The dead of winter hardly seems the time to be thinking about planning an open water walleye adventure. Actually, winter is the perfect time to do the research it requires to find fisheries other anglers have not discovered.
Lake Nipigon is huge and offers almost unlimited rocky shorelines ideal for pitching walleye jigs.
When most anglers in Michigan think about planning a trip to Ontario they are most likely focusing on fly-in fishing adventures. Some of the best fishing found in North America takes place in Ontario at countless fish camps only available by float plane.
As someone who has experienced fly-in fishing camps in every corner of Ontario, I can say these adventures rank among my favorite fishing memories. The sound of a De Havilland Beaver or Otter float plane warming up prior to departure has a resonance that can’t be described, it must be experienced.
Both my sons were fortunate to experience wilderness fishing as young boys. I credit these early fishing adventures for instilling in my family a life-long love of the outdoors. The bonding and fellowship that takes place in a remote fishing camp is something every father and son (or daughter) should experience. The idea of fishing pristine places few if any other anglers have visited is something that speaks to the very essence of why we fish in the first place.
PLANNING MAKES PERFECT
They say that practice makes perfect, but when it comes to picking a wilderness fishing destination, advance planning makes perfect. The planning starts by researching outfitters to find that perfect fishing getaway. The internet has made researching just about anything easier. If you have a question, chances are Google has the answer.
I spend a lot of time in the winter at my computer on-line searching for unique wilderness fishing opportunities. When it comes to walleye fishing numbers motivate me, but I’m also very interested in the average size of fish that are likely to be caught at a camp. The majority of the Ontario wilderness camps I’ve visited produce lots and lots of numbers, but most fall short in terms of producing quality and trophy caliber fish.
The reason that so many camps are about “eating” size walleye is because these northern fisheries are sterile environments that often produce little for walleye to feed on. The typical northern Ontario walleye lake simply doesn’t have the forage diversity to consistently grow big walleye.
When researching walleye camps, one of the first questions I’m asking is if the lake also contains other key species like lake whitefish and/or lake trout. Lakes that support whitefish and lake trout generally feature a pelagic forage base such as smelt, emerald shiners or most commonly ciscoes. Ciscoes are a soft rayed forage species found throughout Ontario that go by a number of names including lake herring and tullibee.
When walleye have access to pelagic forage species like ciscoes they generally grow faster and larger than walleye that are forced to feed on anemic sticklebacks, dace minnows, sculpins or fatheads. As a side note, the same lakes that produce big walleye tend to also produce bruiser sized northern pike for the same reasons.
Once I’ve located camps that routinely produce the quality of fish I’m after, it’s time to meet the outfitter personally. While consumer sport shows may seem “ole school” the fact is a face to face conversation is invaluable in judging the honesty and integrity of an outfitter.
Here in Michigan ShowSpan, Inc., produces the three largest and most respected consumer sport shows. These shows attract dozens of outfitters from Ontario and all across the nation. Anyone who is interested in planning a wilderness fishing adventure should consider attending the Ultimate Fishing Show, the Outdoorama and/or the Ultimate Sport Show. For specific dates of these annual events, visit the Ultimate Sport Show Tour at www.showspan.com.
Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV recently teamed up with master guide Chad Thompson of Pasha Lake Cabins to create an exciting walleye fishing TV episode. Lake Nipigon is famous for species like brook trout, but few anglers know this fishery is also loaded with quality walleye.
FLY OR DRIVE?
Most anglers who are looking north to Ontario are thinking fly-in fishing adventures, but the truth is there are countless fisheries an angler can drive to, take his own boat and experience fishing opportunities that are exceptional. When anglers ask me if they should choose a drive-to or fly-in fishing adventure, I ask them a few questions.
Most notably I’m interested in finding out if an angler owns his own boat, how big that boat might be and how often they fish. A typical Michigan angler who owns a 16-18 foot boat and fishes often is going to find Ontario walleye easy pickings compared to fishing in-land lakes back home in Michigan.
Ontario takes great care to manage their diverse fisheries with a host of regulations that are credited with creating world class fishing opportunities. Most noteworthy, Ontario has only a daily limit and no possession limit such as found in Michigan. What that means is when you catch a limit of fish on Monday, you can’t keep any more fish until some or all of those fish are consumed. Eliminating possession limits, reduces fish harvest, keeps waste to a minimum and fish populations strong.
Secondly, virtually all of Ontario is regulated with “slot limits” that closely govern the length of fish that can be kept and the ones that must be released. In most waters of Ontario only one walleye per day 18 inches or larger may be kept. All other fish in the daily limit, must be smaller than this slot limit.
While slot limits are rare in Michigan, they serve an important purpose in Ontario in that pressure is taken off from adult fish that are doing the majority of the spawning efforts. Meanwhile, fishing pressure is concentrated on those fish that make up the most numerous part of the population.
The third part of Ontario’s fisheries management plan plays to enforcement. If you fish in Ontario you are almost certainly going to encounter a conservation officer who’s job is to make sure you play by the rules. Enforcement is critically important in maintaining vulnerable fisheries and also providing grass roots education to visiting anglers.
If you think choosing a fly-in fishing adventure eliminates being checked by a conservation officer, think again. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is heavily invested in enforcing fishing regulations in every corner of the Providence.
During his recent visit to Lake Nipigon, Fishing 411 TV Host Jake Romanack handled literally hundreds of walleye like this one. Pitching jigs tipped with plastic swim bait bodies proved to be the best way to target these fish.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
It’s a forgone conclusion in fishing that the more remote you get, the better the fishing is typically going to be. The majority of the non-resident fishing pressure in Ontario takes place in easily reached areas of Algoma Country especially along Highway 17 and 11. Algoma is a huge tourism region that stretches from Sault Ste., Marie west to White River, north to the arctic watershed and west to Spanish, Ontario.
In general, the further north you go in Algoma Country, the fewer roads and fish camps you encounter. One way to find great fishing in Ontario is to concentrate on getting off the main travel corridors and instead explore the endless secondary roads that provide access to seldom explored fisheries.
Another option for zeroing in on world class fishing is to focus on larger bodies of water that many anglers shy away from. Ontario has a number of sprawling bodies of water that are huge by any description including Lake Nipigon, Lake of the Woods, Lac Suel and Rainy Lake. On any of these lakes and many others an angler with the spirit of an explorer can find completely untapped fishing potential.
Recently, the Fishing 411 TV crew fished the North shore of Lake Nipigon as the guest of Chad Thompson, the owner of Pasha Lake Cabins near Beardmore, Ontario. “Many parts of Lake Nipigon are as remote as any fly-in camp,” says Thompson who specializes in a type of fishing he has coined “adventure fishing” because just getting to some of these places is an adventure. “Fishing the North shore of Lake Nipigon requires embarking on a boat ride that’s more than 50 miles! That pretty much scares off the masses.”
What are the rewards for finding these off the beaten path fisheries? The short answer is walleye and lots of them. Our crew caught walleye nearly at will by casting jigs and soft plastics to shoreline structure. Even in mid September when few anglers travel to Ontario, the fish were abundant, we found them feeding in water only a few feet deep and the average fish tipped the scales at between three and four pounds!
Our TV crew has fished out of Pasha Lake Cabins more than a dozen times now and we have yet to scratch the surface when it comes to fishing adventures. Thompson also has boats stashed at a number of lakes only accessible by ATV or UTV. Getting to these lakes requires that fishermen come prepared with their own off road vehicle and the willingness to get a little mud on the tires.
Also, within driving distance of Pasha Lake Cabins anglers will find several “day trip” drive-to lakes that harbor some amazing fishing. Often these roads are little more than logging trails that require a four wheel drive vehicle to navigate.
SUMMING IT UP
Honestly, Ontario has something for every angler and every fishing budget. From luxury fishing lodges to fly-in outpost camps, rental cabins, Provincial Campgrounds and drive-to fisheries, great fishing awaits those who come looking for it.
IF YOU GO
Important contacts for anglers visiting Ontario include the following tourism sites. Each of these web pages also list contacts for independent fishing outfitters, lodges, cabin rentals, etc.
Destination Ontario, www.destinationontario.ca
Ontario Travel, www.ontariotravel.net
Algoma Country, www.algomacountry.com
Northwest Ontario, www.visitnorthwestontario.com
Sunset Country, www.visitsunsetcountry.com
Pasha Lake Cabins, www.pashalake.com