For the last several years I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a winter fishing vacation at my buddy’s camp in northern Ontario, just south of Gogama. Gerry Heels has a cabin up there with two ski-doos that we use to fish different lakes each day. We usually go up there for a week around New Year’s and try to get in around mid-March as well. Our target species include lake trout, splake, brook trout and occasionally rainbows. One of the main lakes up there only has a short winter laker season, from mid-February to mid-March, so we planned our trip to coincide with the last few days of the lake trout season.
Before this trip, we have always had to take the train to get to Gerry’s cabin as the bush roads aren’t plowed in winter. Ironically enough however, we made plans with our local friend Pete, weeks in advance so that we wouldn’t have to take the train. Being the great guy that he is, Pete snowmobiled out to the nearest road access site and hauled us and our gear 40 minutes into the bush with his ski-doo and sleds back to Gerry’s camp. It was a good thing we had arranged for an alternate transportation method too, because the infamous Gogama Trail Derailment and oil spill had completely shut down all local rail service.
80 year old Pete in the centre, flagged by Gerry on the right and myself to the left
I was in front of one sled when I took this photo of Gerry riding in the back … heading into camp to begin our ice fishing adventure.
And Gerry took this photo of me
Upon arrival at Gerry’s cabin … we had to dig our way in first
During these trips getting to and from the various lakes each day is always part of the adventure … or miss-adventure! This year we were more cautious than ever about becoming bogged down in heavy slush on the lakes or having our sleds veer off the main trail and buried in deep snow. In other years we have had both happen on numerous occasions and although freeing our machines is a ton of hard work and a major pain in the butt … the worst part is that it takes precious fishing time away. Some lakes … often those types with steep banks can be high-risk slush filled pot-holes. With over a metre of snow on the ground (and the roof of the cabin) this year, we stayed away from those lakes and were not stuck in slush once … a first for Gerry and I.
Because of the deep snow, one of the first tasks we did upon reaching a new fishing area, was to drive around it with our sleds first. We’d make several trails that would allow us to walk around and drill several holes in the area.
There’s always something special about breaking thru deep virgin snow and being the only ones fishing a lake never gets old!
During the week, we caught lake trout, brook trout and some nice splake. They came on a variety of lures ranging from spoons to small HT Marmooska jigs.
Gerry holds an average sized splake. Although these laker/brookie hybrids are stocked and don’t reproduce, they are a highly prized sport fish in the north. They fight harder than either parent, taste fabulous and grow quickly. Although splake remain active all winter, they can be a real challenge – sometimes behaving like a typical brook trout hugging shallow water haunts and other times mimicking their lake trout side … remaining deep and not relating to structure of any kind.
The highlight of the week for me was catching my Personal Best splake ever on our 4th day. Gerry and I had reached our desired lake after a beautiful half hour snowmobile ride. He elected to fish a point mid-way down the lake, while I chose to fish one at the far end near a beaver house. I drilled my two holes thru the 4 feet of ice (we had the auger heads touching ice as we broke thru) and took out my HT rods and reels already pre-rigged. “What to start with? Might as well go with my trusty Blue Fox Moresilda spoon in red and gold in one hole and a perhaps a Hot Bite helicopter type jig and Trigger X Minnow in another … or maybe a tube?”, I asked myself. As I dropped the spoon down to bottom 16 feet away, I gave it a few jigs up and down, then a few more and was contemplating my dilemma. “Hmm what bait should go in that other hole? Decisions, decisions!”
Another couple of absent minded jigs … and wham - something heavy grabs my lure and begins to pull back with all it has. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is no average-sized splake, as powerful runs and head shakes told me otherwise. After what must have been a 5 minute tussle between me and fish, I finally thought I was getting the upper hand when suddenly the crazed finned critter torpedoed upward with lightning speed. I thought I had lost the fish as it went completely slack … despite the fact that I had instinctively reeled in as fast as I could to try and keep up. Half a kilometre away Gerry heard me scream a naughty curse word and he told me later he thought I had lost a fish. I did too at the time, but sure enough once I caught up to it, she was still there.
That upwards run however seemed to have rejuvenated this scaled adversary and she screamed back down and the drag on my little HT reel zinged in response.
Suddenly I knew I was in for another scary moment as this nutso splake veered off to the side closest to shore. Crap … she was trying to get into some underwater branches near the beaver house and by the feel of the line rubbing against the wood, I knew she was succeeding. At one time, I couldn’t budge her and thought she had wrapped around a branch successfully, but I worked my line off to the side and felt something give!
Whew … YES! She was still on and after that I finally felt like I was in charge. It took some maneuvering to convince her to come up the hole head first instead of stubbornly staying sideways but at last I could see her. For a quick second I looked down to make sure the crazy fight was not because I had inadvertently snagged this half laker, half brookie hybrid. Nope, the treble was firmly implanted in the side of her lip so I brought her up and out of the hole and onto the ice!
My biggest splake ever and although I’ve caught pike and lake trout thru the ice more than three times its weight, this battle would rank as one of my top three thru the ice … ever! She pulled the Rapala Digital scale down to 7.3 pounds and was the biggest splake from this particular lake that Gerry had ever seen or heard about … and he’s been fishing it for about 40 years!
Our trip ended on a high note a couple days later when after we moved from a large lake to a smaller one close to camp. We were fishing the evening bite on our last day and something occurred to me, so I yelled over to Gerry, “Hey we still haven’t kept any of the brookies we caught … we should keep at least one.” “I’m marking one on my Lowrance Unit right now!” he said. Even though that fish hung around and was interested in his baits, they were left untouched. Awhile later however with daylight disappearing fast and our time rapidly coming to a close … I see a streak suddenly appear on my own Lowrance Elite Ice Machine … and wham it sucked in my HT Tungsten Marmooska. A quick flick of the wrist was all it took to set the hook, thanks to the fast tip of the HT Polar lite rod. Although this is one of my favorite Simcoe perch rods and with light 4lb line can be a bit dicey for these big scrappy northern brookies, I just let the rod and reel do its job and soon had our only brookie destined for the frying pan … on the ice. It was the perfect ending for another great ice fishing adventure in Northern Ontario.
A nice brook trout that preferred a small Marmooska jig tipped with a little soft plastic craw. We know these fish eat crayfish – even in winter and this little bait was too irresistible for the trout to ignore.
Although our buddy Pete and his wife Annette have the luxury of indoor washroom facilities … Gerry’s camp on the other side of the CN tracks does not. A trip to this outhouse every morning was a necessary routine. Fortunately … I didn’t have a yearning to visit at 4 am – like Gerry did one day!
Our buddy Pete waving good bye after he dropped us off at the end of our trip. He and his wife Annette live a peaceful retired life in a rail side community of just two full time residents – them! They do have electricity thanks to a generator that’s used in the evenings and indoor plumbing … but other things that we take for granted – like cell or internet service are non-existent. Much of their food comes from what the surrounding landscape can provide … from moose and bear meat to blue berries and produce from their large garden. Of course, a local supply of fresh fish is also a staple and Gerry and I always enjoy the opportunity to fish with Pete … and sometimes even Annette when we make our visits.