Northern Ontario Anglers Chasing Lake Trout

By: Tom Armstrong

Unrelenting cold temperatures have plagued Northwestern Ontario for months. It’s been cold, ugly, consistently -30C and the wind chills are brining us down to -45C. The frigid temperatures suck the enthusiasm out of most anglers. Hopefully, with March’s arrival we should be seeing slightly warmer temperatures.

The end to the madness comes at an opportune time. Many of us have cabin fever and lake trout season is now open. Lakers are my favourite species to target through the ice. Fishing for perch and walleye is fun, but I’d rather spend my day looking for that one big trout. When you hook a 12-pound lake trout through the ice – hold on!

Meanwhile, I’m an impatient angler when chasing lake trout. I drill and cover a lot of holes to search for active fish. You can certainly sit in one spot all day, but I prefer running and gunning until I find biters. Ontario allows two lines for ice anglers on most lakes so I run jigging and set-lines.

I’ll always run a jigging line and fish it with a flasher. Recently, I’ve turned my Humminbird Helix into a portable ice unit. It’s a game changer. With the ability to use the auto chart live feature I can access waypoints and depth maps I’ve created in the boat – even when I’m on the ice.

On my jigging line I run a 3.5-inch white tube jig or a smelt pattern MMJJ jig fly. I tip these jigs with a live Fire Dyed minnow or dead Fire Brined bait. If allowed, I’ll sometimes add a Fire Brined dead smelt to my jig. Tipping with these minnows/smelt adds colour and scent to jigs. We have been doing this for several years now. Here’s a video we filmed in Ontario using this technique:

Fire Brine on minnows, smelt or herring is a technique that is foolproof and gets more out of bait. I soak the bait in Fire Brine overnight and then freeze them for another day. The process is quick, easy, keeps the bait firm, adds colour/flash to your bait and makes the scales shine. Brining bait is easy, but does require a few steps. If it didn’t work I wouldn’t take the time to do it.

These days when running set lines for big lake trout I use dead bait. Live bait certainly produces fish, but I prefer the simplicity of dead baits. I employ smelt (where legal) or other dead baits like herring or anchovies, basically whatever I can purchase at our local sporting goods store. For example, near where I live D&R Sports in Thunder Bay carries dead baits and Fire Brine.

I rig dead baits on a quick strike rig. When doing so I use a single treble hook just behind the dorsal. The goal is to have them hang slightly nose down. I do the same thing with my jigging rod. However, I use a rod balance and set it to free spool when a fish takes the bait. This method is productive at any depth. Lakers find them hard to resist.


Editor’s Note: Tom Armstrong is a passionate outdoorsman based in Ontario. For more info on his adventures please visit