The Start to the Winter 2008
A New Year is upon us and so too is another ice fishing season. My first trip of the season was in late December on the hard waters of Cook's Bay where yellow perch would be the target species. As I arrived shortly after sunup I was surprised to see hundreds of anxious ice anglers already there before me. Most were within a kilometer from shore and huddled over their holes carefully watching their rods, set in holders, for any sign of a strike.
I zipped across the beautiful glare ice on my trusty Cross Sled anticipating that first 'thunk' of a Simcoe jumbo ... The Cross Sled is an amazing contraption from Norway. These and similar kick-sleds have steel runners that you stand on. You hold onto waste-high handlebars and then push back with your foot onto the ice to propel yourself forward. Wearing an HT Sure Grip Safety Tread on that one kicking foot is a definite asset. Once you get going you can kick/glide, kick/glide with relative ease and surprising speed. When there is a snow base, separate plastic skis fit overtop the steel runners. These skis work well for hard packed firm snow, but when there is too much of the white stuff these kick sleds are better left at home.
I was happy to see five inches of good ice below me and lowered my jig down the first hole I drilled. After five minutes of inactivity, I tried somewhere else, then somewhere else again. Still no action below my hole and so far I hadn't seen anyone else catch anything either. I went out further where the crowds were sparser and saw a couple of fish caught before I even finished drilling my hole. I worked there for a while and got a couple but it was pretty slow. So far I had drilled almost 50 holes with my speedy Normark Fin Bore 3 auger yet had very little to show for my efforts; it was time for a drastic change.
Out came my handheld Lowrance i Finder GPS unit. My electronic chip was already installed so I examined the color LCD map of the bay showing contours, weed lines etc. I liked the looks of one of my open water largemouth bass spots about a mile away that I had saved and thought would perhaps have possibilities for winter perch. Flying by angler after angler who was cautiously walking out on the slippery ice to seek greener pastures, I couldn't help but gloat a little. On days like today 'getting there' on the Cross Sled is almost as much fun as the actual fishing. I reached waypoint # 22 in no time, quickly cut a new hole and lowered my spoon. Whack . a nice 10 incher; perfect for eating.
I drilled another hole beside my small 4.5 inch fishing hole and lowered the transducer of my Lowrance Ice Machine. "Nothing down there?" I questioned myself. I jigged the small spoon a little more and instantly saw my sonar light up with multiple color bars indicating more fish of varying sizes had moved within range of the transducer cone. I had the spoon inches off bottom... No hits. I raised it up to where I saw more action on the screen. "Was that a hit?" I couldn't really tell, so I set the hook anyway. Once the perch was on, it fought well and the nine incher was added to that night's dinner collection. Even though I was still marking lots of fish, the action was quite sporadic so I picked out one of my other half dozen pre-rigged rods.
I chose a modified drop shot rig that had one of the new Lil Foxee Jigging Minnows tied to the bottom instead of a weight. To it, I hooked a chartreuse colored Berkley Gulp! maggot for extra flavour and scent. 14 inches above that, I had a long shank hook with a small green Berkley Power minnow that I added a Gulp! Maggot to as well.
A good sonar can not only help you catch more fish through the ice, but also make the whole experience more educational and enjoyable I was using the new 4lb test Rapala Titanium Ice Braid line with zero stretch that minimizes freeze up and heightens sensitivity. I lowered the rig down the hole and could see signals from both lures displayed on the sonar. Right away some perch came over to inspect the new invader to their icy domain. Apparently they liked it because the hits came fast and furious after that for the next couple of hours.
When that hole had dried up I scooted a 25 yards away to the other side of the weed edge and enjoyed similar action with the same rig. The entire time, there was not another angler nearby.
Lesson For the Day:
That day the perch were clearly feeding off bottom, so the drop shot rigged worked like charm. If I held the whole thing a foot or so off bottom and jiggled it seductively, they would hit the Lil Foxee without fail. If I allowed the Foxee to rest on bottom, they would inhale the Power Minnow. I also figured out that day the perch did not want a motionless presentation. This could be why so many of the other anglers in shore using stationary presentations were only catching the odd fish. Even my nearby stationary 2nd rod which was clearly within view of the perch below my main hole lay useless and hit free. For busy days like that day though that's ok because one rod was more than enough to deal with the continuous action.
A decent perch taken with the new Lil Foxee made by Normark
All in all it was a great way to start another ice fishing season on Lake Simcoe. I likely caught and released well over 50 perch, kept about 15 between 9-11 inches for dinner and put back a couple of those precious big females between 12-13 inches. Early on New Year's Day 2008, I headed out from Gilford on the west side of Cooks Bay with my Cross Sled. Right away, I knew travel would be twice as difficult because this time there was actually snow on the ice and I didn't bring my plastic skis to slide overtop the steel rudders. Similar to the week prior, I tried fishing a few spots not too far from shore and got a few fish here and there. The most productive bait was one few Simcoe anglers use for jumbos - the glow blue colored Force Buzz Blade. This metal, horizontal lure has incredible vibration on the upwards jigging motion. When you use a super sensitive rod like the Polar Lite Jiggin' Stik you can actually feel the incredible reverberation through the rod tip. A human can only imagine what that lure sounds like below the water to hungry to a hungry perch. I worked this by jigging aggressively for three or four strokes and the holding the bait still. I increased hook ups by tipping the lure with a chartreuse Berkley Gulp Maggot.
A nice Yellow Perch Wil caught with the Force Buzz Blade
Eventually I found myself pulling out the GPS and heading to the same spot where I got on them 'last year! The trek three quarters of the way across the big bay was arduous with the Cross Sled but I finally got there. I drilled a couple of holes in 8 inches of ice and settled down to begin fishing. I was no sooner hooking some nice perch when I suddenly realized the wind was really picking up speed.
With the wind, came the snow, and with intensifying wind came even more snow. I sighed, admitted defeat and began to repack to get the heck outta there. I had no sooner travelled 100 metres when I found myself in complete whiteout conditions. couldn't see shore before me, behind me or on either side. "Damn . the weather guy didn't say anything about this!" What to do? I decided to sit, drill a new hole and hope it would blow itself out sooner rather than later.
An hour later and conditions were no better; in fact they were worse. I pulled out my handheld Lowrance GPS unit and had a look at the map of Cooks Bay. 1.8 miles back to Gilford. and less than half that over to Keswick. Then another wrinkle; my backlight on the GPS went off and I got a low battery signal. "Darn . no spare batteries either - you goof!" Decision made . I would take the shorter trip over to Keswick following my trustworthy backup compass the whole way. Once there, I would swallow my pride and call home to get my wife or son to come get me.
Wil's Cross Sled works best without too much snow on the ice ... unlike shown here in these near-white-out-like conditions
The wind and snow were blowing so hard, I could barely see the compass to continue heading east but I finally could make out a row of houses. As I sat on shore in Keswick waiting for my ride, I was bewildered by the number of snowmobilers not coming off the ice because of the weather, but actually going out onto it for a ride. I'd loose sight of them within 50 metres and wondered how the heck they could travel at those speeds and actually see anything, let alone avoid getting turned around and be heading north (to open water) without even knowing it. My ride came and I headed home safe and sound. That night on the news, I heard of two missing snowmobilers on Lake Simcoe. Their bodies were found three days later about a mile north of the marina on Georgina Island.
A Week Later
And, surprise, surprise I'm back on the ice. This time, weather conditions are so much different, yet so much the same. It was extremely foggy and visibility was very limited. It was much warmer though and not snowy or windy. Knowing the conditions beforehand I prepared differently: Fresh and spare batteries for my GPS; I'd planned on going out with several friends from the Aurora Bassmasters and we'd be fishing from Keswick less than a couple hundred metres from shore. There was far more snow on the ice and I would leave the Cross Sled at home.
Fishin' with the guys was fun; male bonding, ribbing each other about this and that, talking about past and upcoming bass tournaments and even discussing my upcoming bass fishing trip to Mexico. I kind of thought the fishing would be tough that day as the area had been fished hard consistently by other anglers since safe ice last December.
That was ok though because you can't get bit all the time. We drilled a few dozen holes through about 7 inches of ice and caught a few small perch but that was about it. By around noon, I was ready to go, so I made my way through the pea soup fog and headed home without incident.
That night on the news I heard of a missing ice fisherman from Toronto on Lake Simcoe. My heart sank when I learned of his health issues. His body was found a couple of days later in the Roches Point area.