During the ice fishing season, perch are definitely one of the fish targeted by most anglers. Many anglers from around the world come here to catch the famous Ontario jumbo perch. Cook's Bay, Lake Simcoe is definitely my number one spot for its numbers and big sizes.
Temperatures begin to drop and the lakes slowly begin to freeze. Ice fishing is in the air! I find that early season fishing is always the best time for several reasons. The main reason is that there are no people on the lake because of the thin ice issue. I personally will walk out on a minimum of 4'' of solid ice but never less than that. Even when going out on 4'' of ice, safety is an important factor so for first ice it is important to have all of your safety gear ready.
A definite must is my Nautilus survival suit. Without it I won't go out on the ice. To go with the survival suit, I wear sharp cleats on my feet and I have ice picks hanging off my neck. These will help you to get out of the water quickly if you do fall through. In my sled I always have extra warm clothes just in case the ones I’m wearing get wet. Another good thing to have is a long strong rope. Lastly, the only other thing that can save you is a friend. I never go out alone for many safety reasons plus it's good to have someone pulling on the other end of that rope if you do fall in. My last clothing tip comes from hearing many anglers talk about their hands getting cold really fast. They don't like wearing those heavy bulky gloves since fishing in them can be tough and they don't wear thin gloves since they are a hassle considering they don't help in keeping your hands warm. This is where I step in and reveal my secret. I fish in thin gloves that make fishing just as easy as using your bare hands but my way keep your hands warm. I first put on rubber surgical gloves and on top I put on wool gloves. The surgical gloves are tight and they are not breathable which makes your hand sweat. The sweat and warmth stays in the glove at all times keeping your hands warm even in -40 temperatures. The wool gloves are used because they offer more warmth and provide a good gripping surface that makes everything easier. Now that you learned my secret and you have your safety gear prepared, you are ready to hit the lake for first ice perch.
The main thing that I will stress is to move around on the ice to find schools of perch. I always start off drilling several holes close to shore in shallow water. I then begin fishing with my universal set up which can be used during all seasons. I find that a small minnow tipped on a mormyshka is irresistible for perch so if they are in that spot they will hit it. It is the universal bait to find schools during all seasons so it is best to start with just in case they might be reluctant to hit anything else. I am usually using my universal panfish rod which is an ultra light 24'' St. Croix, Frabill, or HT rods because of the amazing quality. My Byron M1, Mitchell or Shimano Sedona 750FB reels are spooled with 2 or 4lbs fluorocarbon P-line or Sasame since they don't freeze up fast. When fishing for perch, I always experiment and jig the mormyshka right on bottom and work my way up. After a few hits I know at what depth to work my lure at. After five minutes of fishing, it should start to become non-stop perch action. If that isn't happening then I know to keep looking and drilling holes. If there is non-stop action in shallow water, you are usually catching tiny perch so you will begin to think about the jumbos that made Cook's Bay famous.
The jumbos are out in deeper water so it is time to search again. I will usually search for 20 to 30 feet of water. Once you find that depth begin fishing. It will usually take a bit of walking and drilling to find that big school of active jumbo perch but it is worth it in the end. The main thing is to keep drilling and repeating the mormyshka process. Once you have hit that big school of perch try using heavier tackle and lures since the perch are aggressive and don't care much for a finesse approach. This way you can catch more perch in a shorter amount of time since you won't be wasting time scrambling for minnows and putting them on your hook.
For my heavier set-up I use a 28'' Medium St.Croix rod with an Abu Garcia Cardinal reel with 8lbs P-Line fluorocarbon. My choice of lures would have to be a Jigging Shad Rap, Meegs, Swedish Pimple with a Scandinavian bead chain, and Nils Master. Colour preferences include fire tiger, clown, silver, white, and gold. Try using any of these lures and you will begin to notice that the perch are hitting the lures hard since they are aggressive and hungry.
Another advantage of using heavier tackle is the common occurrence of getting a larger fish on your line and successfully landing it. Lake Simcoe offers multi species fishing in between the perch whether it may be pike, walleye, whitefish or lake trout so using a heavier set-up will aid you. Be sure to follow Ontario Fishing Regulations when you do land other gamefish since early ice can come before the January 1 opener. After a few hours of non-stop action, you should have your limit of 50 perch.
Early ice perch tend to be very aggressive and hungry so they will hit hard which makes it easy to detect all strikes even on a heavy set-up. Early ice fishing is a good time to be spoiled by the great fishing opportunities available. From this information you are on your way to great success during the early ice fishing perch season. Be sure to follow all guidelines and stay safe. See you on the ice!
My first trip in December 2005
Went out with Andrew at about 11am from my uncle's cottage. We walked on the thin river ice where several holes indicated that people fell through. We then walked out to the Bay and we saw several snowmobilers, which is odd for first ice. We then checked the shore ice and it was about 4.5"-7". Near shore we drilled a few holes and fished a bit. I got the first perch on a large mormyshka with a minnow in about 10FOW.
We then left the area in search for more and bigger perch. Further out there were a lot of pressure cracks in the ice and it looked as if the center of the bay had very thin ice. Several snowmobilers went across but as they did, I was able to hear the ice crack loudly. I drilled a few more holes and I'd say that the average ice thickness at the time was about 4.5". We got brave and went for a long walk to the center of Cook's Bay where the ice was about 3" and the depth was about 30 feet. Later on, I experimented and put a minnow on the lower center treble hook of my fire tiger Jigging Shad Rap and I got several larger fish. After several 12"ers, I got one bigger fish, which I thought was a walleye. I then realized that it was the biggest perch I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it wouldn't slide through a 6'' hole and it then unhooked. Other than that the biggest perch was the 50th, which measured in at over 13".