I learned a valuable lesson a number of winters ago while ice fishing with a local legend in northern Ontario. During one of our many discussions over a few days of multi-species fishing, he said, “I have everything I need for the entire winter in this one bag. Whether I want to fish for northern pike, walleye, lake trout or whatever swims in this area, I have it with me – all winter long.” He literally doesn’t have to pack before each and every trip, just grab and go! It was totally true! Over the week of fishing we shared, he had one bag and was able to target any species he wanted. The bag wasn’t gigantic either! So let’s break it down to the wonderful world of open water northern Ontario.
At Wilderness North lodges, you can target three main species: walleye, northern pike and brook trout. Depending on the time of year, they will generally be pretty easy to locate (or at least we understand where they’re supposed to be). Water temperature and time of season will dictate. So when choosing your lures or flies of choice, it’s important to understand all three parts of the water column as it relates to time of the year. Topwater, suspended and bottom and have the key lures that allow you to access fish no matter their location in the entire water column.
Northern pike topwater is one of the most explosive and exciting ways to target these apex predators. Choose baits that are pure floaters or lures that work in the top six inches of the water column such as zara spook, spinnerbaits, bucktails, propbaits, frogs and top raiders.
For walleye, you can target them in the spring and early summer, dawn and dusk are best, but consider baits such as spinner baits, zara spooks and skitter pops. Smaller versions of what you’d throw for northern pike, really. Topwaters should have lots of vibration and move a lot of water.
With respect to brook trout, topwater or dry flies are a must! Be it a sip or an explosion, brookies on top are totally addictive. Ants, hoppers, deer hair frogs and even mice can entice a big brookie to the surface.
Mid-level pike and walleye can be caught by casting suspending jerkbaits, spoons, shadraps, and hot n tots for example. You can count down spinnerbaits and slow-roll them back to you or simply add weight to your leader to get your baits to depth. When choosing stickbaits or crankbaits, pay special attention to the size of the lip on the bait. Generally, the larger the lip, the deeper it’ll go. That plays with trolling as well, the more line you have out on a lipped bait, the deeper it should run.
Mid-column for brooktrout, consider an intermediate sinking line and swing substantive offerings such as wooly buggers, bunny leeches, mudler minnows or clouser minnows.
For pickier brooktrout, break out the nymphs and slow things down. Consider prince nymphs, tarantula stones, Kaufmann stones, flashback nymphs and then you have the entire world of emergers. You can euro-nymph these flies, or simply present them under an indicator. Flies are small, light and don’t take up much space in your bag.
For walleye near the bottom, a bottom bouncer with a nightcrawler or a simple jig and grub will put fish in the net. For pike, consider live baiting either with a quick-strike rig or you can slow drag big jigs with a soft plastic tail. Swimbaits are also a great bet for near bottom fish as you can let them sink and retrieve at any speed the fish are telling you.
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These are but a few simple suggestions for you to have in your tackle bag which will allow you to effectively target walleye, northern pike and brook trout all throughout the season. Paring down, and keeping things simple is a refreshing way of looking at a days fishing. Less work, less organization, and less weight could very well equal more fish! Just don’t forget to take the nightcrawlers out of the bag when you’re all done for the day – trust me.