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Ice-fishing Friday: The Never-fail Trick for Locating Early-season Fish

Gord Pyzer

Find first-ice Fish

Walleye, pike, trout and perch are easier to pattern than you think

Most anglers appear lost when they step on the ice for the first time each winter, and for good reason—their favourite lake, river, reservoir, pit or pond looks totally different than it does during the open-water season. But looks can be deceiving. While the terrestrial environment has undergone a complete metamorphosis, the watery world below remains largely unchanged at first ice.

Any transformation occurring beneath the ice, including dropping surface-water temperatures and lower light levels, is merely the final stage of changes that began unfolding months earlier. Similarly, the black crappies, pike, saugers, trout, walleye and yellow perch will be in the same location you last left them at the end of the open-water season. This is hugely important to remember when it comes to finding fish at first ice—they have gone nowhere. In fact, they’re more concentrated and hungrier than ever.

Look for first-ice fish in the same place you left them in late fall. Credit: Gord Pyzer.
Look for first-ice fish in the same place you left them in late fall. Credit: Gord Pyzer.

One of the most memorable episodes I ever filmed with my good friend and In-Fisherman TV host Doug Stange, for example, had us boating huge slab crappies on one of my favourite home waters in early November. The second segment of the show opened with us catching fish from the very same school at the same location, but through holes in the ice four weeks later. Talk about money in the bank.

Fishing editor Gord Pyzer hones his ice-fishing skills near Kenora, in northwestern Ontario.

Bonus Tip: Timing is Everything

Gord Pyzer
Gord Pyzer

Canadian winters are long and the ice fishing isn’t consistent, so you need to time the hot bites. First and last ice are hard to beat times for catching black crappies, saugers, walleye and yellow perch. You’ll notice in mid-winter, however, that the action typically slows down. During those February doldrums, I like targeting brookies, burbot, ciscoes, lakers, rainbows and whitefish, as these cold-water species are active under the ice. It’s also no coincidence that brookies, ciscoes, lakers and whitefish all spawn in the fall, so they’re still recovering and feeding up following the ordeal.

Burbot, on the other hand, lay their eggs under the ice in March and April. They’re also extremely territorial, and they’ll crush a bait they perceive as an intruder. Finally, at last ice, northern pike, walleye and yellow perch are on the move as they head toward their spring spawning areas, feeding ravenously to complete the egg maturation process. Time your outings with these fish movements and you can stay on the hot bite all winter.

Every Friday this winter we’ll be sharing Outdoor Canada’s coolest ice fishing tips for 2018. Check back regularly to learn about the latest tackle, tips and techniques for icing more walleye, perch, northern pike, lake trout, crappies and whitefish.

Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer

Fishing Editor Gord Pyzer is widely regarded as Canada's most scientific angler. Known in fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer, he worked for 30 years as a senior manager with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources before devoting all his energies to fishing. A member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame, the award-winning writer is also an internationally sought out speaker, tournament angler and field editor with In-Fisherman Magazine and Television. As well, he co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi. Catch Gord on the Outdoor Journal Radio Show live every Saturday morning 8:05AM EST. If you're in southern Ontario, tune your radio to Sportsnet 590 The FAN AM or visit and listen live online.

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