The second Saturday in May in southern Ontario means one thing and one thing only for thousands of avid anglers… Walleye Opener! For those who focus on Lake Simcoe however, it means so much more than that. Not only do walleye open, but so too does northern pike, whitefish and lake trout season. So many great species to fish for, so little time, ah the dilemma of the Lake Simcoe angler.
The drive out in the morning to the whitefish grounds can be exhilarating - especially on beautiful calm mornings like the one shown here
A small collection of lures is all you need to get started. You can even grab some of the baits out of your ice fishing box that will work in the open water too - like the blue/silver Jigging Rapala shown here (left box) beside the Storm Swim Shad.
Without question the thousands of Fish On Line Canada readers who live within an hour of this 725 square kilometer lake are truly blessed to have Her on our doorstep. Today, let's zero in on spring whitefish and lake trout opportunities on Simcoe and see if we can help up your odds if you decide to give this type of open water fishing a try …
Here Wil shows off a typical Lake Simcoe Whitefish jigged from 70 feet of water
Lake Trout & Whitefish Synonymous with Northern Ontario:
Regarded by many as prime gamefish found mostly in the far north, lakers and whities also flourish in our very own Lake Simcoe thanks to an intensive MNR stocking program. Although the popularity of the open water fishery for them pales in comparison to the winter fishery, it does seem to be increasing every year. 2007 has definitely been fabulous so far so let's head out there while we can before this unique opportunity passes us by.
I have been out quite a few times this spring and what really impresses me is that it's not just a few highly skilled Lake Simcoe old timers catching all the fish. Oh sure, perhaps it is the seasoned veterans who are the first ones to arrive on the scene as the sun comes out each morning… They know all too well that the first couple of hours are usually prime and oftentimes they are the least windy - making vertical jigging most effective. However, invariably what happens is within a couple of hours more and more boats show up and form impressive flotillas on key sections of the lake.
If you decide to join the gang on a nice calm sunny day this spring, you will no doubt see big boats, little boats, old boats, new boats, aluminum fishing boats, fancy bass boats and just plain old pleasure craft; even those in canoes and dinghy's often can't resist the temptation to venture out there to partake in the adipose finned, piscatorial bounties that Simcoe has to offer. The best thing of all though is seeing all the families out there - and no, not just dad and the kids but both mom, dad and the kids. Listening to the squeals of excitement from a young angler yelling … "I got one, I got one," well, it's enough to make you wonder why even more parents who have boats don't introduce their kids to this type of fishing!
How it's Done … Catching Lake Simcoe Whitefish and Lake Trout For the First Time
Where to go:
Although I am usually very reluctant to publicize productive spots for fear of 'burning them out' there are the odd exceptions that can be justified. For instance there are already a couple of popular areas where many anglers love to fish whitefish and lake trout on Simcoe that a few more boats out there will not jeopardize the fishery or the fishing experience. Both of these fish are stocked with revenues from our fishing license dollars by MNR in order for anglers like you and me to catch. ~100,000 lakers and ~140,000 whities are put in every year for us.
There is some evidence of natural reproduction for both of these great species in Lake Simcoe. Anglers who spend a lot of time out there are now seeing more and more “un clipped” whitefish and even some lake trout. These 'wild' fish are very valuable to the fishery and therefore Fish On Line Canada readers are urged to practice selective harvest out there - quickly and carefully live releasing unclipped fish and if any are intended for the table, to keep the stocked, clipped fish instead.
Unlike other areas of the province with more liberal limits - we are permitted just two whitefish and two lake trout with our valid Sportfishing license on Lake Simcoe. From a fishery management perspective this has been quite sustainable and most anglers concur that it is a very fair limit. Besides, with the average size of our lake trout and whitefish well above the provincial norm, two of either fish is more than enough. Keep in mind that our total possession limit is just two lake trout and two whitefish as well - so if you have any in the freezer from a previous trip, they count against your daily limit. In short - your daily catch and total possession limits are the same!
Anyway, the two areas I am about to reveal are definitely not secret spots. Even mid-week, you can go out there and see 25-50 boats congregated there - all with the same intention - to catch a whitie or two and maybe even a bonus lake trout. In early June, under ideal conditions, I counted 93 boats in one general area!
Of course, the window of opportunity for this unique fishery is limited and really only lasts from the opener until about the end of June, beginning of July or so when the fish disperse and become very difficult to pinpoint.
Ok … so the two areas are off of Jackson's Point and out from Willow Rocks in water between 65-75 feet deep. Once you're out there, you'll know because you can't help but see the flotilla of boats. As long as you don't crowd anyone and mind your manners, you will be welcome to fish amongst the group or even better along the periphery.
Equipment: First of all, you need a good seaworthy boat. Although the odd day, calm and stable weather conditions may appear ideal for all types of boats, I still can't help but feel uneasy whenever I see canoes and dinghies a couple of miles out from shore on a lake that can turn awfully wicked in a real hurry. Make sure you have all the required safety equipment in your boat: PFD's, tow line, paddles, whistle/horn, cell phone etc, and a good quality anchor with lots of rope. The anchor is key to efficient jigging - especially if you don't have or want to use an electric positioning motor at the bow of your boat to hold you in place.
For fishing tackle you can go as basic or elaborate as you like. How basic? Does a wooden tip-up stick wrapped with 50 meters of line sound simple enough? For some, the back to basics tackle that they enjoy ice fishing with seems to serve them well out on the open water too. For others, and I must admit I fall into this category, we like having several high quality 6-7 foot graphite rods (with both baitcasting and spinning reels), because they enable us to optimize our presentations with various lures and line sizes quickly and efficiently.
Although the gamut of open water tackle used for jigging up lakers and whities from Simcoe is not as elaborate as say for bass fishing the lake, the experienced jigger does have a healthy assortment of spoons, Jigging Rapala's and Badd Boyz type lures tipped with plastics like Berkley Gulp! grubs or finesse minnows.
For those un- familiar with the scene out there, typically what happens is folks go out primarily for the more plentiful whitefish and jig for them near bottom in 65-85 feet of water… Shallower early in the season, deeper, later on. The lures of choice are spoons like the Williams Whitefish in half gold and half silver finish. Make a short cast out in front of you, let the spoon flutter to bottom, then hold still about a foot or so from bottom. No hits? Jig it upwards - typically with a firm jigging motion to start and then hold still. No action? Perhaps a more subtle jigging motion is required so hold still and lightly jig up and down again.
This is a time tested proven lure and the jigging technique produces copious numbers of Lake Simcoe whitefish during both the hard water and open water seasons. Another that work well is the gold or trout colored 3/8 oz HT Chatter Spoon. With these, anglers also catch the occasional lake trout at the same time while targeting whitefish, which they consider a nice bonus fish.
There are some hard core anglers though who enjoy experimenting with other baits … like King City resident Brian Ogden and his fishing partner Paul Bassi of Woodbridge. "We have been doing incredibly well this season for both lake trout and whitefish on tubes jigs", revealed Ogden. "Paul likes to throw a tube very similar to the three inch green ones that are so effective for bass, but I prefer a 2 ½ incher in a clear color. Funny thing is, both seem to work as long as you can maintain contact with the bottom and are ready for those subtle hits - especially when whitefish are finicky," he concluded.
This spring I have also been experimenting with alternate tactics and lures. One of them is an HT Buzz Blade which is sort of like a horizontally sitting spoon with an incredible fluttering motion on the upward retrieve and a seductive fall on the drop. At first, I had lost a whitie or two with this bait straight out of the package so I decided to doctor it up a bit. Basically all I needed to do was to replace the lower double hook with a red treble hook - and voila!
A nice whitie caught on the HT Buzz BladeI am perhaps even more excited though about another highly effective, yet rarely used method of fishing for open water lake trout and whitefish on Lake Simcoe that has been very good to me this spring. When whities or trout just don't wanna play with your standard up, down, up, down, jigging motion, then this hot method can make the difference between catching - and not catching.
Wil's Dragging Technique:
Let's look at lakers first. Many hard core anglers would rather target the less plentiful and often larger, lake trout than whitefish if they had their choice. For them, the investment in a pair of quality down riggers is well worth it so that they can effectively troll for them at whatever depth they like. For some, lead-core line is the answer to keep their baits down deep in the lakers' strike zone. Or, if you're like me and the majority of other anglers who just own standard spinning and baitcasting gear you can try "dragging for lake trout", a relatively obscure technique that has paid big dividends for me this spring. Here's how it works:
You start with a 3 or 4 inch white Storm Jigging Swim Shad. The smaller jigs are used when the water is flat calm and maintaining bottom contact is not a problem. With these I use a 7 foot medium heavy Rapala Signature series rod and a large spinning reel that can accommodate plenty of 8 pound test Berkley Vanish Transition line. When there is a bit of a chop, I use the heavier jigs and therefore beefier tackle - a 6 ½ -7 foot medium/heavy baitcasting rod and reel outfit with 12-14 pound test line. I then simply cast it out as far as it will go, let out twice as much line and then, with the bow mounted electric motor begin to cruise around slowly if the wind will let me- the whole time dragging the Swim Shad behind the boat. When the wind comes up, I throw out a drift sock and basically just drift fish with this bait, being sure to let out enough line to maintain bottom contact.
Why So Effective?
One key reason has to be that this bait not only looks like the large shiners or smelt that the Lake Simcoe Trout are feeding on, but it swims like them as well. The spring of 2007 appears to be far less windy overall then last year, so for the most part anglers are in full control of their baits which makes working this one so ideal. To be honest, I much prefer the dragging with the electric version of this technique than the drift with the wind method because of the control factor.
By slowly moving around with the quite electric instead of sitting still vertically jigging, you also have a very natural horizontal presentation that non- aggressive lake trout find hard to resist. Although many lake trout have been caught near bottom this spring, occasionally they are caught elsewhere within the water column, so periodically I lift the rod up high while dragging to allow the bait to ride well off bottom for a moment or two before it flutters back down. This can often trigger those suspended fish into hitting so be ready!
The hot lake trout bait this spring on Lake Simcoe has been the Storm Jigging Swim Shad
When to Try?
My most productive times have been whenever I am not marking a lot of baitfish on the sonar while sitting still. Despite its effectiveness, I must confess that I am not a very patient angler and that sitting in one spot jigging for too long can make me restless. Sometimes this is an asset that helps me catch more fish, others it is weakness that results in less fish.
Regardless, I will begin to move around looking for the fish - instead of waiting in one spot before they find me. This often occurs first thing in the morning upon arrival.
In fact sometimes it even pays to gamble with this technique before you focus on jigging for the more plentiful whitefish. Just cruise around with the electric on low a safe distance from other boats to make sure the whole time that your line is not interfering with those who might also have lots of line out.
Ideally, I prefer to stay well away from the masses when dragging and so far this spring have landed some nice big lake trout well away from all the boats. I simply cruise over 65-85 feet of water towards shallower shoals that top out at 40 feet or so and look to see if there is any baitfish activity on my sonar. Frequently there is, as well as the larger arches of the lake trout. During the incredibly calm days I have been out this spring, there are even times when you can see baitfish jumping - often a sign that a big laker is not far behind chasing his dinner.
An effective substitute to the Jigging Shad has been a simple ¼ to ½ oz tube jig that also can be dragged successfully for lake trout. Don't be surprised however, if this bait and technique also yields some nice whitefish - who may just want their dinner served a little different then the standard up, down, up down jigging method they see every day out there.
Does Dragging Work for Whitefish?
You bet! In fact, over the course of about 15 years of open water whitefish/laker fishing on Simcoe, I have caught far more whitefish then lakers by dragging my bait behind the boat. For me however, the Storm Jigging Swim Shad is not my lure of choice for whities. I prefer the Bad Boyz tipped with a small Berkley Micro tube jig - or even a full sized tube cut in half (front end) and worked over the bait so the tentacles dance seductively at the rear end. Of course there are also times when Berkley Gulp! Minnows are tops.
Tube jigs and dragging go together like ice cream and apple pie and are killer not just for fall smallmouth on Simcoe … but spring whitefish as well.
Is dragging more effective than the standard jigging employed by the vast majority of Lake Simcoe Open water whitefish and lake trout anglers? In a word …No! But, if you find yourself out there and not catching anything, why not give it a shot and see how you do? It might just be another method for Fish On Line Canada readers to be one step ahead of the others out there.
Another tube jig 'clipped' whitefish - whether dragged, cast or gently jigged below the boat, this is one great Lake Simcoe whitefish bait!