By Tom Armstrong | 01/14/2015

While it’s sadly not all that atypical for life in Northwestern Ontario in January, our trip started off to a frosty start with temperatures below -30 C. We were heading a couple hours west, towards Atikokan, ON, where the winter lake trout season opens a month earlier than where I live in Thunder Bay. There are some great lake trout lakes in this area. For anglers willing to brave the cool January temps great fishing is available.

Polar vortex type temps like this tend to wreak havoc on gear and machines, but despite some minor hiccups with the snowmachines and ice augers, we still had a successful day. Typical lake trout gear around here is jigging with tube jigs or jig-flies, and set lines with sucker minnows or large minnows.

We’ve learned in the past that brining these minnows can help increase strikes and I prepped frozen herring prior to this trip. I took some 6 or 7” whole frozen herring from D&R Sports in Thunder Bay and put them in a Ziploc, added some Fire Brine, and left the minnows in overnight. As expected they soaked up the flavor and colour and firmed up the bait nicely. I did a few different colours (purple, orange and chartreuse), with half a dozen herring in each bag.

I then brined herring strips. These were to be used to tip jigs.

For my set lines, I rigged the whole herring on a dead bait rig, hanging it so it sat horizontal in the water, making a tempting offering for passing lake trout. I then hung it up about 10’ off bottom, on a jigging rod in a rod balance, with the drag loosened off. Hanging dead baits is an effective tactic in this area for big lake trout, and also when targeting big Northerns. I’d say they often hit dead baits more than live bait. We quickly were reminded that bait sweetened up with Fire Brine is downright irresistible.

On the jigging rods, instead of tipping it with a minnow, I tipped the tubes with a small strip of brined herring, adding some colour and scent to the jig. Jigging these through the water column using a flasher is a lethal combination for hard water trout. Using dead baits is a great tactic for lake trout, and adding Fire Brine to your dead baits made our day a successful one, even when it’s this cold outside.

Editor’s Note: Outdoor writer Tom Armstrong resides in Thunder Bay, Ontario. For more info on his work please visit