A first time visitors guide to fishing the lake during the three open water seasonsWelcome to the most intensively fished inland lake in Ontario! Now if you expect lots of company while you're on our gin-clear waters, think again because you may not see too many other anglers out there with you.
See - Lake Simcoe only has this “most intensively fished claim” because of her incredible winter fishery - when more people fish her icy waters than at any other time of year. We'll save the hard water fishing for another time though. Today we'll focus just on how you can maximize your fishing excursion on the soft fish-filled waters of Lake Simcoe during spring, summer and fall.
Spring pike anglers on Simcoe are encouraged to fish shallow newly emerging weed growth but by the time fall rolls around many of the larger pike have moved deep - such as this big brute caught on a deep wedge in 30 feet.
Aurora Bassmaster Tom Tsatskas with his first ever Lake Simcoe walleye caught in mid May 2009
With over ¼ million lakes in our province to fish, we are pleased that you chose southern Ontario's largest body of water and the 6th largest inland lake in the province for your fishing trip. With so many great activities to choose from within an hour or two of Lake Simcoe, we're also pleased that you chose to go fishing and appreciate your interest in this very special lake.
Dave Mercer and Wil Wegman
For those who like a variety of fish, Lake Simcoe is hard to beat; with its deep sections for cold water species like lake trout and whitefish, mid-depth areas for popular fish like smallmouth bass and yellow perch, and shallower, weedy places that harbour largemouth bass, northern pike and a variety of panfish ... this lake is like none other in southern Ontario.
For visitors coming to fish the lake throughout the open water seasons they may find themselves wondering just where to begin looking for all the fish we have to offer and how to catch them. At 745 square kilometres it can be daunting task to know where to start so if you want to maximize your fishing opportunities during your visit, then read on and we'll try and help teach you a little about our big lake.
Fishing Lake Simcoe
Shortly after ice out, one of the first species to show up are also one of the lakes' most elusive - the black crappie. Although plentiful in Simcoe, these structure oriented fish are very difficult to locate in this massive body of water because there is not a lot of typical physical structure for them to snuggle up next to. This is not the case when, shortly after ice out they move to near shore sections around piers, marinas, and up connecting rivers. During the spring season the delicious crappie are highly sought after by anglers who know that if they time it right they can haul some beautiful 10-14 inch 'slabs' from the structure found in marinas and other near shore areas. Several marinas, both on the lake and its adjoining rivers (like the Holland and the Maskinonge) have capitalized on these opportunities and charge a nominal parking fee in order to access these great shore fishing areas.
Yellow perch are without a doubt the lakes' most popular fish. And it's no wonder - they taste delicious and are found just about everywhere. There are many excellent areas for spring perch, from Cook's Bay out of Keswick in the south all the way up to Atherly Narrows in the north. Here, the Orillia Perch Festival occurs every year in late April/early May and attracts visitors from across the region and on into the US. Anglers fish both Lake's Simcoe and Couchiching - which is joined to Simcoe by the Atherly Narrows.
The Town of Georgina's shores out from the villages of Virginia, Willow Beach, Pefferlaw and Port Bolster are also tough to beat. Finding one or two perch usually means you have found a school so don't become discouraged if you don't get bit right away. When perch are shallow using a small search spoon such as a one inch Jig-Whopper is a great way to locate that school. One trick I have found that is very productive is to actually long line troll for perch with a mid-sized sinking Rapala. After I connect with one fish, I will throw a marker buoy to the spot where the perch hit and proceed to cast to that area with jigs or even a modified drop-shot rig. Instead of the weight on bottom, I'll use a Lil Foxee jig, tipped with a soft, lifelike, Berkley Gulp! Alive minnow. Many big perch experts are forgoing the use of live minnows in favor of these productive artificials which work great on Simcoe for its famous jumbo perch.
Expect to catch several eaters in the 8-10 inch size and there's a good shot at getting into a few true jumbos in the 12, 13 and even 14 inch class. There is a 50 daily catch and 100 possession limit with a full sport licence and 25 and 50 with a Conservation Licence. Fortunately most people see no need to take a full limit and they are also perpetuating a trophy perch fishery by live releasing those big (usually female) perch over a foot long.
Every year northern pike season opens on the 2nd Saturday in May on Simcoe and most of the shallow, weedy areas in Cooks Bay will hold these popular toothy critters. Effective techniques include trolling with Rapala Shad Raps, casting Terminator spinnerbaits, or tossing jigs near the aquatic plants that pike call home. Perhaps none are as exciting though as twitching jerk baits like the Rapala X Rap across weedy flats. When a big Simcoe northern rushes up and viciously attacks that helpless minnow-imitating bait it is enough to give even the most seasoned veteran a severe case of the shakes.
Despite their popularity, pike are still here in healthy numbers. Perhaps the 25 pound plus giants are harder to find but there are still all kinds of 5-10 pound northerns and enough in the 15 pound range to keep things real interesting. Unfortunately for some anglers who have not adapted their fishing techniques to the increase in water clarity (caused by the filtering effects of zebra mussels) their fishing success has dropped considerably. One critical element to success for many has been to stash away the traditional steel leaders needed to prevent pike from biting through the line and replacing them with something more invisible yet still strong. My choice has been to use a leader made from a couple of feet of 20 lb test Fluorocarbon line. For jigs and spinnerbaits I tie directly, and for cranks, and jerk baits I use a snap.
Especially productive colour patterns for X Raps in Simcoe include the Clown for rough or cloudy days and perch or natural gold colour for sunny calm days. Pike fishing during the spring on Simcoe is very weather dependant. Pick a period if you can when weather patterns just prior to your day out have been stable. A warming trend is great … a cold front sucks!
Early season pike action is not limited to Cooks Bay ... basically they can be found wherever newly emerging weedgrowth is located. Cooks Bay is regarded as the most Eutrophic section of the lake - with more aquatic plants and warm water species than anywhere else. It is also much shallower and fertile than the deepest bay and section of the lake up at the north end out of Barrie ... Kempenfelt Bay.
As an added bonus to pike anglers are the occasional big walleye found in the lake. There may not be enough for most anglers to consider targeting but catching the odd incidental walleye can 'make your day'. Pike limits are 6 for those with a full sport licence and two for those with a conservation. Walleye limits are 4 for those with a Sport Licence and two for conservation ... but not more than one can be greater than 18 inches.
Lake Trout and Whitefish:
The 2nd Saturday of May has always been a HUGE day for anglers who love to fish Lake Simcoe but sometimes they have a difficult choice trying to figure out what to fish for. Not only does northern pike and walleye season open up, but so too does whitefish and lake trout season. These two cold water species are usually found in deeper sections of the lake which is void of the aquatic plant growth that pike and walleye crave. Long lining flashy spoons or thin crankbaits like the original floating Rapala next to shoals or deepwater points works great for early spring lakers. The north part of the lake up around the Oro Lines can be great for long line laker fishing for the first few weeks of the season when these fish are still shallow.
Jigging spoons like the Williams Whitefish, Normark's Krocodile or HT's ¼ oz Rocker minnows vertically below the boat in 60-85 feet of water for Simcoe's humongous whitefish, has become an increasingly effective form of angling each spring. The Lil Foxee Jigging Minnow worked right on bottom is great for whitefish. For deepwater whitie or laker fishing however, you are fishing blind if you don't use a high quality sonar to look for the right depth, baitfish and the big fish you're after.
The full colour Lowrance Unit that I use also allows me to insert the Eastern Great Lakes Navionics chip that will give me a complete digital map of Lake Simcoe showing depth contours, shoals and other likely fishing spots. With its built in GPS, I can also save hot spots and revisit them easily to help increase my odds.
Visiting anglers can minimize their search for great jigging opportunities by focussing their lake trout and whitefish efforts out from the hamlets of Willow Beach and Jackson's Point.. Even on weekdays you will be hard pressed not to see a few boats a mile or two offshore jigging for these big fish. It's ok to fish nearby as long as you practice the golden rule out there and don't get too close. The open water season for lakers and whities lasts from 2nd Sat. In May to Sept 30th. The limit is two each per person with a Sport Licence and one with a Conservation. Cisco or lake herring which can resemble the whitefish when young currently have a closed season and must be released if caught incidentally.
Bass season starts the fourth Saturday in June and is the last species to become fair game on Lake Simcoe. Simcoe is known as one of Canada's top smallmouth bass fisheries. The weedier sections of the lake also provide very good largemouth fishing. All the great bass action is not lost upon the many bass tournaments that have a stopover on the lake. In fact there are more bass tournaments on Lake Simcoe than any other inland lake in Ontario according to a recent report by Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. The tournament season kicks off in Orillia with the Casey Cup - run by the Canadian Sportfishing League on Sunday June 27th.
Many of Simcoe's summertime recreational anglers will also target bass - especially the mighty smallmouth. "Bronzebacks", as they are often called, frequent rocky shorelines, points, drop-offs and hang around any one of Simcoe's productive islands. Crayfish-colored crankbaits in the Rapala' s DT Series, topwaters like the Rapala Skitter Pop, spinnerbaits and jigs are all proven lures for catching Simcoe's big smallies. This lake has become a true world-class trophy smallmouth destination thanks in no small part to the majority of anglers who voluntarily live release those extraordinary 4-7 pound bass. These large fish then continue to reproduce and also offer other anglers the incredible thrill of catching the smallmouth of a lifetime.
Yellow perch during the summer are surprisingly not intensively fished - primarily because so many options exist for weekend visitors. For those who like the challenge though, looking for schools of perch below the boat can pay big dividends. Many utilize the same sonar unit they would for ice fishing - the Lowrance X67C.
When perch go deep a heavier spoon like the HT Chatter spoon with its built in rattles can excite big schools of jumbos below the boat. After you catch a few aggressive fish with this you can down size to finesse baits like a small HT Nugget or Alien jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp! Alive grub or minnow.
Wil with an eating size Simcoe perch caught with a modified drop shot rig. Instead of a weight on bottom he rigs a Blue Fox Foxee jig. Up top he slides on a Berkley Gulp! Alive minnow
Simcoe's sometimes forgotten largemouth bass also offer exceptional angling. These bass can be found in weedier areas, pencil reeds, near docks, stumps and other structures in the lake. Other panfish, like crappie, sunfish, rock bass and bullhead also offer lots of fun for young anglers during the months of July and August.
Pike continue to cruise weedlines throughout the warmwater months and can be taken with flashy spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs. The great thing about summertime fishing on Lake Simcoe is that you never know for sure what you're going to catch - which is just fine for the many families who visit and fish the lake occasionally or for those fortunate enough to have homes or cottages along its banks.
A great place to access the lake during the summer for both smallmouth and yellow perch is Sibbald Point Provincial. Here families come not only to fish but to boat, picnic, camp, swim or just sunbathe on the clean sandy beach. If you'd like to visit smaller provincial parks on the north end of the lake - visit Mara and Mcrae which also have boat launches and easy access to good fishable waters.
Interestingly enough, the season that may offer the best bass and pike fishing of the year, is also the time when you will find the least amount of pressure on the lake. Big pike are often taken cruising deepwater weedlines by ardent pike anglers who realize this is the finest time of year for Simcoe's toothy critters. Perch fishermen too come from all over the northern US States to visit places like Jackson's Point, Virginia, Keswick and Pefferlaw to catch schooling perch out on the main lake. And as far as smallmouth are concerned … well there just isn't a better time then late fall to catch the fish of a lifetime in what many anglers think is the finest trophy smallmouth bass fishery on the planet! Tournament anglers know this all too well but thousands of recreational anglers have also heard about the record sized smallmouth Simcoe has to offer … thanks in no small part to the media attention given events like the one below.
Bass Pro Shops Lake Simcoe Open TournamentIn 2009 this annual catch and release tournament hosted by the Aurora Bassmasters Club, will be bigger than ever with an amazing array of prizes, cash awards and incentives up for grabs. On Saturday October 24th experienced tournament anglers from all circuits are invited to compete. At the 2006 event, the 2003 record of 29.59 lbs was broken with a weight of 29.90 pounds for the heaviest five bass weighed in. Many experts are sure in 2009 the magic 30 pound mark will be broken and will set a new Canadian Record for all other tournaments to try and beat! For more details check out: www.aurorabass.com
The winning weights of Simcoe bass tournaments exemplify the exceptional quality of smallmouth available to Lake Simcoe anglers and with a strong catch and release ethic on Simcoe, the fabulous bass fishery should be around for many years to come.
Fall is the time of year when serious bass anglers fish Lake Simcoe because they know this is when the biggest bass of the year can be caught. However they also realize that inclement weather and dealing with rough water dictates extreme caution for all those venturing out onto the big lake. Wearing good floater suits, going out in large seaworthy boats, carrying cell phones and even staying on shore when it's just too rough are all standard safety precautions for the late fall Simcoe angler.
Mike and Howard Gifford - winners of the 2008 BPS Lake Simcoe Open, hoist one of the most sought after trophies in the Canadian tournament scene.
For all Lake Simcoe anglers regardless of whether you are a pro or just fish for fun … remember, the future of fishing is in your hands. Please practice selective harvest and catch and release to ensure the great fishing opportunities remain for future generations.
And There’s More
All Simcoe Anglers Asked To Look Out For Tagged Bass and Perch!
In 2009, the Aurora Bassmasters in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Queens University, Bass Pro Shops and the Ontario BASS Federation Nation, will once again be conducting their bass tagging research project. To date, hundreds of bass have been tagged since the first one during the summer of 2006.
Several of these same tagged bass have also been recaptured and the tag numbers and other important details forwarded to the MNR office in Aurora.
If anglers happen to catch a tagged bass they are asked to call the phone number on the tags (many bass have 2 tags) and report the tag numbers and colour as well as the size of the fish, the location on the lake it was caught, its overall condition and if they released the fish back into the lake. Matt DeMille from Queens University who is working on the decompression factors involved with some of these tournament caught bass asks that all anglers catching a tagged bass to please carefully release that fish back into the lake after they have recorded the information. “That way, the fish can continue to contribute to this important research work”, says DeMille.
There were also another 1,000 perch tagged this year thanks to the annual Orillia Perch Festival and its partners the Twin Lakes Conservation Club, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), MNR and Bass Pro Shops (BPS). 2009 marks the second year of the project and will give fisheries staff at MNR new information on perch movements throughout the lake.
A smaller, yet still exceptional perch tagging effort occurs in May out of Sibbald Point Provincial Park by the Simcoe Bass Anglers club. Here too anglers are asked to call the phone number on the tag and report the tag number, size and location caught.
Aurora Bassmasters and Ministry of Natural Resources Lake Simcoe Pike Transfer
A long-running pike tournament organized by the Aurora Bassmasters out of Keswick at the end of May is a unique event held in co-operation with the Ministry of Natural Resources. As part of an MNR Community Fisheries Wildlife Involvement Program, the club hosts this catch and release tournament and after the weigh in, a few of the pike are selected by MNR staff for a live pike transfer to nearby Fairy Lake in Newmarket. The rest are released back into Lake Simcoe. Pike destined for their new home are live released into this popular little lake to help balance the fish community there - which is made up of smaller panfish, carp and brown bullheads.
In their new home, the pike will act as top predator and will also offer additional fishing opportunities for local residents of York Region. Each year Fairy Lake plays host to an Urban Fishing Festival during the Free Family Fishing Weekend in July where hundreds of kids and their families come out for a fun day of fishing.
Rods and reels are available to borrow, great prizes available, and even free hotdogs and refreshments for the kids courtesy of the Newmarket Optimists, the Aurora Bassmasters and the Kids, Cops and Canadian Tire Program. The free event will be held on Sunday July 12th/09 from 10am-1pm.
Simcoe Carp Fishing Becoming More Popular
At one time carp anglers had to practice their fine craft in relative obscurity but today catching these big brutes that pull like freight trains is becoming an ever increasingly popular form of angling around the many sections of Lake Simcoe. Surprisingly, despite having some of the biggest carp in the province, this fish is still considered an underutilized species in the Lake Simcoe watershed. Carp anglers can fish from shore by casting and waiting for unseen carp or venture out in boats and search for huge carp as they cruise shallow clear-water flats.
The Holland River, which flows through York Region and Simcoe Counties all the way north to the mouth of Cooks Bay, offers excellent carp fishing opportunities. Carp gobble up smelly baits such as dough balls but will also pick up kernels of corn. In fact chumming with cooked corn often attracts carp to the area you are fishing and has become a favourite technique for shorebound anglers who want fish to come to them instead of them going to the fish. Excellent results are also being reported with Berkley's new Gulp Alive corn - that attract these big brutes by an appealing scent and taste.
Simcoe's Fish Are Great To Eat:
The fact remains that southern Ontario's jewel still has some of the cleanest, safest fish in the province to eat. Why, there are many 'pristine' lakes in northern Ontario that have more restrictions on fish eating, than our beloved Lake Simcoe. Proof is found within TheGuide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish which is published every other year by the Ministry of the Environment in co-operation with the Ministry of Natural Resources. Staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of the Environment collect fish from Simcoe which are analyzed at the Ministry of the Environment laboratory in Toronto.