Jamie Robinson looks deceptively warm and comfortable as he hoists a gorgeous 19-inch splake. I snap a few pictures, give him the thumbs-up, and we both dart back to our respective ice fishing shelters. We’re deep in the wilderness on a stocked splake lake north of Manitouwadge. It was -38˚C when we left the truck this morning, but with the sun higher in the sky it’s probably warmed up to a balmy -30˚C. The biting cold of early February has been the defining aspect of this trip, but the fishing has been great in spite of the weather.
The third shelter belongs to Kevin Turner. He pops his head out every now and then to throw a fish out on the ice. Turner owns Turner’s Northwoods Adventures — a headquarters for anglers and hunters to enjoy the boreal generosity of the Manitouwadge area of northern Ontario.
We are all equipped for cold weather and there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes from being able to stay warm and comfortable under conditions that most anglers might not venture out in.
Robinson and I arrived last night in time to eat dinner in Turner’s immense dining room. The building, once the MNRF district office and fire base, has been converted to a bed-and-breakfast lodge.
The well-appointed rooms and lounging areas are decorated with lynx, wolf, beaver, and fox pelts, pointing towards Turner’s passion for trapping.
Turner’s Northwoods Adventures is one of few northern Ontario outfitters open throughout the winter. Turner says he keeps busy with snowmobilers and ice anglers. He can point them in the right direction for brook trout, splake, walleye, and pike. He doesn’t usually accompany his clients in the field, but he freed up a couple of days to join us. I wonder if he regretted that when the mercury plummeted overnight.
Into the deep freeze
We stepped into the crisp air and piloted trucks and trailers up one of a large network of forest access roads that are ploughed through winter. We parked the vehicles and experienced a measure of relief when all three snowmobiles started without issue.
Turner led the way down a narrow trail that led to a three-kilometre-long lake. The shoreline was deceptively low-slung and we sank holes off a small point ranging from 9 to 30 feet deep.
The action was slow, but then Robinson sinks the hook into a 19-inch hybrid with lovely orange fins. It’s the first of a dozen fish that will take minnows on set-lines and jigged spoons and crankbaits.
Change of focus
Back at the lodge, we lay our ice fishing gear, coolers of minnows, and eight 15- to 19-inch splake out in Turner’s heated garage. We then peel off multiple layers, and dive into a feast of venison stew. Today, we fished one of three lakes in the area stocked with splake. At least 20 more waters are stocked with brook trout and a handful with lake trout. Although we’d planned to focus on trout, Turner points to a variety of walleye and pike options, and we decide to mix it up for day two.
The cold has the animals on the move the next morning. We spot a fox and two lynx, and follow a set of fresh moose tracks as we descend by snowmobile into a cedar swamp. It’s a beautiful ride, and we pass ponds, lakes, and hills of jack pine before popping out onto an elongated bay of a broad lake.
Within a half hour of setting our lines, we have a fat 18-inch walleye on the ice. We catch a flurry of mid-sized pike before Turner leaves to poke around his trapline and head back to the lodge. Robinson and I decide to stay till dark.
Ice fishing action heats up
The walleye action picks up later in the afternoon, and Robinson is busy running from his shack to his set-line. Although I’m largely an observer, we keep six fish — a couple just over 18 inches and four just under.
Packing up in the cold and dark is particularly hostile, but only helps to accentuate the warm embrace of the lodge. Although we have the option to fish one more day, the extreme cold promises to hold. We’ve been fortunate to experience great ice fishing without incident and decide to quit while we’re ahead.
After our brief introduction to the opportunities of the Manitouwadge area, we leave Turner’s Northwoods Adventures with every intention of returning. Maybe next time we’ll bring the warm weather with us, too.
Getting there: Manitouwadge is 60 km up Hwy. 614 from the TransCanada Hwy. east of Marathon.
Originally published in the Nov.-Dec.2018 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.