Fishing Lake Nipissing
Lake Nipissing was named the number one ice fishing destination in Canada for 2023 by Fishing Booker.
Nutrient-rich, tea-stained waters wash over pencil reeds, bulrushes and lily pads. The sand drop-offs and shoals of broken rock are joined by patches of thick cabbage weed and, with an average depth of less than 20-feet, Nipissing provides a vast and hospitable habitat for walleye, bass, northern pike and muskie.
At 65 kilometres long and 25 kilometers wide, this broad shallow lake is channeled into Lake Huron through the sculpted rock of the French River and stands as one of the largest inland lakes in the province. The shallow waters of Lake Nipissing are rimmed by a low-slung shoreline alternating from smooth sloping rocks, capped with shapely coniferous, to sand beaches bracketed by stretches of broken rock and thick vegetation.
Surrounded by full-service communities with marinas, launch ramps and ample accommodations, and less than four hours away from the GTA, Lake Nipissing is a gift that gives all year round to the anglers of Ontario.
Navigating Lake Nipissing
Lake Nipissing’s shallow depth can result in extremely choppy conditions that can blow up quickly and make for uncomfortable boating, even in moderate winds. Fortunately, this sprawling lake is surrounded by communities on, or near, the water including Cache Bay, Sturgeon Falls, North Bay, Callander and Nipissing with plenty of access points with marinas and good boat launches around most of the lake.
The southern shore is the least developed but launch facilities at the community of Dokis First Nation along the outflow of the French River provide access to this spectacular stretch of water. Multiple access points allow anglers to launch near protected waters and within the multiple arms, bays and channels of Lake Nipissing, providing many calm water options.
Whether choppy or calm, it’s always a good idea to be attentive when boating on this relatively shallow lake. A fishfinder/GPS unit loaded with nautical charts available through Navionics.com is very helpful when navigating Lake Nipissing. Keep an eye on your electronics for abrupt depth changes and avoid traveling at great speed over unfamiliar areas.
The same features that contribute to challenging navigation also make Lake Nipissing an incredibly productive body of water with tremendous potential for exploration. If you run out of spots along Nipissing’s shorelines and nearshore island clusters, then head out to the middle of the lake. Scattered island groupings plus the hidden structure that lies throughout the length and breadth of Nipissing provides sanctuary to every species of fish swimming. The caution and common sense required to avoid being caught in rough weather or hitting rocks is well worth it, considering the angling opportunities waiting in virtually every corner of this huge piece of water.
Nipissing has a long history as a walleye fishery. Even after years and years of entertaining anglers from around the country and around the world, Ontario’s most popular game fish is still abundant in this incredibly productive lake.
Regulations protecting this important fishery have been ongoing, and today you can only keep walleye between 40–45 centimetres in length, two fish per Sport Licence and one per Conservation Licence. All fish caught above or below this harvestable slot size must be released. This regulation continues to protect young fish so they can grow to maturity and reproduce. It also protects the mature walleye needed to build a healthy age structure.
From the season opener, the third Saturday of May, through to mid-June look for walleye in shallow water around six feet (two metres) or less, close to shorelines. As the water warms into summer, walleye head offshore to deeper water and are found on sand and rock edges as well as rock piles and shoals.
The North Shore around the city of North Bay is a popular walleye zone in spring but the scenario of walleye moving from shallow flats to deep water structure is one that is repeated throughout the entire lake. The erratic structure, deep water and multiple islands, bays and narrows of places like the French River and South Bay make them good places to look for mid-summer walleye. These fish love live bait like minnows, worms and leeches but are easily fooled by soft plastic baits and even by trolling or casting crank baits.
Smallmouth and largemouth bass
It’s difficult to point to hotspots because smallmouth are so widespread on Nipissing. These athletic and aggressive fish will hold in weeds and sand edges but look for rock structure and you’ll find smallmouth. Rocky shorelines, mid-lake shoals of broken rock and shallow waters off rocky points all hold the minnows and crayfish bass love to devour.
Try casting dark-colored tube jigs, shallow diving crank baits or even shiny spinners and the results will vary from numbers of 15-inch (38-centimetre) bass to the occasional trophy smallmouth of 20 inches (50 centimetres) or more. When the water is calm there are few things more satisfying than casting a top water popper over a rocky shoal to elicit strikes from thick smallmouth.
Largemouth bass are not as widespread on Nipissing but if you narrow your focus on areas of dense weed growth, you’ll find largemouth. The broad shallows of Cache Bay support the aquatic vegetation that largemouth love to hide in, as do areas of Callander Bay, South Bay and West Bay. Largemouth specialists know how to draw these fish from dense vegetation with weedless top water and subsurface lures, but “bucketmouth” bass also take crank baits and jigs and soft plastic in more open waters off points and shoreline edges.
These insatiable predators are found throughout Lake Nipissing because they are comfortable virtually anywhere that holds the potential for food. Northerns patrol the shallows in spring along North, Cache and Northwest Bays and wait in ambush at the base of drop-offs in the West Arm, French River and South Bay once the water temperatures rise through summer.
These aggressive fish will hit a wide range of presentations including traditional flashy spoons like the red and white Dardevle, soft plastic jerk baits or virtually any live bait and jig combination. Their eagerness to bite has led to new regulations: no fish greater than 86 centimetres and only one greater than 61 centimetres, designed to protect large mature pike and still provide angling opportunities while managing for a continuation of Nipissing’s robust pike fishery.
Sport Licence holders can keep four fish, or two per Conservation Licence, but catch-and-release of these hard-hitting game fish is unlimited and keeps anglers entertained from spring to fall.
Like their toothy cousins, the northern pike, muskie are found throughout Lake Nipissing. These top predators go wherever they want, corralling baitfish along shoreline shallows or the edges of deeper shoals in the middle of the lake, or even lurking within the weed beds. Not only do they eat big baitfish, like herring, but it’s also not uncommon for anglers to have the walleye they’ve hooked attacked by an opportunistic muskie.
The season opens on the third Saturday in June but the best fishing starts in August through to the close of the season at the end of November. Although the west end of the lake has a reputation for big muskie, hotspots change with the season, weather and whim. Muskie hunters cast big glide baits or troll crank baits up to 12 inches (30 centimetres) long to boat fish that average from 40 to 50 inches (100 to 127 centimetres). Hard-core muskie anglers describe Nipissing as world-class, with a healthy population of young fish and the ever-present chance of connecting with a 50-plus-inch (100-centimetre) monster.
This lake does not shut down in winter, with hundreds of shacks spread across the Nipissing ice every season. There are plenty of local anglers in private shacks and portable shelters. Outfitters are exceptionally well-equipped for welcoming winter visitors. Ice fishing packages can include accommodating anglers at lodges or cottages with daily ice taxi service to heated ice shacks. Some operators even plow ice roads to their shacks.
Find accommodations like heated ice fishing bungalows that can sleep groups of anglers, complete with washroom facilities, bunk beds, barbecues and kitchens. Overnight ice fishing accommodations have been popular on Nipissing since the 1980s and are a great holiday option for families as well as fishing buddies.
Walleye and northern pike remain target species and are joined by Nipissing’s incredible perch fishery. On a good day there is little down time—you can catch perch all day long ranging from tiny ones to 14-inch (35-centimetre) jumbos.
The season for walleye and yellow perch opens January 1 and closes March 15, but opportunities continue for whitefish, cisco and burbot until shacks have to be off the lake at the end of March. Popular areas include Callander Bay, Deepwater Point and South Bay.
Lodges near Lake Nipissing
This family-run business originated in the 1930s. By blending past traditions with modern improvements, the resort has kept its appeal as a family and fishing vacation destination. Sunbeam Bungalows offer cottages along a private sand beach in Callander Bay. A private boat launch and marina with docking facilities caters to anglers who can bring their boat or rent one from the fleet of 16-foot (5-metre) aluminum boats with 25 horsepower outboard motors.
Built in the 1920s, the main lodge features photographs of guests and their catches displayed on the restored wooden plank walls of this historic building that can seat up to 50 guests. Memquisit Lodge has twelve housekeeping cabins and five American plan cabins that are built on top of the sloping smooth rocks of Nipissing’s West Bay. Anglers choose from a fleet of Geisler 18-foot (5.5-metre) cedar strip boats or 16-foot (5-metre) aluminum boats equipped with 20 horsepower motors and fish finders to explore the islands, inlets, bays and narrows of West Bay.
Step out of your kitchen-equipped lakefront cabin and onto a natural sand beach. Sheltered docking facilities, boat and motor rentals and available guide service help guests connect with the game fish of their choice in Nipissing’s South Bay. In winter, Bear Creek Cottages offer ice fishing with daily transportation to heated day huts, or you can spend the night in their heated ice cabins.
Celebrating 36 years in the ice fishing business, Rob’s Five Star Fishing offers four- and six-person insulated ice fishing bungalows equipped with LED lights, cooking facilities, bunk beds and washrooms. There are holes inside and outside the bungalows to fish the productive waters of Callander Bay. Transportation to and from the ice bungalows is included and your first dozen minnows are on the house.
Get a complete list of accommodation options on Lake Nipissing, including hotels, motels, lodges, resorts, campgrounds, cabins and outfitters.
Last updated: August 22, 2023