For Orillia Fishing - By Wil Wegman
Before we get started, I want to take a minute to thank Wil for this amazing article. We're seeing increased pressure in our area when it comes to parking restrictions, increased parking rates as well as hundreds of other anglers filling our small lakes - all pushing us further north to find some solitude.
If you're here, it's because you're like me and a lot of this is new and you need a place to start your journey, outside of the areas we're used to fishing. I encourage you to get together with our like minded people, ask questions and find what works for YOU, in any situation. Without further a-do, here's Wil:
I’ve been ice fishing backcountry lakes into remote regions of Northern Ontario for almost as long as I have been ice fishing. Those trips began in the early 80’s when we would snowshoe in to Margaret and Little Margaret lakes near Dorset – pulling a toboggan with all of our winter camping and ice fishing gear. Our campsite choices always had one key criteria … and that was to be within 60 meters of what we hoped would be the best fishing spot on the lake. This would allow us to legally place our set lines and HT Tip Ups within view and easy running distance from our site … where for the most part we had a perpetual campfire going. Ah, those trips bring back such fond memories not just because of the great fishing and camping we enjoyed but because they were the catalyst for pursuing new and exciting backcountry wilderness lakes to ice fish.
Although my winter camping trips may be on hiatus (but I’m not ready to say never again lol) I still enjoy the ongoing adventures of exploring and ice fishing the multitude of wilderness lakes surrounding my friend’s (Gerry Heels) former camp … now his off grid remote retirement home just south of Gogama.
Almost two decades ago, when we first started using his cabin as home base to make daily forays to ice fish different lakes, the only way to get to his camp in winter was by VIA Rail. We would load ourselves and our gear onto the train station in Washago and travel all night to reach the area around Gerry’s camp by sunrise. Confirming with VIA staff beforehand just where you wanted to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere was extremely important …lest you hike in to reach his cabin further than you need to. Today a series of snowmobile trails from the main highway allow you to drive up hauling a couple of sleds and to park your vehicle and ski-doo in an hour or so right to the front door of his cabin.
If you’re interested in backcountry ice fishing adventure of your own read on and we’ll try and help you get started.
How To Figure Out Where To Go
Get to learn the ontario-crown-land-use-policy-atlas to determine where crown land is surrounding and leading into potential backcountry ice fishing destinations. You may be surprised to learn there are backcountry lakes you can get into closer than you think
Possible back country lakes you may want to visit can be researched to learn what species are present naturally and what are stocked at MDMNRF’s Fish On Line website. Some lakes even have mapping features.
The google-earth site is a backcountry angler’s dream to find hidden shoals and identify other fish-holding features on lakes void of other mapping features before you ever set foot on them.
There are many lodges in northern Ontario that remain open and even if they don’t provide ice huts and other amenities geared directly to the would-be backcountry ice fishing enthusiast, they get you reasonably close to local wilderness lakes. Places to stay at one of my favorite regions in northern Ontario can be found here: Algoma Country or to broaden your search even more – check this site out: Northern Ontario Travel & Fishing
For the winter camping or more luxurious yurt camping experience, Ontario Provincial Parks provide ample opportunities to explore remote ice fishing destinations. Although many parks are closed in winter, some still allow you to park at the main gate and haul all of your gear on a toboggan and hike in to your campsite.
Train Travel is still a very viable, exciting and safe winter travel option to reach a desired back country destination. Check where VIA travels here: List of stations - Ontario | VIA Rail or Northland here: Station Locator | Ontario Northland
Until Next Time:
Ice fishing remote wilderness lakes can provide you with some spectacular unmatched fishing opportunities not available at easier-to-get-to pressured lakes like our beloved Simcoe or Cooch. Despite the fact however that you could be the only ones on the hard water once you finally get there, it doesn’t guarantee success. In this first of three articles for Orillia Fishing, we introduced you to some of the basics to help you plan for such an adventure but stay tuned to the others when we dive into such topics how to increase your success for various species and create your own special memories of fishing one of Ontario’s hundreds of thousands of backcountry lakes.
Wil Wegman is an award winning outdoor writer whose articles have appeared in most Canadian and several US Outdoor publications. He is an avid ice angler and educator and his ice fishing seminars across Ontario and into the US have helped thousands get bit through the ice. Wil was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame in 2017 and continues to be a strong advocate for conservation and the fishing community.