Winter Walleye Tour 2011 - Pointe au Baril

With the hard water season arriving on schedule after a few early teases and flash freezes in mid December and an early New Years thaw, then freeze again and it was finally time to start this year’s plan in motion.  This year the plan was to find the best Walleye fishing through the ice within three hours of Toronto. For the million plus recreational anglers in Ontario, many of them receiving magazines with brilliant perfect pictures and stories of huge and plentiful walleye or pike from north Minnesota, Manitoba, and North West Ontario, most can only dream of a day in the northern glory land catching 14+ pound walleye or 20 pound pike and having their picture taken with their trophy on the most perfect sunny day.

There is a very small percentage of the angling population in Ontario that can venture to the ice fishing Mecca of North West Ontario or Manitoba.  Even the most ardent anglers from Southern Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio would have a difficult time telling there significant others that they are taking a week of the families Florida vacation time and traveling just as far to spend time with your buddies on the frozen waters north west of Superior, and all this to catch a fish so perfect that it belongs on the cover of an outdoors magazine.

For those that can’t live the dream there is plenty of great hard water walleye destinations within striking distance of home for most. There are lakes in Southern Ontario with excellent walleye and pike fishing and in some cases better than magazine destinations. Our plan was to find the best an extended day trip or overnighter has to offer.

After a few short trips and trial runs to make sure everything was working and to create a check list for the tour, we were ready to go. It was already 6 long weeks from the closing of bass season and 4 weeks since the ice was too thick to break at the boat launches and we were getting antsy.

We had heard reports of several destinations that were hot early in the new ice season and one place that was on fire in late fall and first ice angler claims of big days had continued through freeze up.

First Stop - Pointe au Baril

Pointe au Baril located approximately 40 Km north of Parry Sound is an angler’s paradise lost in time. Much of the area hasn’t seen significant change in decades. The area is a success story for the rehabilitation of the walleye fishing on Georgian Bay. Several areas of the bay have seen a strong recovery in recent years including Severn Sound, Moon River, French River, and the North Channel, but Pointe au Baril has been the model of success. Whereas other areas on the bay have various stressors such as spawning habitat erosion, invasive species, recreational fishing pressure, and commercial harvesting which had devastated populations in many areas through the 1980’s and 90’s, the Baril has been spared some of these stressors so far. The constantly declining water levels on Georgian Bay have not affected the spawning habitat to the same degree as other areas and commercial fishing/ harvesting have spared the immediate area.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in partnership with local stakeholders and organizations such as the Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council initiated a rehabilitation strategy which included imposing slots sizes and lower limits on all of zone 14/ Georgian Bay waters, as well as stocking programs and constant monitoring of spawning areas in early spring to fend off poachers.  The results have been remarkable in some areas with Pointe au Baril being the best example to date.  This is a fishery of quantity not size but year by year the average size is getting bigger with more and more fish measuring over the top end of the slot size of 22 inches, the lower end being 16.25 inches and still boosts a fare number of brutes north of 12 pounds. Remember, size doesn’t matter if you’re having fun.  

First Day
The plan for the first day was to be on the ice just before first light. Walleye are nocturnal feeders and although they will feed throughout the day, first and last light are typically the best time. Mike Bristow, owner of Kenlea Cottages along with wife Margaret told us there was good action in several areas for Walleye but one particular spot was producing on every outing. In spite of intentions of being ready to leave by 6:30 a.m. the idea of a big back beacon and eggs breakfast  before heading out on the sleds in -15 c temperatures was just too hard to resist, so 1 ½ hours later we were packed and ready to go.

Mike had offered to show us a short cut to our target area so we followed him through the bush and across various bays and after about 20 minutes we arrived at the planned location. Mike had been there the day before and mid day action was good. We drilled our first hole in 30 FOW and dropped the sonar transducer in the water and marked fish immediately.

The first bait was a smoke grub on a ¼ once jig head and as I watched it sink on the sonar the bottom began to swell and a spike came up to meet my bait. One quick tap and the fish was on. We tried several artificial baits but as curious as the fish were they were not aggressive enough to bite. I took out another rod rigged for a drop-shot and use a 3 inch shiner minnow and lowered it down the hole. It no sooner hit the bottom and the first fish was on and we iced a nice 20 inch walleye. I released the fish, loaded another minnow and before it could hit the bottom my winter touring partner for the trip Leon Maloney, a prominent ice fishing guide on Lake Simcoe and Couchiching was hooked up and another nice fish was iced. Even though the bite was on and we could have test numerous fish we were having too much fun landing fish after fish.

After the first hour we had landed 15 fish of various sizes but non over the 22 inch slot size so we decided to move and find bigger fish. The second spot was also in 30 FOW off a small point closer to shore with broken rock and rubble sliding into the water.  We no sooner drilled a hole and dropped the bait and we were both hooked up. One of the fish was 22 ½ inches and the other smaller. For the next 2 hours the action was nonstop and produced over 20 fish.  We didn’t bother setting up the portable huts or using any of the equipment because there simply wasn’t time.
Leon Malloney with PaB Walleye

By noon the sun was out and the bite slowed with the exception of waves of 12 to 15 inch fish. One of the amazing things about the area was the various year classes of fish. It didn’t seem to matter where we fished in the area, the size we caught ranged from 12 inches to very large fish in equal amounts. We were using light tackle with 4 to 6 pound line and when we did hook up a very large fish our tackle was no match and on one occasion our 8 inch auger hole probably would not have been big enough. There are also very large pike there fishing as well.

After 5 ½ hours of we had iced over 50 fish and lost some brutes (all stories have to have that lost big fish component).  We decided to pack up and head back to camp a little early. Mike Bristow who took us out to the area we fished had long gone and since the tracking wasn’t working on my GPS and it was a fair ride back through the bush and over the bay we thought the trip in daylight might be a good idea.

Georgian Bay is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer. Pointe au Baril is in the middle of the 30,000 islands and the wind slept pines and rock islands dotting the winter white ice and snow blanket is truly an incredible sight and gives you a feeling of being hundreds of miles away from anywhere. The only problem is that many of the islands look the same so if you lose your tracks you could end up cutting trails for a long time. Leon Maloney is a very experienced guide and trapper so getting lost was never an issue, particularly with a GPS, but after a long day of fishing the last thing I want to do is lift snowmobiles stuck in the bush.

Day Two
The forecast for the next day was for high winds out of the north east and a chance of snow late in the afternoon. The plan was to be on the ice at first light and get back to camp before the storm. After a day on the ice with constant action and the perfect fresh northern air we both slept in and decided bacon and eggs would be a good start to the day. If first light came at 9:00 am we were right on schedule.
Walleye from Pointe au Baril

We arrived at the new location, drilled a hole, dropped the bait and before the sonar had gone through its starting diagnostics the first fish was on the ice. We started the day the same way we left it the day before.  For the first hour the sonar showed waves of fish along the bottom in 23 FOW and as you dropped the bait one would rise to meet it. By 10:30 the sun was shining and the bite slowed and when they did bite it was very light. Now we actually had to put an effort and some experience at work.  Walleye are active feeders in winter but they are efficient and won’t expend a lot of energy chasing prey. Some of the fish we caught were on dead minnows half frozen, torn apart, and while dead sticking. We could see on the sonar as fish would move in and bump the bait but not bite it. walleye in ice hole




The tactic we employed was similar to what we would use on trout where we would dead stick the bait until the fish was almost on it then move it slowly away accelerating as the fish came closer. This method is meant to trigger an instinct somewhere between reaction and aggravation.  It worked beautifully and what could have been a very slow afternoon actually produce fish after fish.

Technique note: Drawing the bait away from fish is natural as prey don't wait to be eaten. But once the fish has taken the bait while it was rising, a sharp hook set would almost always result in a lost fish for us. By waiting longer to set the hook and simply keep the motion of reeling in slowly into the weight, then setting the hook, the fish would tend to clamp down on the bait harder and turn. Wait until you feel weight before setting the hook.

Equipment note: When I'm fishing walleye through the ice I use a medium ice rod with 6 pound test braid and a 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader. I was using the new Power Pro Ice line for the first time. It still froze up where the line met the water, as they all seem to do. The impressive point was that it came off very easy as opposed to some braids that I have used that required constant cleaning.

As we were fishing in early afternoon a lone skidoo approached. As it pulled closer we could see it was MNR Enforcement Officer. The officer was Jim Mclaughlin who I recognized from previous trips to the bay. We showed our licence's and had a quick chat and while we were talking we caught 3 more fish. Jim McLaughlin is the lone MNR Enforcement Officer on Georgian Bay from Twelve Mile Bay to Kilarney but if you think it’s safe to travel where no man goes to fish without everything in order, think again.

Jim has been with the ministry for more than 20 years and knows every square inch of the territory and covers it all. Our hats off and thanks to a very dedicated guy and one of the reasons Pointe au Baril is such an incredible fishery.

walleye mouthAs the afternoon wore on and we had iced over 40 fish it was time to pack up and head back. We had planned on spending some time close to camp fishing for monster pike that move into the main channel during winter but it’s very difficult  leaving a spot where fish are so abundant and easy to catch, so now, with a little arm twisting we will be forced to go back at least one more time before ice out.

Getting There
From our perch in Orillia we traveled hwy 12 north to hwy 400, to Hwy 69 north towards Parry Sound. From Toronto its one long drive once on Hwy 400 to Hwy 69 to Pointe au Baril Station. We were staying at Kenlea Cottages, one of two accommodations open all year, the other being Pleasant Cove. For Kenlea you turn left before the bridge just after the Shell Gas Station, a short drive alone South Shore Road and we were there.  For Pleasant Cove, stay on Hwy 69 north and turn on North Shore Rd.

View Kenlea Cottages in a larger map 

What to Bring
We traveled slightly lighter than the average small circus with 2 skidoos and pull sleds, portable huts with heaters, an array of tackle and rods, HD sonar and GPS units, underwater camera and digital camera (for the cover picture), and of course everything required for hot drinks and daily food rationing's including secret mix breading for the fish fry afterwards. We don’t normally keep many fish but one of the rewards of spending a day on the frozen water is coming back to a warm place and sampling what most consider the best table fare a man can catch. Walleye are a renewable resource and it’s important to realize there are limits and slots to protect populations and keeping a fish for the table is Okay.

First destination summary
We could not have asked for a better start to our Winter Walleye Tour and although there were no trophy or cover pictures to be had the volume certainly made up for it. I can’t remember ever catching that many walleye in a single day in a five hour period. I’m certain there was a time when fishing was better in this area and we were fortunate enough to have Mike Bristow of Kenlea Cottages point us in the right direction, but after speaking with several locals that have spent a lifetime fishing this areas waters of Georgian Bay, few could remember when fishing for walleye was this good. Could this be the good old days.

2nd Stop - Severn Sound

3rd Stop - Bay of Quinte

Other stories about Pointe au Baril

Where the Big Girls Lie....about spring pike fishing

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