For me, the opening day of bass season is the single greatest day of the entire year, writes Wil Wegman.
It is better than your birthday, Christmas and New Year’s all wrapped in one. After a long Spring, when boat launches, marinas and beaches were closed, looking forward to the opening of bass season on June 27 has provided a light at the end of the tunnel.
Here are the top five tips to help make this summer bass season on Lake Simcoe one of the best and most meaningful ever.
1 Learn and re-learn the lake and its dynamic bass fishery: Regardless of whether you are a seasoned pro or visiting for the first time, both the largemouth and smallmouth bass in the lake are always adapting to the rapid changes it undergoes. Whether it’s due to the effects of climate change, water levels or invasive species, bass have to adapt or perish. The same goes for the angler! Be willing to try new areas, new techniques, different lures, even different times of the day, to find and catch those wonderful Simcoe bass.
2 Spend more time on the lake, but do so wisely this bass season: Now more than ever, push to try to find more precious days on the water to learn and re-learn the lake with a goal of educating yourself each time. Perhaps even more so than when you fish other lakes. Be mentally prepared to have days when you will struggle — that’s par for the course on Simcoe, regardless of your skill level. To be safe and practical, and to maximize your efforts, choose different boat launches each time based on the wind and weather conditions of the day. I can assure you that there aren’t any areas around the 740-square-kilometre body of water that you can access where bass do not reside! Make it a goal in the 2020 bass season to learn more of the lake and the days when you get on ‘em will outnumber those you don’t.
3 Fish patterns according to seasonal bass movements: Immediately after the opener, expect most of the bass — regardless of whether they are largemouth or smallmouth, to be shallow — say less than 10 feet. Some smallmouth may still be guarding their nests, while most largemouth will be finished the spawn. Smallies will cruise hard substrate shorelines with little or no aquatic plant growth while largemouth will seek those areas with softer bottoms and plenty of freshly emerging ‘weeds.’
As the season and summer progress, bass movements will increase as their local food sources become more depleted. Some smallmouth will switch from a diet of rusty crayfish (an invader that has pushed out most of the native ‘northern’ crayfish) to round goby (another invader). Largemouth will venture away from river mouth and nearshore haunts as their beloved weed growth begins to grow farther and farther out into the lake, with their diverse forage base not far behind. Finally, as the summer begins to draw to a close, both species will go out even farther for deeper waters where food and preferred habitat are plentiful.
4 Choose your bass lures wisely: Categorize them according to the activity level you anticipate from the bass. With some exceptions this can be as simple as soft plastics for inactive and hard baits for more active. To a large extent, activity level can be somewhat pre-determined based on the time of day and weather conditions. Here are a few scenarios:
a. Bright sunny, blue bird sky conditions with little wind: Bass can still be feeding but their willingness to chase down hard, faster moving baits may be minimized. When anglers refer to fish having a smaller strike zone, it means you need to plop your bait down real close to the fish. To do this, choose soft, plastic, natural-looking baits and work them slowly. For smallmouth, make super long casts because if they see you or your boat you can easily spook them. Brown or pumpkinseed coloured tube jigs are good when you want a bottom presentation. Drop shot with VMC Tungsten weights and VMC Spinshot hooks and a minnow or goby-imitating plastic when the bait should be just off bottom. Be sure to try the super finesse Neko Rig for Simcoe’s large or smallmouth bass this summer! One hard bait exception worth trying is the Storm Arashi Spin Bait — an ideal finesse-type lure for calm conditions. Let the fish decide which is best — have them all rigged.
For largemouth, shorter casts with a more weedless soft plastic presentation to heavy cover may be in order – like a Texas rigged plastic worm or wacky rigged stick worm with a weedless VMC hook. I wear dark blue tinted Rapala Fishing glasses with UV protection to allow me to spot bass from a distance during these conditions.
b. Overcast, windy conditions: This is when the strike zone is usually larger and bass can be more willing to chase down hard-bodied lures that are worked much quicker than soft plastics. My number one go-to is a Rapala X Rap Jerkbait. Its erratic, dying minnow-type action draws smallmouth from great distances in Simcoe’s clear waters. If bass are a little deeper but still on a jerkbait bite, the newer RipStop Deep models are the ticket. I’ll be adding the new VMC bladed treble hook to both this summer for even greater appeal. Terminator spinnerbaits and Rapala’s DT (Dives To) crankbait models can cover the basics at various depths. This is when amber coloured fishing glasses are best.
c. Early morning and dusk periods: Usually the waters calm down during these times and bass often move shallower and are actively on the prowl for unsuspecting prey. My number one presentation during this time is to use top water baits. The Rapala X Pop is hard to beat for a popping bait, whereas the Storm Skitter Walk allows you to cover water a little quicker. In pencil reeds, try a terminator Buzzbait for largemouth.
5 Try some new tackle: Thanks to Normark Canada based out of Oshawa, a completely new line of tackle for the Canadian angler is now available from “13 Fishing.” Much of it is very applicable to bass fishing Lake Simcoe. For instance, their high-end revolutionary Concept Zero baitcasting reels have zero ball bearings and remarkably allow you to cast significantly further with fewer backlashes than a standard baitcaster.
For the super clear waters of Simcoe, when coupled with their new Omen rods, where extra-long casts can make the difference between reaching spooky smallmouth or not, these can be a game-changer. Lures like their Loco 13 suspending jerkbaits, Pathfinder weedless topwater, Churgo and BAMP Shad swimbaits and Vertigo minnow drop shot baits should all be real bass pleasers. The odd sounding plastic “My Name’s Jeff’ on a Tokyo rig is showing incredible promise for Simcoe’s bass.
Wil Wegman, winner of many fishing and writing awards including a 2017 National Recreational Fisheries Award, has been writing Lake Simcoe Living’s Hooked on Fishing column since Day One. His website is wilwegman.com