Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Cold Day In Hell

   I thought the title and opening video pretty much summed it all up. You'll notice that there's no pictures of the fish we caught...they were swallowed by a rapidly expanding snow drift. They weren't plentiful but the seven I had to excavate for will feed me several dinners.

   It takes a very special type of crazy to willingly expose one's self to extreme conditions like this. In the second picture the guys in the Frabill hut were up from the Detroit area for several days and when you travel several hundred miles to another country to fish, regardless of the conditions.

   In the next pic, the huts behind Tackle Shop were owned by locals that were only five minutes from a warm fire and a cold beer. Once TS was assured there were fish below him, after 45 minutes of cold futility, he erected and retired to his one man shelter leaving me to be the only nut job exposed.

   About the time of TS's erection another lost soul wander out onto the ice and set up closer to shore. I thought he looked vaguely familiar through the veil of blowing snow but it wasn't until I went for a visit that I realized it was long time friend Road Animal.

   It was a hard day for everyone out on the ice and I heard it said "It will be a cold day in hell before I do this again" but one man's hell is another man's heaven. I just need better gloves!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Goodbye Gilford, Hello Sibbald Point

   Over the past week, here in southern Ontario, we've actually managed more "snow events" than thaws, and even though it's two months past the date I'd  have to say "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas". Saturday morning was greeted with all the enthusiasm of an eight year old riding out a sugar high on Christmas morning as Tackle Shop and I were taking a break from our usual Saturday morning routine and attending the annual Spring Fishing Show at a local convention centre.

   For many years it had been a great way to fill out the depleted tackle and fly boxes on the cheep and meet a few fishing celebrities, but if it hadn't been for TS winning the tickets on  a message board joke contest I would have asked for a refund. There were only a handful of tackle vendors participating and very few deals to be had. My biggest regret was that after leaving the show I realized local blogger and tournament angler Ashley Rae at was demonstrating her new found kayaking prowess. Ashley is one of those rare anglers who eagerly sets personal challenges and then accomplishes them with spectacular results.

   After leaving the show with little more than a free newspaper and a pack of Fat Boy Jigs  TS and I headed north to Simcoe for another round of perch fishing. The persistent morning rain turned to snow immediately after leaving the city and it wasn't long before we were faced with stop and go traffic for the next 30 miles in near white-out conditions. The adverse conditions had little effect on the turnout at the lake though as Perch City appeared to be busting at the seams with activity.

   Tackle Shop and I must have been spoiled over the last five weeks pulling our sleds over bare ice, because when suddenly faced with dragging our equipment a mile out through six inches of drifting powder we both simultaneously voiced the opinion we were either too old for this crap or we had altogether too much stuff! Feeling like one of Pharaoh's older, chain smoking slaves working on a pyramid, I'd  quickly decided that where I stood was good enough to catch the multitudes of perch below the ice.

   Over the next four hours we'd managed only about 30 tight lipped tiny perch each, which was about as good as everyone else was doing. The day turned out to be a complete wash out except for some info we got earlier at the show that the main lake basin had finally frozen over and we were no longer confined to this particular bay and it's tiny perch.
   The next morning saw us walking out onto the main lake from Sibbald Point Provincial Park, the site of my introduction to winter perch fishing many years ago. Sibbald Point extends 300 yards out from the windswept shore as a field of fist sized rocks that ends in 20 feet of water and is replaced by an extensive sand flat.

   The area doesn't hold fish all the time like Gilford, but is more like a drive through diner. We set up near the transition area and within the first minute I lost a 12-13 inch fish right at the hole. Several minutes later I landed my first jumbo of the year, a fat 12 incher that probably weighed as much as half my entire catch from the previous day!

   The action was sporadic over the next few hours with long periods of inactivity followed by a feeding frenzy when the next school came through. I eventually resorted to my old habit of hole jumping, moving with the schools of fish. I'm not sure whether it produced any better than staying in one spot but it kept me busy trying to anticipate their movements. By mid afternoon we'd caught 50-70 fish each, ridiculously low by Gilford standards, but iced 18 respectably sized fish for dinner.

potato salad, baked beans and perch fillets fried in bacon grease
We'd heard about the ice conditions at Sibbald Point from Doug Poirier who's organized a charity derby at the park on March 3 8am-1pm. Check it out at: Perchin for MS and hope to see  you there!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Frenzy Before the Storm

    I can't really put a finger on when the local news media became the self appointed harbingers of doom and destruction rather than a non biased presenter of the facts, but it seems the general public has bought into all these sensational scare tactics to such a point that I've started looking about for the sheppard that is  leading the herd to slaughter.

    For the past few days the city has been abuzz with concerns over an approaching storm...WEATHER ALERT...WINTER STORM WATCH...WILL YOU SURVIVE?
The last time I checked... I was living in Canada, where we have four seasons, one of which is know the season that's not hot and the rain comes down white and fluffy. It must have been a slow news week for them to try and scare the shit out of Joe Public about going outside and living.

   Anyways...after the fact there's an inch and a half of snow on the back deck and the temperature is -13C (9F), a typical winter day from my youth and a catastrophic weather event for the 4wd SUV, GPS enabled, mall jogging, double decaf latte swilling, cell phone/ text addicted creatures of comfort we call urbanites. The storm of the year was merely a weather hiccup in an unusually mild winter. I have little hope for the future when surrounded by these pre-programmed clones with all the gadgetry and none of the skills to cope with mother nature, and it's not until I've left the confines of the city that I witness a return to common sense and good old fashioned morality.

   Chicken Little's prophesy couldn't keep Tackle Shop and I, or a multitude of others off the ice at Gilford on  Friday. We had a feeling the changing conditions might start a different type of frenzy before the storm below the ice...a feeding frenzy! We walked a mile out and found a spot in the no-man's-land nestled between two towns of different colored ice huts run by competing hut operators. The fact that no shots were fired over our heads during our stay would attest to the hot bite below our feet. It was one of those days where you chose your spot, drilled your hole, and stayed there until you'd had your fill.
    The wind's bone chilling intensity increased farther out from shore and helped us make a few decisions...TS used a portable hut for the first time this year and I was going strictly meat free, artificial baits only. We set up over 15 fow on 10 inches of solid blue ice and were rewarded immediately with non stop action or at least non stop for the guy using live minnows.

The usual suspects
   I started out using the sliver jigging spoon that worked so well last week, landing fish as fast as I could get it near the bottom, until after about 45 minutes when the bite suddenly stopped. The sonar showed the fish were still there but they were only interested in watching. I changed to a jigging Rapala minnow and the spectators went crazy again for another hour. This pattern continued throughout the day, changing lures every hour or so to keep the fish interested.  
   One thing I've learned through trial and error is that when you're actively searching for fish and covering a large area away from your sled and tackle bag, it's a good idea to carry a selection of baits with you in your pocket so you don't have to leave a fishy hole to re rig.
About the size of a pack of smokes when closed
    It turned out to be a fairly typical day on the big ice with the usual catch numbers 25 times that of the keepers. The commute home was surprisingly uneventful considering all the media inspired weather paranoia, I think a lot of workplaces let their employees out early to avoid the conditions.Already the network news readers are preparing us for the next weather assault, there were no deaths this time...but the future's uncertain. If you don't have to go out, stay at home...and if you do go out, stay away from the frozen lakes and rivers...they're unsafe and you'll die!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gilford Gold and A Look at Little Lake

   It's a funny thing about supplying the automotive week you're working six days, scrambling to meet quotas and deadlines, and the next week is only four days work. I live a simple life and other than rent, my next major expense is fishing, so a four day work week isn't going to break the bank and should allow me to indulge my mania. Sitting here on Thursday night I was formulating a plan to maximize my time on the ice while ensuring; a good catch, the challenge of new ice, and a break from the increasing crowds this mild winter has created.


    Tackle Shop and I decide to beat the weekend warriors out on the ice in Gilford by showing up on Friday morning. The ice conditions had changed little since our last visit two weeks ago except that the constant daily cycle of thaw and freeze had turned the vast ice sheet into a slick window into another world. I've always found it a little unnerving and fascinating walking out on clear ice, watching the bottom fall away and spooking the occasional school of fish. Almost a mile from shore in over twenty feet of water, and we could still see bottom through the ice as an occasional light sandy spot would show up, highlighting the darker colored perch.

   We decided on an area when we located a few areas of cloudy ice, keeping in mind the lesson learned about cover from the previous trip there.  I sunk a shaft and immediately started to mine Gilford gold.
    My first choice of bait was a tiny jigging Rapala with a fairly good catch rate of a fish every minute or two but things just got stupid when I change over to a 1.5" XPS Tungsten Spoon. A tiny flip of the rod tip would produce an end over end summersault that would call in the schools of perch from many yards away. After a few minutes of using this bait the whole water column was one giant mass of fish and I was pulling them in as fast as I could get the spoon back in the hole! Although we were over 20 feet of water, the fish were rising right up to the hole and to a certain extent you could pick out your intended target...sight ice fishing!

   Tackle Shop was having similar action thirty feet away, only slowed down a bit by having to re-bait his hook with a fresh shiner every few fish. We conservatively estimate the day's catch between 300 to 400 perch each with myself keeping a dozen 8 to 10 inch fish for the frying pan, but the highlight of the day for me was when a school of 18 inch herring suddenly showed up just below the ice. For 30 seconds I could see them darting about in all directions, occasionally their silvery flash showing through 8" of milky ice, eventually enticing one to bite and strip off several yards of line on my ultra light panfish rod only to regain it's freedom right as I was about to lift it from the hole. 


   Having satisfied our need to catch a crazy amount of fish in Gilford the day before, we decided to meet the challenge of figuring out a recently found local hotspot...Frenchman's Bay in Pickering. The weather conditions were the exact opposite from the previous week with bright sunshine, little to no wind and temperatures hovering just above freezing.
   We could hear the cracking and heaving of the ice as we geared up on the residential side street adjacent to the bay, and as we were about to step out onto the ice we could see the look of relief on the faces of several nervous anglers as they neared the shore. Both had caught several large pike earlier in the morning but the current ice activity had them spooked so they were packing it in. 

   TS and I tentatively walked out on the bay, keeping a safe distance from each other so as to not concentrate our weight in one spot, but we still managed to create spider web cracking in the 6 to 8 inch thick ice. I may have a new flotation suit but I'm in no hurry to try it out so after only a few hundred feet we turned back to shore, faced with the same dilemma as last week...trying to avoid the skunk.

   Rather than going through the same routine as last week, plan B would be to have a look at Little Lake in Barrie. It was a long, roundabout trip, so it was already afternoon when we joined the fifty others out on Little's solid 12 inch ice sheet. TS set up in his usual way with two holes within reach and a rod tipped with a live minnow in each. I punched a series of holes over a large area, dead-sticking a 4' minnow on a quick strike rig on my tip up while I vigorously jigged a variety of spoons in the other holes.

   I didn't need to look around the lake to know there was little pike activity going on. The multitude of tiny signals showing up on the sonar suggested the bottom was covered with small perch unafraid because of the lack of predators in the vicinity. I scaled down my offerings several times and was eventually landing 3" perch consistently.

   No one travels to Little Lake for perch when Simcoe is only three miles away! The idea of "run and gun"...drilling holes until you find active fish doesn't suit this lake and it's pike population. The only thing to do was to suspend your bait, step back and wait.

   By late afternoon TS and I visited one neighbour, a hundred yards away, who appeared to be having some fairly steady action when my tip up finally decided to come to life. After a hundred yard dash on slick ice I'd eradicated all smell of skunk by landing my first pike of the year. it was only 18 inches... but it was the right species and they were starting to bite! Twenty minutes later TS landed a twin to my fish and then the bite stopped. We'd both caught and released a fish...and that was good enough for a partial day on Little Lake, a body of water that always seems to produce.
   So now we're both itching to make a return under favourable conditions to Frenchman's Bay so I can write a report called Pickering Pike.