|Looking east from downtown Barrie onto Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe|
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|
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.
|The ones I kept|