So far, the winter of 2006 has been a fairly dismal one for ice hut operators who rely on the main lake freezing solid enough so that they can get their huts way out there over deep water for lake trout and whitefish. Sure perch anglers have been at it since well before Christmas but it is only now that we are beginning to hear that some of the lake trout grounds are slowly becoming accessible … even if it is only for those willing to walk out or possibly take an ATV.
As he pulls it out of the hole
In anticipation of salvaging this winter for those hut operators and others who count on adipose finned fish for or with their bread and butter let's have a look at fishing the lake trout in Simcoe.
The allure of the lake trout:
Lake Simcoe is the most intensively fished inland lake in Ontario because of its winter fishery when more people fish it than at any other time. Perch fishing naturally attracts the most attention during the winter and whitefish come in a close second. The lake trout however may well be considered the most prized catch … possibly because of its allure and symbolism of a species that requires cold clean water to survive. "Even" on Lake Simcoe you say? You bet! Where else can you find a lake within an hour's drive of Canada's largest city that can yield the occasional trophy for the wall yet still provide enough great eating- sized trout for the table? Even better, of all the great lake trout waters in a province with over ¼ million lakes, can you believe that one so close to this country's largest urban area, produces trout that are safer to eat than many of the 'pristine' lakes further north? In fact, the Guide to Eating Ontario Sportfish shows exactly what those restrictions are and if you look at how safe the lake trout are to eat from Simcoe compared to many northern Ontario lakes, you might be quite amazed.
Although the winter lake trout season begins January 1st on Simcoe and lasts until March 15, this year's ice conditions mean that we are only now starting the hardwater season for them. Where to start on a lake as big as Simcoe can be a daunting chore but it helps to understand that these fish are fall spawners and may quite likely be in deepwater adjacent to those late fall spawning areas. So check out the deep edges of rocky shoals, islands and points. Even though there is only a little evidence of natural reproduction, Simcoe lakers still go through the spawning motions and can be found during the winter relatively close to many of these spawning areas. Concentrate in 35-45 feet early in the day and then move out to the 50-90 foot mark as the day progresses.
Knowing a little about the make-up of Lake Simcoe before you visit, can also help put you on some nice trout. At 725 sq. kilometres, it's an awfully large lake and not all of it is prime lake trout habitat. A good map will show that Cooks Bay in the south is relatively shallow and weedy; better for perch and pike. The Virgina Basin is relatively shallow so it too can be scratched from your list. Further north however around the lakes' islands and shoals the water is generally deeper, there's less weeds and therefore much more suited for lake trout. You can eliminate a lot of water with a hydrographic chart and then confirming good trout areas by calling local hut operators for assistance.
Lake trout are a cold water species that continue to feed all winter long. The fact that angling pressure has been non-existent for about four months may also come into play, and trout are usually much easier to catch at the start of the winter season (even if its late) than when everyone and his uncle is out there fishing for them.
Hot techniques for cool lake trout on Simcoe: Local experts look for active fish with a good search lure like a large hammered half and half (gold and silver) Williams spoon or the deadly blue and silver or black and silver Jigging Rapala. The spoon is best for working well off bottom as a flash lure attracting suspended fish whereas the jigging Rap is best as a subtle presentation near bottom with only slight movements. Two fishing holes are permitted when ice fishing Simcoe so having a set line on a Polar or Windlass Tip-Up with a single hook and minnow combo suspended off bottom can be deadly. A trick that has helped many anglers ice more than a few lakers over the years is to have the one hole reserved for this subtle presentation while jigging with a spoon or Rap in the other hole nearby. Interestingly enough you may not get bit at all while jigging some days … but I am convinced the lure down there is acting as the key ingredient to bring trout in … trout that often inhale the minnow rig instead of the lure.
Knowing where to put that extra line in the water column can be tricky though if you have no clue where within it the trout are roaming. Trout are notorious for suspending at all variety of depths under the ice - most often governed by the movements of baitfish. The use of good sonar therefore becomes a must-have tool for the serious lake trout angler. The Lowrance Ice Machine I use will easily detect the movements of baitfish that help me determine where I will place that seductive minnow. Watching it carefully throughout the day will help me determine what depths I will have to adjust the baitfish rig to; it could be 10 feet off bottom in 80 feet of water one hour and 40 feet off the next.
Over the last several years as I progress to using less and less live bait for many of my fishing applications, I have found tremendous success by using a simple white tube jig instead of the live minnow. The new Berkley Power Bait Bubble Up tube minnow for instance is a great alternative to a live minnow. I will often fish this tube with a light 1/8 ounce chicklet jig head or some other head that will look seductive on the fall. Trimming a bit of the tentacles off the tube can increase hook ups so give that a try next time you want to fool some big Lake Simcoe lake trout … because the 2006 ice fishing season isn't over yet bubba!
Cool Facts about Lake Simcoe Lake Trout
- Approximately 100,000 lake trout are stocked annually by MNR staff.
- Average size of lake trout caught ranges from 4-10 pounds. Most have a clipped fin, signifying they are stocked.
- Daily catch and possession limit is two trout with a full seasonal licence and one with a conservation licence.
- Open water season for lake trout is from 2nd Saturday in May until September 30
- For info on Ice hut rentals, directions and accommodations around Lake Simcoe, call: The Ontario Travel Centre - 1-800-567-1140. This excellent 'one-stop-shopping' travel centre in Barrie also provides a weekly species by species "Ice Fishing Report" for Lake Simcoe.
- If you are unsure of ice conditions, please refer to the ice hut operator closes to where you want to go out. They are the true experts who know ice best.