Monday, August 5, 2013

6 Month Update

  Wow...six months since my last post. So much has happened over this period that an update will take some time to post, so before I do anything about I share one of my favorite tunes with you while you read this long overdue post?

  The 2013 hard water season slowly wound down without too many surprises. February was spent chasing schools of small perch all over southern Lake Simcoe in the hopes of locating the increasingly rare "jumbos" that the lake had been renowned for. Our quest for larger perch forced us to widen our search area and in the first week of March we found ourselves walking out from Sibbald Point on an unusually mild
and foggy morning.

  The absence of fish and heavy fog forced us to relocate a few miles west to a previously unexplored area called Willow Beach, an area usually reserved for the deep water whitefish and lake trout anglers.
   We managed to raise some of the largest fish of the season here (10" - 12") and returned a few days later to an arctic blast from the northwest and a slow bite.
   The high winds and arctic cold drove most off the lake after only a few hours. We checked out other locations on the slow trip home and it seemed the weather had affected the fishing for all but one.
   There followed a few trips to the extreme northeast corner of Cook's Bay with decent catches but no pics.
We spent the last day on the ice at Cedar Point, one of the few safe access points.

   A week after last ice, Tackle Shop and I were working open water in the south end of Simcoe at Cook's Bay Marina and Young's Harbour, catching numerous perch, sunfish and crappie. For the next few weeks we plied the shallow inlets of Simcoe, getting our fill of panfish, until the opener of pike and walleye season, where we re-connected with long time friend The Russian on the Scugog River.

  Now... to prevent any comments stating the obvious here in Ontario, bass and musky are not in season in late May. They just happen to be the only species caught on this particular trip.

   By the third week of May things were really starting to pick up at work, to the point where two new people were added to my shift and Saturday shifts became mandatory. Up until this point I'd been burning the proverbial candle at both ends by working Thursday night and going out with TS for a full day fishing every Friday morning. After a few six day weeks I found myself totally burned out, unable to sleep properly, focus or fish! But it wasn't the case with TS and the Russian, who made an impression on the carp at 15 Mile Pond near St. Catherines.


   It may have been the lack of focus or just plain envy, but it seemed the only way out of this grind was to tender my resignation as night shift supervisor.  The company was reluctant to let me go, having replaced the afternoon shift supervisor just eight months previous. My replacement started at the beginning of July and it was agreed that I would cover vacation times and come in on occasion to help straighten things out, sort of a part time semi-retirement. To this day I've worked three full days (on day shift) and focussed primarily on catching up on some needed rest and fishing.

  The first week of July found TS and I rocketing down the QEW highway towards Fort Erie, and after a really big wrong turn and having to re-enter the country through customs with contraband combustibles in the back, I finally got the chance to fish from Tackle Shop's new used boat. We launched his "car top" several miles upstream from the inflow to the Upper Niagara River, just across from Buffalo NY. We dropped anchor several minutes later after seeing the first school of smallmouth bass in 20 feet of crystal clear water but had difficulty in presenting our baits properly with a steady 5-6 mph current.

  It was decided the best way to present our offerings was to motor several miles up the shore and drift with the current. Two minutes into the first drift and my ulta light rod was bent double with a beautiful three and a half pound smallie.Several other successful drifts were completed when we found a large school hovering over a shoal of zebra mussels. Anchors aweigh and let the feeding frenzy begin! 

  We returned a week later to find conditions had changed drastically. A strong wind was blowing down the lake from the west, dislodging tons of algae and clouding the water to near zero visibility. Still one excellent outing overshadows a skunk.

   Later that week we tried Cook's Bay by water.It was a spur of the moment trip with no advanced warning or planning (and the results speak for themselves). In the first minute of wetting our lines TS hooked into a 30" plus pike followed by several hours of dredging weeds, tiny perch and sunfish. We were eventually chased off the water by ominous thunderheads and by time we reached shore the skies opened up with a downpour that signalled the end of the day for us. 

   A week later Tackle Shop informed me that the Russian was interested in fishing the Parry Sound area, 150 miles north of Toronto. I spent the night before researching in my map books, navigation programs and on the web for suitable free launch sites to no avail, so I persuaded the others that we would visit a closer area that I knew well from 35 years ago...Victoria Harbour, where my parents had a cottage on Georgian Bay.
  We launched at the public dock in town and slowly worked our way towards the first of several locations I'd marked as "hotspots" from my youth. It didn't take long for previous experience to pay off as TS was into a scrappy smallie as we trolled past the point near where I'd spent so many summers.
   Not long after he repeated using the dreaded GPW (gay pink worm)
   By this time the Russian (originator of the term GPW) had become accustomed to using that unsightly piece of plastic and coaxed his own bass off a mid lake hump.
  For some reason I'm not sure of we decided to pass over a known musky location on the east side of Methodist Island for the calmer waters of Port McNicoll. Gone were the grain elevators I remembered from my youth, but to my surprise an old friend remained, the SS Keewatin, a relic from the golden age of Great Lakes shipping.
   We spent an hour fishing the deep harbour with TS and the Russian going toe to toe catching small largemouth bass. Eventually their competition wound down and they were ready to pack up for the day, but I still had one more location in mind, a small stretch of natural shoreline a half mile south of where we launched. TS noticed movement in a tiny bay as we neared the weedy shoreline but it was the Russian that scored the first hit.
Followed by Tackle Shop
   I forgot to mention that up until this point I'd only caught a handful of gobies, a few perch and a tiny bass!
I spent an hour casting a tiny floating Rapala minnow to hundreds of breaching gar before I realised the area was wadeable for a hundred yards out, so I wasted no more time with the spinning gear and assembled my fly rod. Every retrieve had a follow and I soon became adept at ducking line on a failed hook ups, but alas, once again my trophy had eluded me. The sun was sinking, the wind rising, and the school of gar were heading out to deeper weeds for the night.
   It seems sometimes I'm a much better guide than angler 

   Last week TS called and inquired where I thought we could go locally. The obvious choice was Frenchman's Bay in Pickering, just a few minutes by car from my house. We'd tried the Bay on several occasions during the winter, with little to show for our efforts, but never during the open water season. 

  It didn't take long for me to get the first fish of the day, a one pound largemouth, on a willow leaf spinner cast towards the cattails as we drifted parallel to the weedy shore, but it was TS who stole the show with a good sized pike caught on his go to favorite, a five of diamonds spoon.

   It was our intention to check out the warm water outflow from the nearby power plant but with a strong wind from the southeast, we were unwilling to risk the unpredictable lake in such a small boat.

  And so we come to the last trip, late last week, where TS and I made a return to Victoria Harbour, hoping to cash in on what we learned before. Conditions on the lake dictated, once again, that we not venture too far from port because of strong winds and rough water. In one deep hole near the breakwall at Port McNicoll, we boated a dozen 12" bass, but it seemed access to better waters was limited so we retired from the area early and drove ten minutes north to Port Severn.

   Fishing at Lock #45 is a bit of a crap shoot, and we didn't have a lot of luck there, but we did come away with some valuable info on boat launches and available species. First of all there are numerous gar, walleye when the water flows high, and most surprising... a salmon run in the fall.

   So ...there it is. This is what the not so Dead Fisher has been up to. One interesting note is that I've given my spinning gear it's best workout in years as casting a fly from an overcrowded aluminum boat is difficult at the best of times. Although I'd made the attempt on each occasion, there always seemed to be something lacking and when I've made adjustments on return trips like bringing sinking line and stinger hooks or tying heavy clousers and bunny strip streamers, conditions have forced me to put the fly rod away. Oh well...such is the life of a partially retired fishing bum!

Hope you enjoyed the tunes. Tight lines!

Monday, January 28, 2013

January Ups and Downs

  WOW. What a weather roller coaster we've been on in Southern Ontario in the first few weeks of January!  
    Three weeks ago Tackle Shop and I stayed off the ice as record high temperatures drove the adventurous to wear short sleeves and the foolhardy to be rescued from thinning ice.

    A mid week cool down was enough for TS and I to get out on seven inches of Little Lake ice without worrying about testing our survival suit's flotation capabilities. We avoided the cluster of anglers mid lake and concentrated on the area closer to shore where we had some luck two weeks previous.

   Once our  holes were drilled I proceeded  to rig my tip down with a 5" shiner minnow, adding a new feature... an electronic alarm designed for carp fishing. You just strap it on the rod with the o-ring, loosen off the drag and loop the line over the roller. When a fish strikes it pulls the line, setting off a piercing whistle and red LED light.

   With my set line ready for action I rigged up a light jigging rod with a small silver spoon with a #10 bead head fly on an eight inch fluorocarbon dropper, hoping to cash in on some crappie action.

   After fifteen minutes of fruitless jigging, my alarm announced some action on the tip down. I resisted the urge to race to my rig because previous experience on shallow water ice fishing for pike had taught me that too much noise will scare the fish and cause it to drop the bait. The rod's wild bouncing stopped just as I was about to set the hook. Thinking I'd missed another chance at icing my first pike of the hard water season I reeled in the line to check on the minnow and found a ten inch crappie with just the tail of the minnow sticking out of it's mouth!

  I never did find any takers on my finesse presentation that day... but the set lines were golden, scoring two pike each for TS and myself, the largest being 24".
This one was kept for dinner
   On our way home we checked out conditions on Cooks Bay and arrived just in time to see dozens of nervous anglers retreating off 4" of rapidly deteriorating ice.

   The next week was the polar opposite to the previous, if you'll pardon the pun, with overnight temperatures nudging -25C. I'd just started up the midnight shift at the factory after doing a stint on days since mid November and the prospect of hitting some solid Simcoe ice was enough to get me out after work Friday morning. Instead of battling the arctic cold all day, TS and I decided to rent a hut from Rob at Gilford Yellow Huts .

   We stopped at a local bait shop a few miles from the lake and when it was time to leave the van wouldn't start. Luckily we got several boosts and managed to get to the garage across the street where we found out the alternator was shot. Now get this...Rob the hut operator drove to the garage and took us out to the lake!!

   Just before we called, Rob had hooked into a big toothy critter while jigging for perch but lost it at the hole. This was all the encouragement I needed to put a 5" sucker minnow on my set line. We spent several hours working hard for the 40 to 50 small perch we caught, so when Rob checked up on us he suggested we do a bit of exploring.

  We left shanty town in a cloud of billowing snow and traveled about a mile to the southwest, drilling the occasional hole here and there to find the right depth. I decided to work a productive hole while Rob and TS were farther out doing more drilling and as soon as I'd made my first drop my line started to peel of the reel. After several long runs I managed to ice a nice 26" pike and what do you suppose he was hooked on? A #10 bead head fly!

  Once a new productive area was found Rob moved one of his huts to the area and the three of us caught small perch at will. At one point a school of herring flitted through and TS managed to catch and release one.  We fished until just before sundown when Rob pointed out something unusual on the ice...
  A great snowy owl chowing down on some leftover minnows!  I could only get about a hundred yards away before it flew off and once again I find myself cursing 3X optical zoom.
   Rob collected up all his other customers, one pair up from Ohio, and dropped them off at the shoreline. Once all the transactions were complete he drove us back to the garage where we found the van repaired and even heated up and waiting for us! Talk about service. Read Tackle Shop's take on the adventure at Lake Simcoe Message Board .

  The next day we decided to stay closer to home and try Frenchmans Bay in Pickering. I'd heard of good catches of crappie, pike and trout through the ice there this year and a ten minute drive from my house seemed in order after the previous day's adventure. TS brought along his son Sid the Kid, hoping he'd be a regular chip off the old tackle box and take to the ice, but in the four hours we spent there we saw four perch landed out of close to a hundred anglers. Sitting back and waiting for the action to start isn't for everybody, and to tell the truth I'd lost interest after the second hour.

   We packed up and hit the road for home, but not before visiting The Pie Lady. A lone house on a country road just north of the city limits that has a pie stand at the end of the driveway filled with all sorts of delights. I bought an apple caramel and a raspberry chocolate pie. DELICIOUS.   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

First Ice, Little Lake, Barrie


   There was a time when I bled blue and white for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, the second most successful team in the NHL with regards to championships, and it's been 46 years since I've seen their captain hoist the Stanley Cup. So after another lockout I've finally decided to leave the "pros" and focus my Saturday's attention  to more pedestrian on-ice entertainment.
   The 2013 ice season started for me at sunrise New Years Day, hangover free, a newly issued licence in my pocket and walking out on Little Lake, Barrie with scores of others, hoping to make a positive impression on the local pike population. Tackle Shop and I followed a well worn trail in the snow and slush several hundred yards out from shore and, using his new power auger, cut a half dozen holes through seven inches of layered ice in mere seconds.
  After rigging our set lines with large shiner minnows, we sat back to wait for the action to begin... and wait...and wait.  All around us was pretty much the same story, anglers standing around in groups enjoying a crisp morning out on the ice with a noticeable lack of activity in the catching department. 

   The novelty of first ice wore off after three hours of idleness so we decided to pack up and go exploring elsewhere for safe ice. Several minutes later we found a group desperately working holes in the marina on Barrie's waterfront and to prove a point to TS about the availability of fish for an experienced angler...I walked out to catch some perch. It wasn't until I reached an existing hole that I realized these idiots were risking their lives on two inches of ice!
I got off the ice without incident and we headed for home, shut out but warm and dry, and questioning the probable life expectancy of some of the people we'd seen.
   The next day TS and the Russian returned to Little and had a bit of luck with a few bites, but nothing landed. Same with yesterday when we walked out...a couple missed opportunities with fish escaping right at the hole. On the way home we stopped in Gilford to check on the ice in lower Cooks Bay. As we scanned miles of deserted, unstable ice, a local genius rode by on a brand new tracked quad with his two young sons following on snowmobiles and almost immediately went through the ice. I'm certain there was no lesson learned because the water was only a foot and a half deep

   There was a change in the air this morning. Besides the rising temperature and lowering skies, we both felt today would be different. Instead of joining the subdivision of huts near the center of the lake, we followed the shore east and set up only a few hundred feet from the van. The milder temperatures  had little effect on the ice but the snow cover had melted in some places to a deep pool of slush.

   It didn't take long for TS to land his first fish of the year.
   Not a monster by any means...but a good start and it was quickly followed by two more. I had to wait longer for my first fish.
   I was expecting to catch something a bit toothier but the surprises weren't over.

   So there you have it... the first full week of 2013 and there's been a few shut outs, several goals [achieved], some acts of mindless death defiance and ... don't forget... a group of over paid gamers have successfully bargained for a larger slice of the puck.