Well it sure took me long enough this year to make time to do a little ice fishing. Usually, I pride myself as being one of the first guys out there, but I am either slacking off, getting old or just wasn't prepared for such an early start to the ice fishing season on Lake Simcoe this winter .
I suspect it is more of the latter but in either case, there is always something magical about first ice all that virgin hard water out there void of holes, ice huts, snowmobile trails and for the most part people. Even better. One thing that first ice period is seldom lacking is fish and today was no exception.
I picked up my buddy Wes Roffey in Gilford at 6:25 am and by 6:45 we were on the ice kicking our Cross Sleds (a Scandinavian Kick-Sled) across the frozen surface of Lake Simcoe's Cooks Bay. We decided to set up shop fairly close to shore first … seeing as how it was still pitch dark and we wetted some perch lures for the first time since April at last ice. With nothing happening, we chose to hit one of Wes' GPS spots from last year … a place where they usually are first ice. If they weren't there, we would hit some of my GPS'd spots. I stopped short of the spot Wes was heading to and jigged a small Jig A Whopper spoon. First one was just a small perch and so were the rest so I headed further out towards Wes - and hopefully bigger perch. I wasn't disappointed.
Wes already had over half a dozen gorgeous 10 and 11 inchers in his pail - so I quickly accepted his offer to take the other hole he had drilled nearby. Soon I too was on em, one after the other of perch ranging from 6 inches to 13 ½. I caught some on a small chartreuse and sliver Bad Boyz tipped with a Berkley Micro power tube. Most however preferred a chartreuse Alien Jig tipped with a Berkley Micro Power Craw. Wes caught all of his perch on a small motor-oiled color tube jig using two pound test Berkley Fluorocarbon line.
Today the perch were active as all get out as long as the lures were presented properly. Overly jigged baits were ineffective. A slow lift after allowing the lure to crash on bottom, followed by that quivering motion that avid winter perch anglers know and love, was the ticket. Experienced perch anglers know it can drive perch crazy and they love it when they slam the bait because that motion!
Early season perch have not learned to be overly fussy either and today was no exception as no live bait was required. Neither Wes nor I ever use minnows for winter perch any longer and we knew maggots probably wouldn't be mandatory today either. In a couple of weeks though, I'm sure I won't be leaving the ice without those gorgeous little critters tucked into my float suit pocket.
Today was a kind of special day of fishing because it will be Wes' last one on the ice for quite some time. Before year's end - he and his better half will be moving out to BC's lower mainland where he may not find any ice at all. It will be home Wes says of possibly the best winter steel heading on the planet, one of the reason's he is moving out there. He will miss the hard water action back home though as he logged more days on the ice than anyone else I know. As a winter perch guide on Lake Couchiching, Wes was on the hard water continually last winter, guiding his American clients to oodles of that lake's plentiful yellow perch.
Wes Roffey holds a nice Lake Simcoe perch ... a fish he will miss a great deal when he moves to BC by year's end
Life of a Winter Perch Guide:
If you think that sounds like a dream job, consider that his mornings usually began at least a three hours before sun-up. He'd have to get the ski-doo and all his gear loaded, drive over to meet his clients and then head out to the lake and unload again. Oftentimes he would head out first, punch a bunch of holes for them, and then head back to shore to pick them all up. Being on fish is important for you and I when we go ice fishing for fun … but for a guide who is out there all day, every day on the open ice guiding groups of 2-12 people at a time, finding fish takes on a whole new meaning. If you find fish … your clients will likely be happy, and come back as repeat customers. Oftentimes they'll tell friends and the word of mouth advertising can be tremendous. It can also work the other way though. Have a bad day out there and your clients may not come back and even worse might tell others about the lousy fishing they had with you. Fortunately for Wes he or his clients didn't have too many bad days!
When Wes wasn't guiding he was pre-fishing before guiding expeditions to find huge schools of perch - enough to satisfy the needs of his clients. Finding a couple dozen perch in one area would be great for most of us but just doesn't cut it when you have six or more clients following you around from spot to spot expecting to get bit. But to his credit Wes can find fish better than most anglers I know and he got his clients on day after day. I'm sure his uncanny ability to locate perch through the ice or rainbows in a river or bass in lake will go with him as he moves to BC and all the great new fishing adventures that await him there. I'm sure too that within weeks he'll have the locals saying "Who is this new kid on the block catching all of our fish anyway … and how the heck is getting' them when we can't"!
As we Cross Sledded off the ice with our 20 perch apiece (we each released at least twice that many) we knew it would be awhile before we did this again but we sure were glad we made the time to fish once more before he left. So long Wes … And may your rods keep bending and your line keep stretching in beautiful British Columbia!
When I got home I knew I would have some cleaning to do but instead of dreading this chore I was kind of looking forward to it. It was a chance to try out my new Rapala Electric Filleting Knife. I have resisted the move to go electric for some time now despite hearing the raves from other anglers. With advent of Rapala's Cordless guide model however I was finally convinced to go the electric knife route to fillet perch. I had tried it earlier in the ‘open water season' for walleye and whitefish and it worked fine for these larger fish. But how would it perform on the smaller perch? What can I say except …" Boy oh boy do I wish I had gone the electric route for perch sooner." This baby makes it soooo much easier to slice through a mess of perch to obtain those gorgeous fillets. One of my concerns originally was that an electric would not allow me to have the feel needed to stay away from cutting thru bone and messing up the fillet. With the thin fillet–type knives in this model however, this was not an issue. I was able to slice thru the ribs cleanly and effectively and then take the rib cage out easily without a mess. I even found taking the skin off was a breeze. Before I knew it I had a plate full of perch fillets ready for the frying pan. And trust me … they tasted as great as always.
Cleaning perch with the Normark Electric
The first slice goes through to the back bone and then turn your knife around and lay it flat for the next step
The fillet knife running alongside the backbone towards the tail
Taking out the rib cage
Taking the skin off
The final fillet
Stay tuned Fish On Line readers and we'll try and cover the exciting ice fishery of Lake Simcoe right here.