Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dude, Where's Your Rod Case?

 Saturday has come and gone for another week and traveling to the Cambridge area for ice fishing has quickly becoming routine...except this week. Let me explain.

 Late last week my internal clock got royally scewed up. I'd only gotten 2 hours sleep leading up to my last shift of the week, so when Tackle Shop surprised me by picking me up at the factory at 8am I'd already been awake for 20hrs. We had breakfast and hit a few tackle shops on the way home, which for me is the perfect way to start a weekend, but by noon I was a drooling idiot without the good sense to go to bed. I'M AWAKE! It was 10pm when I finally did wake up with nowhere to go and nothing to do other than catch up on what's been happening in the blogospere. I stayed up all night, went fishing in the morning, and once again put in over 20 hrs before passing out. Which takes me up to now, writing this at 8am. when I should be sleeping.
Tackle Shop's son Sid the Kid

 Yesterday morning was full of surprises. Tackle Shop's son, I'll call him Sid The Kid (just to piss him off for not supplying an on-line nickname) finally accepted the weekly invitation to join us. Sid has only joined us 5 or 6 times in the 7yrs. I've been fishing with TS, and never out on a frozen lake so I had mixed emotions as he loaded his hockey equipment into the van. We picked up Dodger and made the short and uneventful trip back out to Cambridge and Little Lake.

  My sled comes out of the back of the van first and I immediately began to suit up and check my equipment.When I was all ready to walk out, TS was still struggling to remove hooks from a seatbelt and I'm standing there wondering why he didn't put his rods in their case. I asked TS "where's your rod case", meaning... why don't you put your rods in the case to prevent tangling and breakage. That's when the bomb dropped. TS's rod case was nowhere to be seen in the sled or in the van. The only thing we could figure is that it fell out of his sled as we were walking back to the van last Sunday evening. Inside the case there were 5 rods and at least 3 reels. The exact extent of the loss is not immediately known due to the vast amount of equipment regularly transported, thus the nickname "Tackle Shop", but a ballpark figure puts the loss at well over $300. Needless to say there is a reward for the return of the case and contents, and anyone who might have found it and may be reading this can leave a personal message to arrange the return.
Dodger's 1st Hardwater Bass

  OK... so there's already a damper on what should be a relaxing day, but we're there and there's still enough rods to go around so we might as well make the most of the situation, try to forget about our problems and catch some fish. Sid's watching the preparations as he's lacing  up the skates, Dodger and I are rigging one set line each with large shiners for pike and jigging with maggots on our other rods for panfish, while TS has two set lines patiently waiting for the big boys to come for dinner. Dodger draws first blood with a beautiful 10' largemouth bass. He's overjoyed and I'm jealous. I make up for his quality with quantity, quickly catching and releasing dozens of small pumpkinseed, bluegill and perch. Wow, I'm really impressed on how well maggots work on these guys, I can hardly wait to try them on lockjaw jumbos on Simcoe!

 An hour later Sid's stick handling laps on the bike track, TS is still patiently awaiting dinner guests and obviously thinking too much, Dodger's into the sunfish, and I'm starting to hole hop and generally having a blast slaying the panfish. All of a sudden there's an unusual weight on my line and after a brief fight I'm holding my first ever bass on ice!  Ten minutes later and I've caught a second larger bass, and it's then that I realize this day, regardless of the earlier hardships, is one to go into my personal record book for variety of species caught through the ice.

Small but not Crappie
  Eventually the novelty of skating laps on a frozen lake has worn off for Sid so he trades the skates for boots and helps the others relocate to the far end of the lake. Fortunately for Dodger and TS the novelty of using the auger hadn't worn off yet. I'd gotten it into my head to try and up my tally by searching for crappie in deeper water. While working a deep school my tipup finally shows activity and I get a large pike up into the hole only to have the line separate as I made a wild grab at the fish.  I did manage to ice some small crappies, upped my personal best to 5 species and wandered over to the group, mission accomplished and ready to leave any time.This was not to be. TS, down in the dumps more than ever had yet to get a single bite despite having his bait surrounded according to the sonar

 Eventually we worked our way back to the origional spot and TS's patience finally pays off with a strike on one of his set lines, unfortunately the fish escapes from the hook set. Minutes later my set line comes to life but the fish let go as I approached the hole. As we're packing up to leave, Dodger finally hooks into and lands our first and only pike of the day, a whopping 12" fish.

 It occurred to me as we were walking off the lake that that pike was Dodgers fifth species of the day also, he's too modest to say anything about it.

 So... a banner day for some, a chance for outdoor entertainment for others, and a day of loss for another. Definitely a day of surprises.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Little Lake, Cambridge

 It's Family Fishing Weekend in Ontario, and to celebrate this semi annual event Tackle Shop and I travelled to Little Lake in Cambridge once again just to prove we could fish this tiny lake effectively. The previous few days had seen record temperatures in the 50's F. followed by a flash freeze last night which left the lake barren of snow with 12 to 14 inches of semi clear, rippled ice. When we arrived at the lake it was just below freezing with clear skies and a slight breeze from the southeast, perfect conditions for our mission with one exception, our desired destination on the edge of a weed bed was already taken by several groups.

  TS deftly inserted himself between the groups while I set my tip up farther out from the crowd. After rigging the tip up with the usual 4'' shiner for pike, I drilled a series of holes and immediately found an active school of panfish. While I was working the school, TS was working his new neighbours Lee and Derrick, picking their brains for further info on the lake as they were locals and had already iced a half dozen decent pike and a few good perch.

  I'd been trying a variety of jigs, small spoons and rubber in an attempt to tempt when the bells on my tip up indicated some heavier action 100' feet away. For the first time in it's history, my tip up actually tipped over and if not for it's design, would have been dragged completely down the hole. By the time I reached the hole, only an inch of the cork handle was above water and the submerged reel's drag could still be heard screaming in protest to the powerful hit. After a brief fight we were all surprised by the size of the pike that nearly took my rig: a scrappy 24". Not a monster by any means but a good early start to the day.

 Meanwhile, Tackle Shop's new friend Derrick has iced another small pike and Lee, to my surprise has landed a 12"smallmouth bass! While all that excitement was happening, I'd broken out my secret weapon; a live maggot on a Northland's Hexi Fly jig. With this combo I quickly worked my way through the schools of small bluegill, pumpkinseed and perch in each hole, searching for the elusive schools of crappie that I never would find on this day.
Northland's Hexi Fly jig
Tiny Bluegill

 By mid afternoon Derrick packed up his fish, said his goodbye's and had his holes immediately taken over by TS. And so it seems we all shifted a little towards the left, as I'd worked my way through several schools of tiny fish and was now in the general area of TS and Lee. I'd already caught a personal best 4 species for the day and was working to increase that number when Lee dove for his rod, just a few feet away from my tip up, and landed a beautiful pound and a half largemouth!
The "Bass Man" Lee

  Not to be outdone for long, TS finally comes to life and lands a pike of his own, an identical twin to the fish I'd landed a few hours earlier. Tackle Shop's a real character at times. Notice in the pic below how he "lips" a pike as if it were a bass! I'm waiting for the day he tries that on a 40 incher!

Twins...perhaps, but mine was definitely eating better!
 By late afternoon the sun disappeared behind a solid cloud cover and the wind increased, foreboding another round of winter weather. TS and I both had numb fingers but the deciding factor to pack it in was the persistent threat of being run down by an overzealous motocross ice racer.
 TS had words with this "tool" and his family, stating the obvious lack of respect and inherent danger involved in the activity which stopped only long enough for us to leave the lake's surface. All things considered it was still a good day of fishing and of making new friends on the ice.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Upside Down Week in Review

 ¡uʍop ǝpısdn plɹoʍ ʎɯ pǝuɹnʇ sɐɥ ʞǝǝʍ ɐ uoouɹǝʇɟɐ ǝuo oʇ pǝʇɐƃǝlǝp uoıssǝsqo ƃuılƃuɐ uɐ puɐ suoıʇɐnʇɔnlɟ ɹǝɥʇɐǝʍ plıʍ 'ʇısuɐɹʇ ɔılqnd uo ƃuıʇnɯɯoɔ ǝɔuɐʇsıp ƃuol 'ʇɟıɥs pɹɐʎǝʌɐɹƃ ƃuıʞɹoʍ ;uǝǝq s,ʇı ʞǝǝʍ pɹıǝʍ ɐ ʇɐɥM

 OK... that's better. Sorry to all those who are using Google Translator, is it possible for a program to have a stroke? But that pretty well sums up the weird week I've had in the "real" world. My work week starts Sunday night, and as a responsible shift supervisor, I feel it is my duty to the company to show up in the best working condition possible. This was not to be the case Sunday as I'd already been awake for 16hrs. when I opened up the factory. Thankfully the shift ran smoothly with no problems at all, but the commute home saw me doing my best imitation of a bobble head doll with a broken spring.

 After a much needed rest, I returned to the land of the living Monday evening. Tackle Shop informed me that the long awaited clearance sale was on at Bass Pro, but he was broke and I had no time to spare until Friday. Monday night at the plant was the polar opposite of the previous day, chaotic would be an understatement. Did I just mention polar? Toronto had seen overnight temperatures below 0 degrees F  for several days.

 The commute home Tuesday was uneventful and gave me time to contemplate "the lay of the land". I've secured a comfortable income and could afford to move out on my own immediately, but I think I'll stay put for a few months and dump some much needed extra funds into the family economy. It occurred to me to leave some money out for TS to make a run up to Bass Pro during the day and buy a new reel for both of us. It was just like Christmas when I awoke, rushing downstairs to see what Santa left: a Pflueger Supreme 9030XT spinning reel at half price to go with the 5 piece, 6.5' Pflueger travel rod I received Dec. 25th.

    What a sweet set up. I can't wait to get out and use it, but that will have to wait for the spring.

  Tuesday in general was a day for contemplation. It occurred to me that the time and distance spent commuting to work in a week could get me from home to North Bay, Ottawa, Detroit or even Pittsburgh. Oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do. Three hours a day on a bus has given me some quality people watching time. The other night an individual got on the bus wearing a super-hero's cape, while I noticed another, elderly gentleman studying a magazine intensely page by page for half an hour without realizing it was upside down! He was probably looking for secret messages. Funny how in the evenings people are somber and withdrawn while in the mornings hyper and busy with their electronic toys. I found it amusing and a little disturbing to wake up surrounded by 20 clones all thumb typing on their Blackberries.

 The worst part of my third shift of the week was that I had to dismiss another woman for a lackluster performance the night before. "Nothing personal, it's just business" has never sat well with me, but I've been in this line of work for a long time and can usually tell immediately how well an individual will adjust. Unfortunately unskilled workers are sometimes considered to be disposable and are easily replaced.

 The rest of the work week went off without a hitch (sort of). Thursday and Friday saw brisk winds and record high temperatures of 50 degrees F for a 48hr. period. Thus the reason I'm sitting here now on a Saturday afternoon writing another post rather than trying to fish on 8" of slush covering the ice. This is a long weekend in Ontario, Family Day, and more importantly Family Fishing Weekend where anyone can fish without a licence (if only the weather would cooperate). As I'm writing this the temperatures are already starting to plummet and tomorrow the lakes should be solid enough for another day of hard water fishing.

 So... that was my weird week in a nutshell. I just needed to unload some of the crap off my shoulders, thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lake Simcoe, Hard Water Mecca

 It's really amazing to me that my friends and I have yet to make the pilgrimage to Lake Simcoe this year with half the hard water season already over. In previous years, the lake was the primary destination every weekend with an occasional trip to "lesser, exotic" locations mixed in. To be honest, a day of catching a hundred jumbo perch sounds pretty good to me right now, not to mention I'm still waiting to ice my first whitefish and lake trout. The novelty of multiple pike, crappie and sunfish catches per outing hasn't yet worn off, but I'm starting to get "homesick" for the familiar ice of the grand old lady to the north.

  Many of you regular visitors here have heard me mention the name Simcoe, but I believe now is the time for a formal introduction.

        For more than 200 years Lake Simcoe was the most important waterway in the history of Ontario. Prior to 1793 they're were no roads, travel in Canada was either on the Great lakes, the St. Lawrence or the Ottawa and French rivers, but when John Graves Simcoe became Upper Canada's 1st Lieutenant Governor he wanted a shorter and safer route through to the interior.

  By 1797 he had Yonge St. built to connect York (now Toronto) to Holland Landing to connect to Lake Simcoe. The North West company and others set up several fur trading posts around the Lake. When the Americans invaded in 1812 this new route played a pivotal role in transporting troops and supplies to keep the country from falling into American hands.

  Because of it's close proximity to a large population in Southern Ontario and neighboring Great Lakes States, more people fish Lake Simcoe during the hard water season than at any other time of year - making it the most intensively fished inland lake in the province and possibly the country. On a busy weekend it's not unusual for 20% of the parked cars to be from New York and Michigan.

  Lake Simcoe is approximately 30 miles long by 10 miles wide. offering some of the best fishing in the province. The lake is fished year round, and is famous for it's winter jumbo perch, lake trout and whitefish bonanza. Cook's Bay, the south part of Lake Simcoe, is shallow and weedy, whereas the main lake is deeper (max. depth 136 ft. - Kempenfelt Bay). The lake has endless fishing opportunities; the shallows are rich in weed growth, where bullrushes, eel grass, and cabbage weeds flourish. The main lake has many humps, points, and shoals; home of the Simcoe Smallmouths. You will find some of the finest Smallmouth bass fishing in Ontario. 4 pound Smallmouth are common.

  There is also excellent Pike and Largemouth fishing in the southern portion of the lake. Other winter catches available in Simcoe are burbot (freshwater cod), herring (season is closed to replenish stocks), crappie, sunfish, smelt, and walleye (usually caught near river mouths).

  As you can see from the description and pics, Simcoe is the complete winter package, and once again I find myself wondering why we haven't visited there in several months. If I've convinced you to visit there's one thing to remember, not only is it one of the most intensely fished slabs of ice, it's also the most intensely monitored by the authorities so follow the rules!

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hard Day on Hard Water

  The weekend's finally here and the return to Little Lake in Cambridge started off with high expectations of further explorations of the lake and it's plentiful pike and panfish. The day started out with temperatures just below freezing and the first bright sunshine we'd seen in more than a week. Tackle Shop, Dodger and I walked onto Little Lake with a slight wind at our back, marvelling at the total absence of anglers, but as we approached the center of the lake the wind increased dramatically, blowing the previous nights snow into miniature white tornadoes.

 It only took a few holes to find a suspended school of crappies. That was the easy part, finding something they wanted to chew on proved to be much more difficult. After more than twenty combinations of jigs and rubber, I finally tempted a 4" crappie into taking the bait. This all took close to an hour, and in that time I'd cleared over 20" of blown snow from the hole. When I turned to check on my set line I had to look twice to locate it as a snow drift had nearly eaten it entirely!
  As much as the severe wind chill was causing problems with tackle changes (I'd lost a glove last week), and the blowing snow choking the hole, I was doing well. Tackle Shop had retreated to his on-ice man cave and with his underwater camera witnessed first hand schools of perch and crappie content being observers. Dodger was becoming adept at scooping slush. After five hours I'd managed one crappie, three small perch and possible frostbite of the finger tips. TS counted a single small perch and Dodger was left wondering if his previous success was just a fluke.

  Just before we packed up, another hardy adventurer walked out and was immediately onto small pike! Welcome to the variables of ice fishing: extremes in conditions, a finicky bite, and of course...location, location, location.

 Tackle Shop just reminded me to mention something of importance that happened this afternoon. Around noon a group wandered out onto the lake for some family fishing. They were friendly and well prepared for the elements (and gave me some gloves) but when they were packing up to leave, one of the children stepped into a 10" hole right up to their upper thigh. Although the ice is thick this time of year always remember it is in a constant state of change and a dunking of any kind can have serious consequences. Always be aware of your surroundings and of others. Luckily the child was unharmed and a warm car less than a minute away.
And be careful on the roads, a fishing trip is no good if you don't get home.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Weekend At Last, Little Puslich

 So... Tackle Shop finished off gassing and we hit the road to pick up Dodger. The night before we had decided not to return to Puslinch Lake but it's little brother a few hundred yards to the northeast, Little Puslinch Lake. Unlike the larger lake when viewed in Google Earth, Little shows an expansive submerged island surrounded by deep water.While searching for a place to park we stumbled upon Puslinch Bait and Tackle, a fairly new establishment that offers the usual assortment of baits with a twist: portable hut rentals and guiding services. Also they will grill you up a pretty good burger.

  We walked onto the ice from the north side by the intersection and immediately started punching holes to get an idea of the lake's contours. Dodger and TS settled on a depth of 8ft between the shore and the weed bed, while I circled around it in a clockwise direction, checking depths every 30ft or so until I finally found some deeper water on the far side of the weed bed near the center of the lake. I drilled a series of holes in a letter T shape with the base toward the south, ranging in depth from 10 to 18 feet of water, and immediately marked fish. Taking my new Lightning Rods, I set up the tip up with a shiner and started working the other holes with a tiny jig tipped with a Powerbait honey maggot. The wait for the first fish didn't take long.
First ever iced Pumpkinseed

  Over the next hour and a half I played cat and mouse with schools of neutral panfish, constantly changing baits in the hope of getting the onlookers to commit.

Eventually  Dodger wandered over (out of boredom) to suggest moving on to the big lake. Just then the tip up sprang to life and instantly separated hook from the line. That was just the motivation needed to get those guys to move to my side of the lake, and more importantly, move the minnow cooler closer.

  While TS and Dodger were setting up near the center of the lake, I was stalking a large school of small crappies. After another hour Tackle Shop finally iced the first pike of the day at 18" and I had another bite off. Dodger managed a few small perch and a pumpkinseed.

  After all's said and done, Little Puslinch lake is full of a wide variety of fish, although today they seemed a little tight lipped and needed some coaxing. I'm wondering if it's named for it's diminutive size or for the size of it's fish. Either way, only further exploration will answer that question and after today's multi-species outing I'm all for a return trip.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Weekend At Last, 1

 Here I am sitting in my chair, looking at the sun rising over the city and reflecting over the last week. Tackle Shop is in the gas chamber upstairs getting ready for a return visit to "you know where". So... while I have a few minutes, I thought I'd catch you all up on my first full week of work.

  I opened up the factory on Sunday night an hour before the start of the shift to get things prepared for my new crew. I could see right away the company was throwing me curve balls as a quarter of the jobs running were new to me and there was no paper trail leading back to the quality and production reports. That first night could be summed up as chaotic. The work got done with no mistakes but I'll be honest, I felt like a rookie.

  As the week progressed things settled down and we slowly came together as a team. The last day of my work week, Friday morning, was also payday. What a joy it was to see that first full pay check. More money made in 4 days than what welfare gives for a full month! I'd say it's time to indulge.

  Early Friday afternoon saw Tackle Shop and myself travel up to Bass Pro Shop in search of a non existent clearance item. It wasn't a wasted trip though, it never is as there's always something that catches your eye. In this case it was just some jigs. On the way home we stopped at a Canadian Tire store where neither of us could resist purchasing a Berkley Lightning Rod  2 pack of  ice fishing rods, one medium action and the other light. The rods are beautiful but the reels feel a bit stiff and the drags aren't that smooth. Oh well, by next payday that clearance item will be available, a quality Pfleuger reel at half price! Might look nice on a Lightning Rod.
New Lightning Rods