Sledding to Haliburton Forest brookies

by Steve Galea | January 25, 2022
Haliburton Forest ice fishing
Photo by Steven Rose

You never know what a mid-February day is going to bring.

That’s the thought that was going through my mind as I pulled into the Base Camp parking lot at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve just before sunrise.

It turns out that day brought an exciting snowmobile ride, kilometres of scenic winter landscape, and a desolate backwoods lake all to ourselves. If that weren’t enough, we also experienced exquisite outdoors dining and the thrill of a hefty brook trout caught through the ice.

Oh, and some soaked socks…

A bit of sledding

Photographer Steve Rose and I had just assembled our gear in the parking lot when the purr of snowmobiles sounded off behind the main building.

Jamie Sala, our fishing guide for the day, drove around the corner on his sled towing a large deep-sided toboggan filled with enough gear to make any winter’s day comfortable.

After brief introductions, he left and returned with a second machine and sled for us.

Jamie helped us pack our gear and briefed us on the first leg of our journey, a 35-minute ride to a backwoods lake known for the brook and rainbow trout. Steve and I followed Jamie at a comfortable pace along the well-groomed, snow-packed roads that traverse Haliburton Forest. Our route weaved through snow-covered woods, over ridges, down valleys, and past lakes and wetlands. We only encountered one other group along the way.

At our fishing destination, we stopped and walked out onto the lake to find about one foot of snow covering a few inches of slush above the ice. Jamie, an experienced winter guide, had concerns about getting bogged down in the slop, so he asked us to wait while he made a quick run to ensure conditions were acceptable.

When he returned, he advised us to follow his track and not slow down.

Ten minutes later, we were drilling holes at the far end of the lake and dropping lines. The messy conditions made mobility on foot sloppy. We marked a few fish, but couldn’t buy a bite.

Plan B

After a while, we were underway to try a little bay about five minutes away. The slush there was over our boots when we punched through the snow. We walked on eggshells from hole to hole, hoping not to take a soaker. The plan was to jig and watch set lines.

Early on, our live bait rigs threw up flags but we never got there in time due to the conditions. A short while later, however, I was jigging Little Cleo in 11-feet of water and felt a good jolt.

Soon, I was steering a chunky two-pound brook trout up onto the snow.

a brook trout on ice
Photo by Steven Rose

Photos were taken, high-fiving ensued, and we all relaxed knowing our mission to catch a nice brookie had been accomplished. It was proof positive that quality fish were swimming beneath us. Jamie, a soft-spoken, humble fellow, encouraged us further with tales of several other good brook and rainbow trout taken on this lake on recent trips.

Home away from home

Prior to the excitement, Jamie had set up a pop-up ice hut with a kitchen, stove, and all the ingredients for a great lunch with a bit of warmth.

He also cooked what was undeniably the best food I’ve had in any outdoors setting in years. It turns out he’s the son of restaurateurs.

We enjoyed hot drinks, ate wonderful food, and then got a bit too comfortable in the heated tent. For not long afterwards, Steve and I decided that soaked feet and a 35-minute ride home might not be such a good combination when the temperatures dropped. Jamie suggested a nearby cabin to dry out boots and socks and have another go at the trout, but Steve and I were ready for a scenic ride to base camp, and our warm car rides home.

The outing, in our mind, was a success. The setting and experience were wonderful. The guide was truly excellent. But soaked socks…well that’s another story.

The Forest: Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve is a 100,000 acre, privately-owned, wilderness paradise that contains 100 lakes. It is open to the public for a host of activities including fishing, camping, snowmobiling, ATV-ing, dog sledding, cycling, hiking, dining and boating.

Getting there: From Hwy. 118 go to West Guilford, turn north onto Kennisis Lake Rd./Haliburton County Rd. 7, and follow to 1095 Redkenn Rd.

Cost: The total group cost varies from $525 to $625, 6 anglers maximum. Snowmobile rental additional. Guided fishing available from January to late ice, depending on ice conditions.

Accommodation: The Forest has a variety of accommodations from cabins at the base camp site to cabins by the lakes, quality dining opportunities, a Wolf Centre, and camp sites available in appropriate seasons.

Haliburton Forest
1095 Redkenn Rd.,
Dysart et al, Ontario

Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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