This annual event with a $10,000 guarantee first place prize, takes place in Cooks Bay out of “Keffers” off Raynards Road in Keswick. Cooks Bay is one of the most heavily fished areas of the lake … and other than the occasional pike angler, almost all the angler effort is targeted towards yellow perch. Many believe this is why you generally find far more small perch here … as too many anglers are still apt to upgrade their catch and keep only the biggest ones for the fry pan. Still, having said that – some of the lake’s most amazing jumbo-king’s still reside here amongst all their smaller brethren and today my quest was to find out where these wily ol goats hang out within the general area where I would guess the organizers of the Lake Simcoe Ice Fishing Championships will put us come Sunday February 18, 2018.
I began at dawn and started off shallow (12’) hoping to catch some active fish with a Slab Grabber. Didn’t happen … only real small ones. I tried 17, and then 20 and then well off the drop into 30 and 35. Small fish everywhere. Despite the 15-18” of beautiful black ice I could save time and effort drilling holes by placing the transducer of my Lowrance Elite unit directly on the black ice. This would give me a perfect depth reading. Now if only I could find a preferred depth I’d be able to develop a pattern searching that depth out easily and efficiently. Note, this tactic does not work with white ice … which has far too much air and slush mixed in to give you a good reading … and there was some of that out there.
The transducer on Wil’s Lowrance Elite 5 could easily read thru 15 inches of black ice to save him drilling in depths he was not confident in.
With over a dozen HT rods rigged up and ready to go with a wide variety of baits, line sizes and types (mono and braid) … not wasting time trying to figure out what to use and then retie was particularly important. So too was covering as much hard water as possible … from way out to almost mid-bay, to in close, to off on the north and south sides … at least that was the game plan at first but by day’s end I still didn’t cover as much as I had hoped.
Finally I started getting into some bigger perch but nowhere near the size I knew it would take to win. Still, those 10 inchers were better than the six’s I was getting earlier. I tried to figure out their mood and soon realized they were easily tempted well off bottom. I’d tease them up easily with the Slab Grabber from 30 feet to 15 – but it was very difficult to make them hit there that day. Others this can be deadly! I grabbed a lighter HT ice blue rod with a Tungsten Marmooska tipped with an HT Ice Scentz biodegradable grub and tried to duplicate the same behavior … and not only did it work but it actually caught far more fish. “Ok … that might help come tournament time,” I figured.
Although my portable Elite unit has a full sized Navionics map that I often turn on while I’m travelling from one spot to the other … Today I chose to follow my old hand help GPS with built in mapping instead … following contours and looking for anything that looked fishy. The old Keffers hump looked very inviting … with depth topping out at 12’ and surrounded by 30-35’ … it offered perch a respite off the sides and a full-fledged smorgasbord of aquatic plants and forage up top. I spent well over an hour there … drilling more than 15 holes around that one hump alone. Some ok fish … but mostly the loosing big money kind.
My quest continued as I headed south, turned on my GPS … and low and behold found some of my old waypoints off in the distance. I thought what the hell- and headed over towards them. Along route, I drilled a few quick holes spent my customary 10 minutes in each and then moved on. EVERYWHERE HELD FISH! The sheer numbers of small perch in this lake and especially this bay never ceases to amaze me and with almost every hole they were waiting for me on my first drop! By 11 am I had given up on the hard baits and was focussing more on soft natural ones … nailing it down to three that were producing the most of those 10 inchers:
- HT Tungsten Marmooska and Fish Scentz Grub
- HT Alien Jig with Fish HT Scentz Nymph
- HT Golden Nugget jig with small plastic minnow bait
Wil’s pre-fishing arsenal could change come tournament day … but here’s what was tied on in pre fish and certainly will be among the dozen or so rods he has rigged for the big day!
When I got to my chosen area … not exactly overtop my old way points (I thought they might be too far out of the zone) I used my transducer to try and duplicate the depth where I thought most of the bigger – although not giants, were coming from. There we go … 24 feet! I drilled thru 15 inches of beautiful ice and began to set up shop. First thing first … you never get bit if your line isn’t in the water … learned that trick many years agoJ so it’s always the first thing I do. Then I slid my transducer in the hole, cleaned it out, set up my chair, grabbed my rod holder and got comfy … With just a slight breeze in my back, cloud cover but none of the predicted rain and temps just above the freezing mark … the weather was beautiful so there was no need for one of my HT Huts!
After five minutes, I knew this hole wasn’t like the others… No Fish! “Ok … I’m tired of dinks anyway … so I’ll work it for a bit and hope I can bring some of the bigger ones in”. So I did … and for once this typically impatient perch angler stuck it out a full 15 minutes before he thought of moving. But then that magical thump occurred at the 20 minute mark – right close to bottom on the Alien Jig. My Ice Blue rod with 4lb test HT red Ice line was literally doubled over and when I saw this perch’s head take up a good portion of the 5 inch hole – I knew it was easily my best of the day! At 14 inches, it certainly was. I quickly dropped my bait down again, put the rod in its holder, took a couple pics, released the fish … then jumped for my rod to set hook on another jumbo! “This is more like it!” Not as big as the first but a foot long jumbo hotdog is still way better than the smaller wieners I was catching up to that point.
I switched from the Alien Jig to the Golden Nugget – thinking the larger profile would be more appealing to the larger perch – and although I got a couple good ones, they grew weary of it – I could still see them clearly on my unit but just hovering round the bait and not taking it. Interestingly enough … by now (12noon) they weren’t chasing it up anymore either … “that was a breakfast thing … not a lunch deal, dude” … is basically what they were telling me!
So, once again I switched rods … this time the Tungsten Marmooska rig and it turned out to be the hottest rig going . I’ve been using and loving HT’s Marmooska’s since the early 1990’s – almost always favoring the larger heavier ones because they sank quicker in our deeper waters than the smaller versions. But when three or four years ago HT came out with a Tungsten version … I knew they were cooking with bacon! Why? Because once you get a perch or two going within a larger school … your success often hinges on how quickly you can return a bait in front of their faces after you catch your last one. To unhook and drop back down lickity-split is absolutely critical to success – snooze you loose and they can and often do move on if you diddle-dawdle. Tungsten is 30% heavier than lead and is also 70% denser. With this in mind, tungsten jigs are able to be made smaller and still offer the same weight and feel to the angler. What I like about HT’s versions is that they chose to still make the same large dimension sized Tungsten Marmooska’s as they did their standard lead … so they really sink like a bullet in deep water back to marauding perch before they even consider vacating the premises below.
So, although it was still a couple of days until the derby … the old bass tournament angler adage of ‘not stinging too many of your fish in pre-fish’ ran thru my head … and I chose to save the spot on both my Elite and hand held units and blow that pop stand in favor of another that would hopefully yield the same pleasing results. I went to grab my rod, dropped the jig on bottom, and slowly lifted it up when gradually my rod began to double over – hmm… weed? “Oh no … it’s a fish!” I reeled in steady … thinking maybe it wasn’t even a big jumbo but a small whitefish or something else … until I got it closer to the hole. “Yellow and orange … Bars!” Oh my what a beauty as I pulled it near the hole … and tried to guide it thru. I had a good look and saw it was definitely bigger than my 14 incher and had no sooner said that when slack line was upon me. Darn!
Still feeling extremely confident in that spot … and wanting to stay … I forced myself to move on. I fished for another three hours that afternoon – at first trying to duplicate that magical 24 foot mark and then zig zagging in and out from 20-30 feet hoping for more magic. But alas it was not to be … in fact even most of the smaller perch had developed lock jaw on this side of what may be the zone come Sunday… So I packed up all my stuff, made the trek off the ice and prayed that one spot would be within the zone Sunday February 18 for the Lake Simcoe Ice Fishing Championship!
We shall see what happens tournament day - hopefully stay tuned for a happy part two to this article in the near future!
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Wil Wegman is an award winning outdoor writer who has fished Lake Simcoe winter perch for more than 35 years. He was a member of Team Canada at the World Ice Fishing Championship in 1991, has several top ten finishes in the Canadian Ice Fishing Championships, won the Perch Attack and Perchin for MS Events on Lake Simcoe. He’s twice won the Bill Bond Memorial Award for his dedication to conserving and promoting the fishery of Lake Simcoe and in 2017 he was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame and won the National Recreational Fisheries Award and the Rick Morgan Professional Conservation Award.