Through the crystalline haze of particles thrown up by the machines ahead, a frozen world speeds by. Cracked granite bluffs rise out of the ice, high winds shrouding them in a fog of snow. A raven's shadow glides over the white expanse.
Once holes are drilled and lines down, on calm days with no wind, nothing is quieter than the Shield in winter. Across a hundred hectares, nothing moves. Nothing breathes. Nothing but snow, rock, and pines. Until a wolf howls or a laker slams the jig so hard your wrist aches.
Lakers are the Brahma bulls of the hard-water world, and we break our share. Salmon and steelhead may fight harder, but lakers grow bigger, and are found in many more waters that freeze. From Wisconsin's Trout Lake to the Arctic Circle, lakers swim in thousands of waterways.
Riding a real herd of these heifers gets harder every year, however. When it comes to lake trout fishing, bigger ones should be released, which doesn't happen often enough. As a result, numbers of big lake trout tend to thrive only in the back of beyond, with the exception of the Great Lakes. But ice fishing for lakers on the Great Lakes is mostly confined to bays, except during exceptionally cold years.
Part of the trick is getting off the beaten path. The key question being, in a day, how far can you ride a sled roundtrip and still leave enough time for fishing? Selwyn? North Knife? Great Bear? Great Slave? If only. Unfortunately, the world's best lake-trout waters are locked in darkness where the days are but a few hours long during the ice season. The ice is six feet thick and the snow? Forget it. The following lakes are options closer to home.
Laker Hot Spots On Ice
Fort Peck, Montana — Lake trout, planted in 1953, are self-sustaining in Fort Peck. They've had plenty of time to grow to 30 pounds or more, and the population is healthy, yet "I don't think lake trout are being targeted through the ice much at all," said Bill Wiedenheft, regional fisheries manager for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Every year we talk to walleye fishermen who never specifically fish for lakers but catch them incidentally almost every time out."
What's wrong with this picture? With a good map and a little research, any self-respecting lake-trout angler over a few days on Peck should be able to ice trout over 15 pounds and good numbers. Key time to visit is late December through January.
Contacts: Guide Herb Walk, 307/655-9809; Lakeridge Motel & Tackle, 406/526-3597.
Lake Simcoe, Ontario — This huge lake north of Toronto produces good lake trout every year, and 80 percent of the lakers caught in Lake Simcoe are taken by ice fishermen in winter, according to Wil Wegman, information assistant for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. "Because it's such a large lake, start out with an ice-hut operator," Wegman advises. Call his office for an operator in the area you choose to fish. "The two-fish limit is working," Wegman pointed out. "Trout in the 25- to 30-pound range are appearing with increasing regularity." The lake-trout season opens January 1 and ends March 15, with good fishing throughout.
Contact: Ontario MNR Information: 905/713-7400.
Lac ChampdorÃ¨, Québec — Among the finest lake-trout fisheries in the world, ChampdorÃ¨ is one of few near-Arctic spots open to American ice anglers in the far north. Part of the RiviÃ¨re la Baleine (Whale River) system, which flows into Ungava Bay, ChampdorÃ¨ is situated north of the 56th parallel.
Native Americans live on the lake and offer "cultural tours" in winter. From Shefferville, Labrador, long runs by snowmobile are made every year just to experience the lifestyle of the Montagnaif people. Nessepi-Kantuet Outfitters provide snowmobiles for the 120-mile trek into ChampdorÃ¨.
"It's an incredible adventure, even on those rare trips where the fishing is just normal," says singer-songwriter-outfitter Matt Wilder. "Ptarmigan, caribou, wolves, snowy owls — never know what you're going to see. Accommodations are better than rustic, with wood stoves and generators. They take remarkable care of you, and they auger the holes — which is great because the ice is over four feet thick."
The biggest laker landed at this camp weighed over 49 pounds, and the biggest brought through the ice weighed over 35 pounds, so chances of landing the laker of several lifetimes is a real possibility.
Contact: Matt Wilder, 914/763-6708.
Clearwater-Pipestone Chain, Ontario — Ross's Camp offers access to a number of great lake trout lakes in Northwest Ontario. Al Lindner and the In-Fisherman crew enjoyed a fantastic week here a few years back, fishing Loonhaunt, Pipestone, Dash, Kaiarskons, and other waters. Running water, showers, meals in the lodge if you want, this is a drive-to experience with the rough edges sanded off. "Lake-trout fishing was pretty good last winter," according to Pat Howard. "Lots of fish in the 8- to 10-pound range." Clearwater gives up a few truly huge trout each year. Price ranges from $30 to $46 per night, depending on the package chosen.
Contacts: Pat or Wayne Howard, Ross' Camp, 800/363-2018.
Boundary Waters, Minnesota-Ontario — Rose, North, South, Tuscarora — the list goes on and on. The list of lake trout lakes within the Boundary Waters, that is. Nothing motorized is allowed, not even power augers. The only way to pursue Boundary Waters lake trout is on foot with hand augers, or by mushing. This is just fine, because the lakers grow big and Arleigh Jorgensen runs sled-dog trips for lake trout.
Contact: For a Sgt. Preston of the Yukon kind of adventure, Arleigh Jorgensen, 800/884-5463 or 218/387-2498 in Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Rowan Lake, Ontario — It's a long run in by snowmobile from Nestors Falls, the accommodations are rustic and sparse, but Don Pursch keeps a cabin or two open each year for hardy lake-trout hunters on Rowan. The elusive 20-pound laker is here, though a realistic trophy in this lake would be 15 pounds through the ice. Numbers are good, which will continue if anglers release the bulk of their catch.
Contact: Don Pursch, 807/226-1234; winter: 218/547-3800.
Kakagi Lake, Ontario — For lakers, Kakagi (Crow Lake) is a favorite among locals in the Sioux Narrows area of Ontario, an area rife with lake-trout waters. Easy to see why. Numbers of 8-pounders and good chances for trophy fish over 18 pounds. Kakagi has many lodges, some that operate year-round, so finding accommodations is rarely a problem. Nearby Whitefish Bay on Lake Of The Woods has artificials-only regulations and fair to good fishing for lakers over 10 pounds.
Contacts: Al Meline, 800/561-3166; Tomahawk Lodge; 800/465-1091.
Lake Manitou, Ontario — For testing theories and learning the game, few places rate higher than Lake Manitou. Almost straight east of Rowan, Manitou offers numbers of lake trout in the 4- to 6-pound range, with enough 12- to 15-pounders to keep anyone interested. Barry Wood offers a snowmobile adventure, fishing all the way to Manitou from Fort Francis, staying there for several days, and fishing all the way back. Accommodations are comfortable and the food is right at Ted Davis' Barker Bay Outpost Cabins.
Contacts: Woody's Fairly Reliable Guide Service, 218/286-5034; Barker Bay Outpost, 807/938-6481.
Lake Trout Ice Fishing Spots