Man it was cold! That morning in mid January 2009 we heard it was -35 with the wind chill in Toronto, and we were up along the north shores of Lake Simcoe so it was that much colder. "Perhaps the other guys who decided not to come at the last minute were smarter than we think," my son Izaak said as we headed out into the bitter wind onto the frozen lake. Still, the sunrise was gorgeous … and our hopes were high for yet, another terrific day on the ice.
Lake trout with the Foxee Minnow and Berkley Power Shiner
Back on shore, we had just placed a phone call to John Whyte, an avid angler from Orillia, to let him know where we were ... so he packed up from his spot and within a few minutes drove up to us on his ski-doo. "Any luck?" he asks. We were just starting though so the response was negative. We all began fishing in 73 feet - hoping our Lowrance Ice Machines would soon show us some fish. It seemed to get colder as the morning wore on.
Throughout the course of the morning, the Ice Machine's would reveal streams of cisco (lake herring) high up in the water column . We left them alone - knowing the season in Lake Simcoe is closed as this native species begins its remarkable comeback from near extinction. "It's great to see all those cisco back and it won't be long before those lake trout begin feeding on them again big time", I say aloud to no one in particular. "We've already caught quite a few this winter," says John. "Sometimes you can't drop your tube jig to the bottom for lakers without having one of those herring pick it up ."
Although we see larger marks near bottom that were likely whitefish, we can't convince any to take our offerings. Izaak switches from a tube jig to a chartreuse and white Rapala Foxee Minnow. He has a small Berkley Gulp! Shiner hooked on the lures' single hook for extra enticement.
What's left of the cisco the lake trout ate for his main course and a couple shiners for desert
The three of us huddle over our holes. We jig slowly - partially because we know the fish won't be too active with the massive cold front, but perhaps even more because the arctic-like conditions restrict our willingness to move too much. "Hey ... did ya hear that it was colder in Florida yesterday than it was Whitehorse"? Izaak says aloud. "They still have a balmy -1 Degree over there in the Yukon ... and meanwhile its freezing cold in Florida".
"I know how they feel," says John. "It's a bitter, wet cold out here" he adds. No amount of jumping jacks or running around could keep him warm. "That's it, I'm outta here he said after a few hours." It wasn't even noon yet - but Izaak and I said we wouldn't be much longer either.
After a while, we begin to get ready to pack her in. Although our Mustang Floater suits and ample layers of wool and Polar Fleece have kept us comfortable, we still wish we brought the portable ice hut. We can't feel our faces they're so cold. Snot is frozen all over my son's beard ... it's gross, but what can ya do ...? I didn't say a word; just kinda smiled and looked away. I'm just glad he still wants to come out here ice fishin' with his crazy old man. It seems like only a couple of years ago that I was pulling him out on the sled for a morning of ice fishing. "Faster daddy ... faster!" I can still hear him yelling happily. Naturally I obliged.
Today - I made him pull the damn sled though with all of our gear - and felt like jumping in there myself as I tried to keep up.
I reel in the Windlass tip up and quietly hear Izaak moan, "There we go"! I thought he was just happy one line was in and we were that much closer to leaving. I turn around and see a big bend in the rod and an even bigger smile on his face.
"Sweet!" I quickly run over to the hole and scoop out all the frozen ice and slush. I advise him to hold his rod more horizontal. "Let the rod tier the fish out and when she wants to run, let it run - the drag is set just right." That's the only advice I needed to give... or he wanted to hear. The long runs told us this was no whitefish but a decent lake trout. A few more powerful runs and Izaak finally gets it near the hole … a couple careful attempts to steer her from the icy depths and into the hole and finally I have a chance to see the big head. "Up a little higher ... a little higher - there we go!" I say ... and grab the head behind her gill plate to haul her up and out; all in one swift motion.
Yee-ha … Wow! What a fish! Izaak says. We high five. I take a few quick photos as the big trout begins to freeze before our very eyes. My exposed hands are so cold I can barely feel my fingers... but now we're pumped and excited for more so we try a little longer.
Before long though we admit, it was just too damn cold out there though so off we went … a little frigid but none-the-less happy we came out.
As we cleaned the fish for dinner later that afternoon, we looked carefully in the stomach to see what the big brute had been eating - four shiner minnows in good condition, and one 12 inch cisco that was beginning to decompose.
That trout had a fin clipped indicating it was a stocked fish. Keeping track of this year's fishing excursions in my Angler Diary (a joint MNR and Fisheries of Lake Simcoe Stakeholder Committee initiative.) we looked at the chart in the back to see when the fish was stocked. With the right pectoral fin clipped (that's the one by the belly near the head), we found out that the fish was stocked in 1999.)
As I look back I'm so glad we did not let the opportunity to go fishing together pass us by. Izaak nailed his biggest lake trout ever - 13 ½ pounds on the Normark Digital scale and 33 inches long. More importantly one more happy memory was created that frigid morning on the hard waters of Lake Simcoe.