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.