The 2011 Lake Simcoe ice-fishing season proved to be a highly interesting one. Mother Nature displayed her nasty side quite regularly and the trout and whitefish proved to be somewhat more nomadic than in past years. As well, the lakers and whities were frequently more cautious in attacking proven baits as evidenced by the frequently heard references to both suffering from lockjaw on occasion. The past season was very successful for those willing to search out productive locations and to adjust their "standard" jigging techniques to fit the activity level of marked fish. There appeared to be a number of factors that might, in part, explain the experienced need to adjust techniques and locations in order to experience consistent success.
Photo by Kurt Fraser
Fish populations seemed solid from first ice to the season's end. While I don't keep written records, it seemed that the number of whitefish and trout caught and released this year was on par with previous seasons. Having said that, the two species targeted often didn't come as "easy" as in past years. One factor may have been that the forage base on Simcoe is arguably as healthy as it has been for several seasons. Both trout and whitefish were very fat and healthy and often well filled with smelt, shiners and, in the case of the trout, an occasional good sized herring. Despite an apparent decline in the mussel population, water clarity remains exceptional on Simcoe. This suggests the need for a stealthy presentation of lures and baits. Water clarity may also be a factor, along with overall angling pressure, in the fish being more skitterish and selective than observed in past hardwater seasons. For some reason, areas that have recently proven to be "hot spots" simply didn't hold the numbers of fish this year that warranted working these regions. Once again, whitefish were found to be regularly most numerous in deep water habitat. These are generalizations, of course, and I readily accept that some great days could be had in relatively shallow water off traditional structure points and shoals. However, for consistently successful catches, I found deep water to be a better choice overall.
I've offered general jigging techniques in the past that have proven successful on Lake Simcoe, again accepting that experienced anglers have their own tried and true methods. I won't repeat these but thought it might be helpful to newcomers to share some adjustments and variations that took fish this year when the decades old methods weren't producing as expected. This is restricted to two types of lures which are still all that are really required on Simcoe. The venerable Williams Ice-Jig (which is actually the soft-water White-Fish trolling spoon turned backwards with side-hooks added) is, to my mind, the easiest to use successfully for whitefish and trout.
These can be modified as you see fit but work well enough right out of the package. I recommend the size 60 hammered half and half. It may appear too large for white-fish but it's definitely not. I fish this right ON the bottom. Allow it to flutter right down until your line goes slack. Then a steady, smooth inch or two "twitch" or two so the front just lifts slightly from the bottom, followed by a "snap" of 4" to 6" to lift the entire spoon, then allowing it to freely flutter back to rest on the bottom should work well if the fish are feeding.
If you have a graph or flasher and you're marking a good number of fish but no takers, it's time to change your approach. Slow everything down significantly. Twitch the lure on the bottom even less than before and allow a significant pause between movements. Instead of snapping the spoon off the bottom, lift it ever so slowly no more than six inches, then let it flutter freely back to the bottom. Still no takers - slow down some more. You simply can't go too slow when the fish aren't displaying aggressive behaviour. I lost a good pair of sunglasses down the hole two season's back. I changed back to a Williams with hopes I might snag them from the bottom. I let down the Williams freely so it fluttered well away from the hole with the thought I could ever so slowly pull it back along the bottom until it was vertically beneath the hole, then repeat as necessary. Each movement of the rod tip was less than an inch. Result?? Four very nice whitefish in less than fifteen minutes but no sunglasses.
The Badd Boyz / Meegs type jigs with a small tube jig require much more skill than the forgiving Williams spoon but can produce extremely well. On very bright days when there is limited snow cover on the ice the Williams can be "too much" flash and glitter even when worked very slowly. The Badd Boyz type offerings just may prove to be the answer. If the fish are feeding, a simple tapping of the jig head right on the bottom provides a good imitation of a feeding bait fish. So - drop your rod tip a fraction of an inch and "tap" the bottom a few times. Pause - then lift ever so slowly for 6 to 8 inches. Let it drop freely to crash into the bottom - pause briefly - then repeat the cadence of tap.tap.tap. lift.. drop. repeat. Once again - if fish are present but not picking up the jig (you'll SEE your line go slack far more often than you'll actually feel a "strike") slow everything down significantly. Spread out the taps, lift the jig even more slowly, "tap" it down gently from the top of the lift rather than let it free fall, then let it lay with the face on the bottom for several seconds before repeating everything. Tip - with the tube tipped Badd Boyz - set the hook immediately you detect anything out of the norm occurring. A trout will hammer the Badd Boyz but the whitefish will simply suck it off the bottom or at the top of the lift leaving no indicator of a "take" other than loose line or a feeling of "nothingness" at the end of the line. If you're glued to the graph or flasher or eyeballing the rod tip, chances are the whitey will spit the jig well in advance of you trying to set the hook. Watch your line to be consistently successful and you'll find the whitefish hooked in the top of the snout. With either lure you'll quickly get a sense of whether or not the fish are spooky. If they're not even staying around to have a quick look - SLOW DOWN!!
Hopefully this can be of some help to the new folks here. These suggestions work equally well from an anchored boat on a calm day. Best of Luck! GrandpaJim