By Wil Wegman
May 25, 2010 — Every year, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) stocks 140,000 whitefish into Lake Simcoe. Recently anglers have also been catching "wild" whitefish — that have reproduced naturally and are not stocked from the hatchery.
For the most part the primary whitefish fishery occurs during the winter months when more people fish the lake then the other three seasons combined. However, for a short window each spring an incredible opportunity has emerged on which hundreds, possibly thousands of anglers are capitalizing.
Picture a scene on a calm Lake Simcoe, a few kilometres offshore from communities such as Jackson’s Point and Willow Beach — where not just a few, but literally hundreds, of boats are floating around. In each boat, there is an angler or two, maybe more — often entire families — all with simple fishing rods that have a spoon tied on to mimic an injured baitfish. These anglers of varying skill levels are aware that pods of whitefish are roaming around below them in depths ranging from 60 to 90 feet and one of the best methods to catch them is by just jigging that shiny spoon up and down, up and down, until “thunk”— that upward motion becomes a whole lot heavier.
Whitefish on Lake Simcoe average three to six pounds and the open water spring fishery runs from the second Saturday in May until the water warms up sometime around mid to late June. Typically, by the time bass season opens on the fourth Saturday of the month (the last fish in the lake to become fair game), whitefish have dispersed and spread out into different areas of the lake. It then becomes much more difficult to pinpoint their location and, therefore, target them specifically.
Due to various other commitments and previous high winds, I was uncustomary late this spring to venture out to the whitefish grounds on Simcoe. My first outing was on May 22 with my son Izaak. The weather was incredible — in fact, it was so calm that a bit of wind would have actually helped turn on the lethargic whitefish. It certainly would have kept at bay the pesky gnats that were flying around in hoards. They may not bite, but can be aggravating, albeit somewhat entertaining to watch as boat after boat of anglers could be seen swatting away at them.
We found that despite the apparent lock-jaw most of the whitefish had that day, there were a couple of tricks you could do to help make them bite. One definitely was to keep roaming until our Lowrance LMS 322 sonar unit showed us there were fish below. Without our underwater eyes revealing the location of the fish, it really was difficult to expect to get a bite. Most of the boats out there, however, were anchored, hoping the fish would come to them. I’m far too impatient for that approach and used my MotorGuide electric bow mounted trolling motor to quietly manoeuvre over various depths searching for the telltale signs on my graph that told me I had a shot. No guarantees, but at least there was a chance of trying to convince those fish below to strike my bait.
I found that the traditional spoons did not work as well. My first fish came from one, but it was a big cisco (lake herring), which can closely resemble a wild whitefish of the same size. But unlike the whitie, the cisco does not have that telltale underslung mouth. The cisco was quickly live-released, as this fish is protected with a closed season while the population rebounds from near collapse. Fortunately, for anglers and the lake itself, the cisco population does appear to be coming back, as more and more cisco are being caught by anglers and detected by MNR crews monitoring the lake.
Customarily, some of the best whitefish action occurs early in the day. Although we were out there around sun-up, however, it was not until after noon that we found the special spot that held a good, healthy pod of whitefish. The area was unique in that within a few long casts the bottom varied from 65 to 85 feet — and the whitefish that day found this to their liking. By noon the sun had come out and the weather warmed, but my son had already resolved himself to “not getting bit," as he lazily stretched across the seats of our Nitro bass boat, soaking in the sun. Fortunately, he didn’t mind waking up once in awhile to grab the net and land a whitefish for his old man.
Although the action appeared quite slow that day for most boats and their anglers, we did see some fish caught and folks were having a great time. Our fish came from Lil’ Foxee Jigging Minnows on six-pound test Suffix Florocarbon line matched with a 6-foot-3, R-Type spinning rod and Rapala spinning reel. Although I often like heavier line and the backbone of baitcasting equipment for whitefish and the occasional bonus lake trout out there, the tough conditions simply made the beefier tackle less productive. The jig was tipped with a small, green tube jig and subtly worked on bottom with very minute up and down movements. The trick, in fact, was not to allow the bait to lift from the hard bottom and to keep the heavier nose section connected to the lake’s floor.
Later that day, Izaak, along with his older brother and mother, didn’t mind devouring those delicious whitefish. The fat-free fillets were first sprinkled with olive oil and then covered with Club House Salmon spice and dill weed before being placed on the cedar plank and slow roasted over the BBQ. Served with fresh fiddleheads and a tasty rice dish ... it was a perfect ending to a great day on the water.
Visit Wil Wegman's website at www.wilwegman.com.