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. OK...so 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.