-inch wet flies that resemble nymphs

Rainbow Trout: Orange Berkley Power Bait; 1/4-ounce jig, tipped with a white twister tail; 2-inch Williams silver flutter spoon.

These are just some of my personal favourite lures. Experiment and see what works for you.

Fishing Report

Manitowaning Bay

Just days from the Manitoulin Ice Showdown, and the fishing is hot. Rainbow trout up to 20lbs (and probably more) roam the waters off Buzwah and Bayside Resort. A few people have reported that Berkley Power Bait has been a solid choice. Jigs tipped with grubs have also been producing some nice fish. It has not been uncommon to catch two or three fish over 10 pounds, and with the temperatures climbing this week, the rainbow should be heading into a feeding frenzy.

Lake Manitou

With good ice finally, the Manitou faithful are heading out to find cooperative lake trout. On Sunday, Bone caught and released six nice lakers up to six pounds in just under an hour. The bite was hot early in the morning but faded fast, and after 9:30 am they were gone. The lake trout were in 35 feet of water. As the day moves on the fish have been moving deeper with good catches reported in 45 to 55-foot range. Williams Whitefish in silver and copper has been hot.

Lake Mindemoya

The perch bite has slowed down in the past few weeks, but a good dinner can still be caught on the flats north of Treasure Island in 18 to 20-foot range. Anglers report that the perch are taking small jigs tipped with grubs and Buckshots. The walleye bite has been solid for the past week just as the sun sets. A simple rig of a jig and minnow has been icing some nice fish. Look for rock shoals or shallow flats that descends quickly to deeper water. The 18 to 20-foot mark has been the sweet spot.

South Bay

South Bay finally has some ice and anglers are heading out in search of whitefish. Catches have been good, and the whitefish have been cooperating. Small jigs with soft plastics and 2-inch Williams flutter spoons have been producing nice fish. I have not heard of any reports of the huge jumbos that lurk in South Bay but with the ice just forming to a safe level recently, not many people have been out chasing them. The ice in South Bay is uncertain at the best of times so exercise caution before heading out.

If you have information on other lakes, fishing reports or want to submit a photo please send them my way via email to expositor@manitoulin.ca.

Tight lines and get out there; you can’t catch fish from your couch.

– Dave