Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Ice 2012's been some time since my last post and I'd like to say that I've been too busy fishing to sit down and write, but the sad truth is that for the last three months my existence has revolved around work and the nocturnal lifestyle required by midnight shift. The combination of the legal ramifications of my last outing, reduced daylight hours, and a long delay in the onset of true winter weather held me in fishing limbo to the point where I'd set two forgettable milestones; the longest fish-less period in memory, and the longest period without a posting here. Now that the drought is over, or should I say the thaw, I hope to be catching and posting more frequently!

  As it turned out Santa was a stingy old elf this year, so taking matters into my own hands I hit the Boxing Day sales with the intention of increasing my on-ice safety and comfort. My first purchase was a survival suit, a one piece snow suit with a foam interior for added insulation and buoyancy. The second gift to myself was a new set of extreme winter boots, rated at -100C or -148F. Two of the three things guaranteed to spoil a day of ice fishing are frozen toes or a surprise swim. The third thing...  I'll touch on later.

  While fighting the crowds of bargain shoppers at Bass Pro Shops on Boxing Day I ran into a vaguely familiar face, Lee, whom Tackle Shop and I had met on Little Puslinch Lake last February. Lee told us the disturbing news that access to Puslinch was closed this year due to the blatant disrespect shown by some of the users last winter. Because of an unusually mild December only the small shallow lakes had safe ice as of last week and with Puslinch closed the best bet was Little Lake in Barrie, where reports were of 4" to 7" of ice and average catches of pike and the rare walleye. Late last week TS informed me he'd seen on THE BLUE ICE REPORT  (daily ice conditions with on-ice interviews by a local ice hut operator) that Cooks Bay, the south arm of Lake Simcoe had several inches of ice.

  But there was one more thing TS and I had to tackle before we could head out...renew our licences. Sounds easy...right? With typical bureaucratic wisdom, the MNR took a streamlined system of licencing and added several layers of BS. As it turns out, in an urban area of nearly six million people, there are only five or six outlets where you can renew your licence and because of the new procedures the sales staff are inadequately trained and prone to mistakes. It took us close to an hour to complete a process that could have been done last year in five minutes at an automated kiosk in a mall.

  So...with freshly minted licences, new protective clothing and a general idea of our destination, we retrieved our gear from storage and headed north to the town of Gilford on the west shore of Cooks Bay, Lake Simcoe. By the time we'd arrived, bought minnows and geared up it was already 3PM  and there were only a few hours of daylight left. I'd already frozen my hands numb before we walked 200 yards out onto 3.5" of ice and struggled to assemble my auger. A brisk arctic wind blew down from the north and the still unfrozen main lake driving the already cold temperature of -15C (5F) down another ten degrees and making it near impossible to bait my tiny jig head with a 2" wiggling shiner minnow. Seconds after reaching bottom I felt a light tap tap on the line, set the hook on slack line and retrieved a bare jig.
  I gave up on using minnows immediately, unwilling to risk permanent damage from freezing just to feed the greedy thieves below the ice, and opted for a durable rubber spike. As soon as it neared the bottom, 10 feet below, it was attacked by the ravenous school and after several attempts at setting the hook I finally landed my first fish of 2012...a scrappy 6" perch. It was probably one hundredth the size of my last catch in October...but no less welcome! I struggled to remove the tiny hook with all the finesse and dexterity of a boxer tying his shoe laces with his gloves on, finally releasing my catch seconds before being flash frozen.
  Because of the thin ice, TS made the decision to travel light and hadn't brought his pop-up on one of the coldest days we'd ever been out on the ice together, he was forced to brave the elements along side me.
   The action was fairly consistent with an average 7" perch landed every few minutes...just the sort of thing to end a long fishing drought. A funny thing was that when we were walking out I'd mentioned that I was surprised we'd never gotten any catfish on any of our ice fishing trips and just before we packed it in for the day, TS caught a 12" bullhead!
   We only spent a few hours on the ice, on a trip that was more spur of the moment than planned. My tackle wasn't organized from last year, the sonar's battery was dead and luckily I'd had that single rubber bait. The third thing that can ruin an ice fishing trip is frozen fingers, those are my own personal Achilles Heel. Next time out we'll be better prepared, charged batteries, all tackle accounted for, better gloves and a better choice of areas to fish as the ice thickens.

There's nothing better than first ice.
Glad to be back! 


  1. Hello, John, been wondering where you went or if you finally hooked a Mermaid to have some fun with! Great to have you back. Slim to no ice fishing season for me this year due to mild winter conditions.

  2. Glad you were able to get out and poke a few holes in the ice. Looks like you have the makings for a good those perch!

  3. Nice to see your post pop up today. Great job getting out there and showing the ice who's boss :) Great photos. Thanks for sharing. Tight Lines.

  4. Welcome back John and happy new year to you and yours my friend,
    Seems those hours you have been working spoil more than your fishing, How the heck do you catch up on your sleep, Well done on your catch and well done to TS on the bullhead, Hope your fingers have thawed out ok, Pitty they dont make gloves to the same rateing as your boots,
    Nice to see you guys fishing and blogging again,

  5. Happy new year, been looking for you.

  6. John
    Glad you are back with us----I know the ice fishing is a lot of fun, but my feet and hands wouldn't cooperate in that sort of cold. Thanks for sharing a great trip with all of us.

  7. Welcome back John. Nice pics too.