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Thursday, March 23, 2023

2023 ice fishing season review

My 2023 ice fishing season was the slowest in years, due to the extremely mild and snowy winter we had this season. Not just here, but pretty much most across he Eastern portion of North America, anglers living in the ice belt were faced with similar challenges.

To start off, many of the waterways in the Southern part of Quebec didn't freeze safe until late January or early February, when they are typically frozen solid by the opening date of winter regulations on December 20th. Though some smaller lakes further North and at elevation froze earlier, they were hit with a record snowfall in December, and then again with more snow than normal throughout January, making access to my spots impossible.

Luckily, I got away to Florida for the last week in February, and enjoyed some good fishing there. By the time I got back, another storm hit most of the spots I planned to fish, which made access that much harder.

That being said, I'm not the type to whine or complain about things that are out of my control. Before the start of winter, I set some goals of where and when  I planned to ice fish, and for the most part, I was able to get out and check each one of the spots off my list, despite challenging conditions.

As usual, I hoped to start my season well before winter fishing rules kick in on December 20th. This means that I'm limited to the use of only one rod per person, and baitfish live or dead are prohibited. My first target is a small waterbody that freezes up long before most others in the region I fish. Unfortunately, that lake closes for fishing on December 1st every year, so I'm limited to fishing it in mid to late November. 

The lake in question was only safe by November 29th 2022, and even then I only found about 3 to 3.5 inches of safe ice. This meant that ice fishing would be tough,  as the fish spooked when I walked and drilled over them, in shallow, clear water.

Sure enough, my prediction was right, and all I caught was one decent perch.

Next, I had planned to hit a better lake further late in December, but a record snowstorm made access impossible, as it's a good kilometer or so of trekking with my sled/gear to get to the spot. While this is doable if the snow cover is minimal, it's brutal once you have to deal with 20 cm of snow, let alone the 60+ cm that fell a couple days before I planned to go.

Instead, I switched destinations, and hit a couple small water bodies in another region, with easier access. The tradeoff was the reduced chances of catching any decent fish. Sure enough, all I landed over those outings were some panfish and very small bass.

Late in December, I was able to fish a new spot for the first time. This time, the target species was musky, using frozen mackerels as bait. The hotspot is quite popular early in the season, due to it freezing earlier than most other areas, and due to the big muskies that tend to winter there under ice.

With a good 30 to 40 people taking advantage of the 10 lines per person rules, there were a good 300-400 lines out when I arrived. Only 2 muskies caught that day, none by myself. I did catch a bunch of perch jigging a small lure while waiting, but didn't bother with any pics.

For my first outing in 2023, I was debating which of two lakes I was going to ice fish. One was the spot difficult access I had planned to fish earlier in December. I knew I would likely be able to get into good number of smaller bass there. The second was a much bigger and deeper lake, which has some huge smallmouth bass. Access is easier, but getting to the spots I planned to fish is nearly impossible once snow cover is heavy. I opted for the second lake, as recent rain followed by a cold front had turn to surface solid, with only a couple centimeters of fresh snow.

Though I've caught many trophy smallmouth on that lake in the summer, finding them one ice was just about impossible, despite me fishing 40 of the 80 holes I drilled that day, at various depths. I did catch a few perch, but they were quite small. On the bright side, I was able to map all the areas I typically fish from my float tube, so I now have a much better idea of the depths I'm casting to in the summer.

A few days later, I hit another spot closer to home, this time hoping to catch my first pike of the winter on my tip ups. this spot is tough, and chances of catching anything are slim, but without much safe ice around, I didn't have much of a choice. Sure enough, no flags during the outing, just some more small perch while jigging while waiting for flags to pop.

The following week, I was finally able to make it to a better spot. Though I normally fish that spot for bass one ice, I know there are some smaller pike there as well, so I brought along my tip ups. sure enough, I caught one pretty quickly. nothing big, but it felt nice to have my first flag of the winter.

Seems like my camera setting was off that day, pics all ended up blurrier than normal.

Also managed to jig up and land 8 of 9 largemouth bass, though no big ones.

The big surprise of the outing was some giant pumpkinseed sunfish that hit my crankbait, with a couple in the 9 inch range.

My next ice outing wasn't until a couple weeks later, early in February. I returned to the same spot, but left the tip ups at home, focusing my efforts on bass, in hopes of landing one of the giants that I know live there. I did manage a few decent ones, but again, no lunkers.

A few days later, I took my youngest son out for his first ice fishing outing of the winter. With mild weather, and knowing that there was no snow cover on the lake we planned to fish, I figured he'd last a few hours out there.

First spot we hit produced a nice surprise. I marked a school of small fish on my flasher, suspended more than halfway up. within a couple drops, I hooked up and handed my son the rod. He landed the first ciscoe I've ever run into. 

We managed to land another ciscoe just before the school simply vanished. We kept both of them for the table, they tasted better than I imagined they might.

Eventually, we switched spots and found some good perch. 

As well, a surprise lake trout we caught while jigging for perch in 12 feet of water. Zev got to enjoy the battle on a medium light rod, and as the season is closed for lake trout in winter here in quebec, we released it after a quick pic.

We ended up keeping some of the fish we caught for a tasty lunch the following day.

A few days later, I took Zev out for an outing closer to home, setting out some tip ups for pike. Fishing was slower than I hoped for, but we avoided the skunk and acquired the target species.

The following week, I headed South to Florida for an 8 day trip. Enjoyed some great weather and amazing fishing, both fresh and saltwater. You can read more about that trip at:

After returning from Florida, I had two spots left on my list to complete my goal. First spot was the lake I had originally planned to hit in December, and then again in January. Both were snowed out. This time, I was determined to get out, hoping the snow would be too bad. Sure enough, there were a good 20-25 cm of heavy snow to trek though to get to my target area. Luckily, I try to stay in good physical shape, and was able to haul my sled there by pacing myself during this intense cardio workout. 

To my big surprise, the bass and perch that are abundant on that lake were nowhere near my usual hot spots. I took my 3-4 hours of drilling and trekking to finally find some bass, but instead of being schooled up under ice as they normally are on that lake, they were scattered at various depths. Managed to land a mix of both smallmouth and largemouth bass, a few bigger than average for that lake.

Surprisingly, almost no perch, only manage a few, with a couple decent ones.

For my second outing in March, I hit the final spot on my season's bucket list. I was hoping to possibly get into some big largemouth bass, or some jumbo yellow or white perch at that spot. They key to fishing this spot, is to keep moving and drilling every few minutes until you find a fish or two, as it's more of a trophy spot than numbers. 

When I got to the lake, I found very heavy snow cover, which put a big dent in my plans. Trekking was murderous, so I wasn't able to cover the spots I wanted to hit, nor fish nearly as many ice holes. I did manage to land some keeper size perch, and the big surprise of the day was this crazy bullhead catfish that chased a big lipless crankbait halfway up the water column before crushing my lure. Needless to say, I was very surprised when it came up the icehole.

Finally, to kick off spring with my last outing for the season, I only had a couple options available. Being that I had fished all my bucket list spots, and that much of the ice around Montreal wasn't safe anymore, I opted to try another lake at higher elevation for trophy pike.The lake in questions doesn't really have much pike as far as numbers og, but there are some absolute giants in there, few pushing 4 feet in length. 

I got to the lake to find perfect conditions, solid ice with no snow cover, warm, sunny and no wind., to the point where I was down to my undershirt by noon.

Unfortunately, ice fishing for pike in that lake is easier said than done, and I wasn't able to get any to take the bait and trip my tip ups. I did manage a small lake trout jigging while waiting for flags, didn't bother with any pics.

With a tight schedule, warm weather with rain in forecast, and the season closing on April 1st, I'm done with ice fishing until next fall/winter.

Looking back on my ice fishing season, the weather threw all of us ice anglers a major curveball this year, to say the least. I normally put in a good 20 to 25 outings during ice fishing season, but I was only able to do half of that this year, due to poor weather. Still, I was able to hit every target lake I had planned, and managed to catch some decent numbers bass and perch, which were my primary targets.

Looking forward to some open water fishing over the next few weeks.

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