Saturday, March 12, 2011

Simcoe At Last!

Looking east from downtown Barrie onto Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe
 I woke up this morning with all the excited anticipation of a six year old on Christmas morning. The night before Environment Canada had revised the forecast for Saturday, so with a short respite from the seemingly endless rain lately, Tackle Shop suggested we check out the Barrie area on Lake Simcoe. By this time last year we'd visited the general area over a dozen times and iced close to a thousand perch, but this year our focus had been on toothier critters on smaller waters and we'd all but ignored the big lake 45 minutes north of Toronto. So with the surprise change in the weather and location, today seemed like an unexpected gift.

 After a quick drive up highway 400 we stopped in at Rack 'n' Reel for bait and a quick chat with Penny about local ice conditions and catches. Three blocks away from the bait shop is Barrie's waterfront, a 3 mile arcing shoreline of mixed use parkland, public marinas and ample free parking. The first thing we notice as we pulled into the parking lot was how desolate the ice appeared with only one small cluster of huts a hundred yards out. The reason for this quickly became apparent as we walked out through patches of slush and standing water up to 3" deep, but a little farther past the huts the surface firmed up and that's where we set up shop.

Massive School of Smelt
 As I started drilling holes, my concerns over the effects of the recent warm spell on future trips were relieved as there was 12'' of spongy white ice overlaying 10" of hard black ice. Fishing the bays and shorelines of Simcoe is secure for at least another three weeks .There was no surprise at the 35 foot depth as I turned on the fish finder but for the whole day we found ourselves standing atop massive schools of rainbow smelt, sometimes measuring 20 feet deep! 

 Tackle Shop set up in his usual way with 2 rods within reach, rigged with 2" emerald shiners suspended a few inches off the bottom. I set up my tip up with a shiner and worked my other hole with my most recent favorite rig, a hexi-fly jig tipped with a single maggot. Right away I encountered a problem with my set up, the jig wasn't heavy enough to pull my 6lb Fireline tight at that depth and I missed several bites. After adding another jig a foot farther up the fluorocarbon leader the entire set up kept the line tight enough to detect the most subtle take and I quickly iced a half dozen 8-10 inch perch and even a 6 inch smelt.

 While the maggot tipped jig was working it's magic, the old standby shiners were producing few bites. TS had only managed a couple perch and a smelt in the first few hours. There were plenty of fish beneath the ice but then again there was plenty of bait down there too, so it was a bit of a surprise when TS noticed some weight on his line and reeled in a beautiful 20 inch herring. Of course there's still a moratorium on herring on Simcoe and until their numbers return to a sustainable level all fish have to be released. I've been told by some old-timers that they used to harvest garbage pails full every day of the hard water season!

Considering the large amount of forage fish present and the depth, there was still the chance of a whitefish or lake trout so I kept soaking the shiner on my tip up. While working a school of perch with the maggot I noticed a large signal on the sonar zero in on my bait and the weight on the end of my line had me thinking this could be my first ever whitefish. After a close call at the bottom of the ice I managed to land  the 18 inch silver beauty only to realise it was another herring. No problem, they put up a great fight for their size. I said, the day was an unexpected gift from the start. Just getting out was enough, but  icing some "sweet meat" was definitely a bonus. When we packed it in for the day I reeled in the long inactive tip up line to find the 2 inch shiner replaced with a 5 inch smelt! There's no telling how long it was on the line but on the off chance something larger had taken the smelt it would have had to be released as smelt are illegal to use as bait.
The ones I kept


  1. Nice mixed bag.
    I love those smelt. Lightly breaded and pan fried, a fine meal.


  2. HI! Congratulations for the whitefish! We've got them in north Poland. The biggest one was at about 12 pounds! I never tried to catch one.

  3. Great stuff John...Like I've mentioned before, someday I'll get to Simcoe.
    You finally answered my question in the last paragraph; "smelt are illegal to use as bait." While reading, I was wondering why you weren't using them.
    Happy eating!

  4. Looks like a good meal just waiting for the frying pan. Glad you got out.


  5. Hey, John, thanks for taking us along on your ice fishing trip to Simcoe. Sure enjoy a mess of good Perch! Hopefully, the Herring will continue to do well. They are a nice looking fish.

  6. Thats a great catch John, Bet those perch taste right good, Love the film footage as well, I didn't realise the ice was so thick,
    Top Blogging,

  7. John, glad you got out between all the rain we have been getting here in these parts. Those fish should make a tasty meal, and I like the video clips. Keep them coming.