By Ashley Rae
Last weekend I ventured the furthest north I’ve ever traveled in pursuit of fish. I was super excited for this experience as it would be my first time staying in an ice bungalow and sleeping overnight on the ice! It would also be my first time fishing on massive Lake Nipissing, the third largest lake in Ontario. The ice conditions haven’t been great at all this year at home (and in many places throughout the province), so a trip up north seemed like just the remedy. Joining me on this trip was my boyfriend Eric who is equally obsessed about ice fishing, and fishing in general (in fact it’s how we met). We were both anxious to explore new water and target walleye among other species present on this water body.
We left the Ottawa area Friday morning and headed northbound for about 4.5 hours. Our destination was Fish Bay Marina in Nipissing, Ontario. After an easy drive and passing by gorgeous scenery along the Ottawa River and endless lakes, we pulled up to Fish Bay and were greeted by a big, friendly, furry black dog named Anik. We chatted with owners, Samantha and Kevin for a few moments before meeting John, who helps all the guests get out on the ice and assists with anything else that may be needed during the stay. We followed John out along the marked ice roads on the lake. It was a first for me seeing ice roads! There were clusters of permanent shelters in the distance in various directions. It was a whole new world.
Lake Nipissing, Ontario, Canada.
We arrived at the ice bungalow where the heat was already on and holes drilled. This particular bungalow could sleep four and came equipped with thermostat controlled propane heat, a cooktop, cable TV, and DVD player. There were four covered holes in the floor where you can drop a line and fish in comfort from the kitchen table or couch. I was pretty excited about being able to fish from the futon!
An awesome way to spend a Friday night!
John gave us some tips on fishing the area and after getting settled in and unpacked we decided to step outside and do some fishing. Eric got into a couple under slot sized walleye and I caught a rock bass and a yellow perch. Not a bad start!
Leading up to this trip I had been posting some updates on social media in anticipation and received a message from Bowen Sandercock, an angler who I had met 4-5 years ago on a salmon trip. He frequents Lake Nipissing often in the winter and would also be on the lake over the weekend. Bowen visited our ice house Friday night where I introduced him and Eric, we caught up, and talked about our weekend plans. Bowen invited us to meet up with him on Saturday morning as he knew the lay of the land and we were anxious to explore this vast body of water. Regardless of how much ice there is, it’s always a good idea to get local advice and use caution when exploring a new body of water. You can never be too safe on the ice.
Saturday was warm but extremely windy! I didn’t even bother with setting up my pop-up shelter and just decided to hole hop and fish outside. Eric did the same, and Bowen set up in his flip-over Otter shelter. We were fishing in about 25 feet of water on a rocky hump. The lake is loaded with this type of structure.
It wasn’t long in before I got into the first fish of the day which was a cisco (also known as lake herring or tullibee)! I was marking a school of them on my flasher and one of them smacked my 1/4 ounce Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon in Super-Glo Perch which was tipped with a minnow head.
There were plenty of these guys around as Eric and Bowen both hooked some as well and at one point Bowen and I even had a double header. Our main focus on this trip was walleye and wow, we definitely got into some! Between the three of us, we caught and released about 60 walleye! These fish ranged in size but were under the slot size for Lake Nipissing (18.1 inches or 46 centimetres) so we let them go right away. Towards the end of the day my hands were starting to get cold and I popped inside Bowen’s hut to continue fishing in warmth. We were still marking fish here and there after dark but the bite slowed down. Eric joined us in the shelter and we were all chatting while Bowen and I still had lines in the water, continuing to jig away.
During our conversation a huge red mark on Bowen’s flasher came charging off bottom and all went silent until it absolutely CRUSHED Bowen’s Chrome Rapala Rippin Rap! He set the hook and was ON! The three of us were freaking out and discussing what he may be battling. This fish had big wide head shakes and we had thought it may even be a big burbot since the lake is known for them at night. Bowen took his time with this fish and once it got closer to the hole Eric saw the head and exclaimed:
‘WALLEYE! BIG WALLEYE!’
I caught a glimpse of the tail passing by the hole and started hollering too! I’m sure anyone else on the lake could have heard the commotion and excitement coming from the Otter! Bowen successfully landed the beast of a fish! We quickly weighed and measured what turned out to be a 31.25-inch 11.72-pound walleye! Since it was dark, the light conditions weren’t ideal in the shelter but we wanted to work fast to release this fish as soon as possible. The tail slap down the hole was just as exciting as seeing this fish come up!
Way to go, Bowen!! High fives all around for that!! Wow! Bowen’s new personal best walleye through the ice!
After all the excitement cooled down, it was getting late so we decided to start packing up and made our way back to the ice bungalow. We parted ways with Bowen and congratulated him again (and again) on his awesome catch! It was nice getting back to the ice bungalow into some heat and out of the wind and being able to drop a line in the water and watch some TV! I put a live minnow on a set-line and plugged the flashers in to charge (oh ya, forgot to mention there are power outlets in the ice bungalows too)! My minnow stopped moving suddenly and I checked my line to reel in this cute little guy:
A mud puppy!
I have seen mud puppies several times but it was my first time ‘catching one’ although turns out it wasn’t even hooked, it had just sucked up my minnow. It let go as soon as I brought it up. What a neat little creature! I haven’t warmed up to grip and grin these guys yet, haha.
Sunday was quite windy and the weather cooled down so we spent the morning fishing inside the bungalow before making the journey back to Ottawa. As the first time staying in an ice bungalow, I have to say I loved it! It was great being able to lounge around inside and catch fish in complete comfort and warmth without having to get bundled up or transport gear – everything was right there.
Yellow perch caught on a 1/16th ounce VMC Flash Champ in Glow Orange Fire UV tipped with a minnow head.
Special thank you to Samantha, Kevin, John at Fish Bay Marina for such a great first ice bungalow experience, I can’t wait to do it again!
Heading home after a great trip and experience!