Ice Fishing in Highlands East, January, 2022
I have been fortunate enough to keep working at home throughout the pandemic – I am grateful for it and try not to take it for granted. Winter is never my friend and now having spent much of the last two years in the same spot I was ready for a change! I have always had access to places to ice fish, I have never quite gotten excited or bored enough to pursue it – this year that changed.
My brother Dave was feeling the same itch, so we decided to take a day off work and head up to the cottage near Haliburton to try our hand. Our original plan was to spend a day on the cottage lake, fishing for lakers and rainbow trout and the following day hike into a smaller back lake for brookies. Nature had other plans but, in the end, we had a great trip.
I arrived at the cottage just after my brother who had shoveled the path, got the wood stove going and had some beers on ice – he’s a good lad that David. We had arrived during a cold snap – daytime temps of – 15 C with an overnight low of – 25 C. The cottage was freezing but it felt good to be somewhere new, enjoying a fire and looking out at a winter wonderland. It was as if we were starring in our own version of Life Below Zero!
With some time before sunset, we decided to quickly store our gear, load up the sled and head to a small bay that looked like it had potential for rainbows and panfish. Gearing up in so many layers walking the 500 yards to the bay was a workout – this would become a theme; I try to walk/hike 5 KM a day and was amazed how winded I was travelling a quarter of that distance in the snow. It had been a while since I had last used my hand auger – 10 years ago and this was another shock. 10 inches of ice had me looking for the cardiac paddles after drilling one hole! So much for running and gunning – 3 holes were drilled, and we set up.
Dave went with a dead stick set up with a minnow and I was using a Forage Minnow tipped with a wax worm. Did I mention it was cold? I had planned on doing some filming on this trip – starting my career as a YouTube star – well within 5 minutes of setting up shots both camera batteries were dead – I have some great footage of the back of my foot drilling a hole somewhere – still photos will have to do for this report and fame and fortune still eludes me. Within a few minutes Dave called fish on – a fat jumbo on the dead stick rig in about 10 feet of water (that’s a guess because we had technical difficulties with out fish finders, yes, we are not very good at this). 5 minutes later and Dave had another jumbo. At this point I contemplated drilling a new hole closer to his – I was deeper and getting nada, even after changing to the same set up. I contemplated but fear of a heart attack stopped me – no way I was drilling a hole again! Dave landed another jumbo before dark rolled in and we hiked back to the cottage for dinner, tired but happy.
The Storm Approaches
After a chilly night, I rolled out of bed at the crack of 9 AM. A quick breakfast, some map review and we were ready to head out. We wanted to focus on rainbows and lakers and had two spots marked near to the cottage. We layered up, packed the sled, and headed out.
Several hours later we arrived a spot number one. Well, it just felt that way as we quickly realized that walking in 10 inches of snow is much different than hiking or walking on groomed trails. Once we caught out breath, we proceeded to lose it all again drilling holes – this ice fishing is a workout (said no one, ever). We had chosen what we knew to be a weedy bay leading into deep water. Nothing doing. Rather than head back for perch we sucked it up and hiked out to a main lake hump to try for lakers. Using my Navionics app, we tried to drill holes on the downside of the hump and in the deepest part of the basin. We switched to jigging spoons tipped with minnows and got to work. Nothing doing – the big skunk!
We hiked back to the cottage ideally for lunch, a quick siesta to fish at dusk close to the cottage. Well, the siesta went long and instead of fishing I walked down to the lake to take some photos of the sunset. At this point we both started getting texts from loved ones about Snowmageddon. Ontario was set to get blasted with snow – feet of it. We decided that we were going to stay – driving home at night in the beginning of the snow didn’t make sense. We settled into some pints, fed the stove and had a great night. The first time I thought about the storm was when I got up to pee in the middle of the night and realized that it was a whiteout.
Snow Day (s)
Rolling out of bed it was obvious just looking out the window Snowmageddon was real. My phone was flashing weather reports and news from back home was that schools and highways were being closed. Morning coffee made, we sat in the living room and made our plan. 3 main areas of concern 1) Since the road into the cottage wasn’t going to be plowed, we needed to keep the path clear. 2) Losing power was a possibility so we needed to grab more wood, have some candles ready and be prepared to cook on the wood stove and 3) Did we have enough food in case we were stuck more than one more night. We also knew that heading to the brook trout lake wasn’t going to be feasible – so once we got ourselves set, we would just fish on the lake in front of us again.
Dave headed out to go up and down the road in his truck to keep our tracks clear, I made a few runs to the wood pile, found as many candles as possible and did an assessment of our food. We were going to be fine.
Once our chores were set there wasn’t much else to do besides head out to the perching spot. Both of us had recently got snowshoes – knowing how tough the walk was prior to this fresh snow we wanted to give them a whirl. We layered up, stoked the fire and headed out into a winter wonderland. It was amazing. Once on the lake the wind combined with the snow created a surreal scene. Visibility across the lake was nil but closer to the shore was fine. Snowshoes on (after a long struggle getting my feet into them) we went back to our spot from our first day - they definitely made walking in the deep powder easier. We drilled holes and set up. Nada. Thinking that the fish were shallower we re drilled and tried again – nada. Being impatient I started to move back and forth between the deep and shallow holes. After about 30 minutes I finally managed my first perch! I know a perch is just a perch, but the fear of the full skunk was real. We packed up and made our way back to the cottage – while we were out, we noticed the plow clearing the main road which meant we had some serious shoveling to do at the end of the cottage road.
After a full day of chores, we headed out at dusk for one more run at the perch. Our holes from lunch were still open so we set up and waited. I hooked up quickly. Dave hooked up and I lost two more perch – success! We had another night of beers, shooting the sh@t and enjoying the fire. The snow was finally off and our tracks to freedom still looked good. One thing we both realized was that we wanted to do this again – as many times as feasible before the end of winter. We knew there were certain things we could do to improve our comfort and fishing success. As I write this, I have bought a new ice rod (My old reel broke on this trip), we have what we need to convert the manual drill to a power one and I have a bunch of new spots on a map.
The next morning, we were up early – we both wanted to get home today and needed to clean up, pack up and head out. Thankfully our work from yesterday paid off – once clean we were able to get out to the main road from ease and make our way back to the Toronto area. Arriving home to more snow to be shoveled wasn’t fun but overall, the trip was a success. We got out of town, caught some fish, realized that we did enjoy ice fishing – even for 7 perch over 3 days!
We both realized was that we wanted to do this again – as many times as feasible before the end of winter. We knew there were certain things we could do to improve our comfort and fishing success. As I write this, I have bought a new ice rod, we have what we need to convert the manual drill to a power one and plans are afoot to head up next weekend!
Thanks for reading