Sunday, April 10, 2011

From Ice to Nice

 Last week my best friend and I travelled north, froze our butts off fishing atop 14 inches of rapidly deteriorating ice and caught hundreds of perch, one after another. That was last week...this week was a whole new ballgame and a start to a new season...OPEN WATER!!! Of course this is "conservative" Ontario and most predatory gamefish are out of season for the next five weeks, but there are still plenty of opportunities to be taken advantage of.

  In previous years we'd started open water fishing at the marina in Barrie for the plentiful schools of perch there, but... REALLY? We'd just finished catching thousands of perch in the last month of ice fishing. The reports of crappie being caught in the Holland River were somewhat exaggerated and we'd never really had much luck competing with the anxious fair weather crowds there. Most of the local rivers have steelhead runs right now, but again, the competition for elbow room on the river is a game I've no interest in playing. Also... between Tackle Shop and myself, I think we have one complete set of waterproof waders...both left feet! In an effort to protect the vulnerable musky population, the Kawartha Lakes zone created a year round open season to control the hordes of invading pike, but a 250 mile round trip this time of year is a longshot when we're uncertain of how much of a thaw has occurred in an area that could possibly still be iced over.

  So... these were the options we were facing on our first foray into the open water season. Or were they? Too often I find myself conditioned into following the same patterns and routines. As sport fishers we frequently protect our egos by going through the "tried and true" methodology without ever taking that step into the unknown for fear of looking foolish , or even worse...inept. I'm not talking crazy like fishing a puddle or going for salmon in the river in the springtime, more along the lines of exploring known areas during unknown times. After all... it is spring and my sense of adventure is bursting at the seams!

  Our destination for the day was to be a small estuary on the south shore of Lake Ontario called 15 Mile Pond, so called because of it's distance from the mouth of the Niagara River. In the past two summers this tiny body of water had given up to us an unbelievable variety of fish; white bass & perch, large & smallmouth bass, yellow perch, pike, channel & brown bullhead catfish, carp, sheephead, bowfin, crappie, rockbass, pumpkinseed & bluegill sunfish... well... you get the idea, all this in a 10 acre pond we'd never fished any earlier than late May.

  It's interesting (and a little disturbing) the differences between travelling north and southwest from Toronto. On the northbound trip, the city quickly falls away to be replaced by rolling farmland and eventually forests and lakes. Southwest is entirely different as 95% of the provinces population congregates in what is known as the Golden Horseshoe along the Lake Ontario shore. Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Grimsby, all separate cities but in reality one continuous metropolis of 9 million people. Timothy Leary once said Toronto was an attempt to pave over Southern Ontario, and maybe he wasn't too far off the mark. Our trip along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) took us through 60 miles of industrial and commercial wasteland and amazingly transported us to Ontario's "fruit basket", the Jordan Valley, several hundred square miles of vinyards, orchards, quaint small towns, and our final destination... 15 Mile Pond.
Hamilton Harbour from the Burlington Skyway
Jordan Harbour Tourist Attraction
15 Mile Pond from the QEW
Charles Daley Park, 15 & 16 Mile Ponds
  The one thing I hadn't counted on this time of year was all the agricultural runoff muddying up the water. As you can see in the satellite image above, the large plume of sediment in the lake was coming from our intended destination. Standing in the parking lot overlooking the lake and pond, it was immediately clear that fishing lures in that "chocolate milk" was going to be a challenge.                                                                      
    I started out along the long narrow spit of land separating the lake and pond, casting a rooster tail spinner with my ultra lite, alternating between clear cold lake and muddy warm pond  until I reached the end of the spit and the pond's outflow. All this time a steady parade of boats trolled the shore line of the lake in hopes of salmon and trout. Tackle Shop eventually caught up with me( pulling a dolly loaded with 100lbs of equipment through the sand!) just  as I was assembling the new Pflueger rod and reel for a heavy metal assault on the surf. We fished the area for another hour, TS with worms and me with hardware, before we gave up and decided to try at the top of the pond by the highway. 
Brown & Blue Mixing at the Outflow
  As we walked back up pond, we stopped and briefly chatted with the only other anglers there, 3 guys reclined in lawn chairs casually paying attention to their expensive carp outfits. They'd been there since the crack of dawn without a single bite. Our friend The Russian has carp fished his whole life and maintains that early season fish prefer a little meat (worms) over the regular corn or boilies. We offered this info and some worms to boot and were met with resistance...after all, they were the ones with the specialized equipment! Do you now see why I prefer ice fishermen?
  Anyways, TS set up at the next picnic table and I continued on upstream under the highway with my ultralite where last May I'd hammered the pre-spawn bass in this area (don't tell the MNR) and was now interested to see what the water held at this time of year. Almost immediately I found a school of suckers at the top of a pool and started casting a #1 Panther Martin spinner in the hope of adding to our species list for this pond. The suckers seemed to be more repelled than attracted to my offering but on the fifth cast I did manage a 4" trout. At least I think it was a trout or maybe a salmon smolt, I'm not sure and the picture came out too blurry for me to tell. I tried a few more casts without any more action and then worked my way back downstream to where TS was.

  The first thing I notice upon my return is the carp fishermen have been replaced by a couple other guys with family in tow. TS took great joy in retelling how after only 2 minutes of setting his lines he had a double header of 18 inch brown bullhead catfish. The carpers angrily packed up and left. WORMS INDEED! Don't go away mad, adapt! I took their departure as an opportunity to indulge and quickly assembled my fly rod, tied on a bucktail streamer and took advantage of 100 feet of empty grass behind me. The area is generally "bushy" and I don't enjoy roll casting still waters. After the first dozen casts of the season there's a weight on my line and a 5 pound carp rolls on the surface and then is gone! Another dozen casts and I'm into another one with the same results. I'm thinking that I might be "lining" the fish instead of them biting, but either way, that's the only action of the day with the fly and there's no way of telling.

  Tackle Shop was putting on a catfish clinic for our new friends Ron and Ryan, a couple "local boys" from Beamsville who fish for fun whenever life allows. After a few more hours and a dozen catfish, we all decide to pack up and make the long trip home. It's the last game of the year for our beloved , yet hapless Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, and even though it will be their 5'th straight year of not making the playoffs, I feel the need to watch them go down in style and grace against Montreal.

  After packing the van, we both looked back down the hill at this tiny yet productive pond, knowing we'll be back many more times this year, never certain of what we're going to pull in next!


  1. Great read John, And i know just how ungratefull the fair weather fishermen can be, But every fish would like a nice and tasty worm, They must be numb refusing a free hand out, I just love the picture of the merky water mixing with the clear, Excelent,

  2. Hey John. Thanks for the tour. We have the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers at a place called Discovery Park. It has the same brown water from the Sacrameno and clear water from the American. One last note, some fishermen (fair weather specifically) are just dumb.


  3. John, sure enjoy your pictures of your fishing travels and the stories that go with them. You and Tackle Shop are not short on effort that's for sure.