Winning tips from a newly minted hardcore hardwater angler
Although she only began ice fishing in 2020, Atikokan, Ontario’s Crystal Blier is making up for lost time—and proving she is a quick study in the process. During the peak of winter, the 42-year-old now hits the hardwater three or four days a week, and her efforts have been paying off.
Last winter, she tied for first place in the Most Species Caught category of the Angler’s Atlas Ontario Ice Fishing Challenge (a popular catch-and-release tournament conducted online via a smartphone app). We recently asked Blier what it took to get to the top of the leaderboard.
Blier credits her angling friends and co-workers for sparking and supporting her newfound passion for ice fishing. “I had a couple of really good friends take me under their wing, sharing their time, knowledge and gear, and it kind of snowballed from there,” she says. “I had my first ice rod gifted to me, then I started buying my own gear.” Her arsenal now includes an array of rods in different powers and lengths, a lithium-ion auger, a portable ice hut, a propane heater, a flasher and a snowmobile. “I sort of fell down the rabbit hole,” Blier says, noting she particularly likes her flasher. “You can learn so much about each fish’s behaviour and what drives them to bite by being able to see the fish and your lure.” And because she often fishes solo in remote places, Blier also travels with extra propane, batteries, mitts, food and water, as well as a satellite communicator and headlamp.
To compete in the Most Species Caught category, Blier says she conducted a lot of research well before hitting the hardwater. In particular, she made use of Ontario’s Fish ON-Line website to pinpoint lakes that held the various fish species she was specifically looking for. And Blier’s sleuthing certainly worked—during the month-long online tournament, she caught, photographed and released 14 different species of fish.
When you’re targeting a specific species, Blier says, it’s important to use the proper tackle and techniques. She’s particularly fond of catching lake trout, using tube jigs high in the water column. “The last few winters, I’ve caught my best fish two feet under the ice, even if I’m in 60 feet of water,” she says. For splake, on the other hand, she likes to pound the bottom with a small jig and soft plastic in three to seven feet of water, sending up little clouds of silt. “Once you have their interest, I find that if I keep the lure active and moving, the splake will pounce on it.” As for brook trout, Blier recommends small gold spoons. “You want something flashy that’s going to reflect a lot of light,” she says. “They’ll come flying over for that.”