Monster Pike topping the 30 pound mark are few and far between in most water bodies regardless of where these toothy critters roam. We know some systems routinely produce big pike while others have high populations
of hammer handle sized ones.
Lakes just to the north of many Fishing Lake Simcoe readers such as Muskoka, Vernon and Peninsula lakes for instance, regularly pump out short fat northerns in the 20-25 pound range. Other lakes closer to the GTA like Island, Canal and Lake St John fall into the 2nd category yielding high numbers of long thin pike averaging just a couple of pounds or so. Then there is that 3rd category; the lakes in between … Those that may not produce many gorgeously obese 20-25 pound brutes but they still generate all kinds of 10 pounders and have an average size well above the provincial norm. These lakes could include Couchiching, Sparrow and our beloved Lake Simcoe.
Those that may not produce many gorgeously obese 20-25 pound brutes but they still generate all kinds of 10 pounders and have an average size well above the provincial norm. These lakes could include Couchiching, Sparrow and our beloved Lake Simcoe.
Lake Simcoe … A Trophy Pike Lake?
At one time, this 725 square mile lake was indeed recognized as a true trophy pike destination. Locals and others who fished there regularly for pike had reasonable expectations of catching that magic 25 pounder. Occasionally you would even hear stories of monster size pike in the 30 to 40 pound range. Places such as the "Virginia" basin and the southern shorelines of Georgina Island were renowned both during the open and hard water seasons as "the place to be" for big Lake Simcoe northerns. Then the lake started to change. We all know that water bodies and their fish communities are in a continual state of metamorphosis. Patches of weeds that are lush and green in the summer and hold big schools of panfish are likely brown, dead and void of fish in the winter.
Off shore shoals that hold 5-7 pound smallmouth in the fall are not even worth visiting in late June or early July, because the fish just aren't there yet. Understanding these and other normal seasonal-pattern changes are critical for angler success. However … throw some non native fish into that already established fish community and, well, you've got a whole new kettle of fish. Take Lake Simcoe for example and its northern pike fishery.
Lake Simcoe Is Always Changing; Damn It!
By the early 1900's Carp became widespread and changed Lake Simcoe for ever by dominating shallow water habitat that was previously occupied by such fish as largemouth bass and to some extent even northern pike. Smelt were introduced in the 1960's and altered the forage base of many predatory fish like our northern pike. The populations of these tasty little fish skyrocketed a decade or so later but by the late 1990's had crashed to the point were they are now hardly worth the efforts of spring dip-netters. Without the smelt and subsequent crash of the native lake herring (cisco) top predators who were accustomed to gaining body mass by devouring these fatty pelagic baitfish were forced to adjust and find new, possibly less weight-enhancing food sources.
Black crappie were found in 1987 and their populations peeked a few years later to the point were they were the most abundant fish in ministry traps. As is typical with new introductions however, their numbers stabilized afterwards and these panfish are now just one of several members of the sunfish family of fishes that reside in the lake. Today there is a long list of invasive fish species, plants, and other new inhabitants that have all changed the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Simcoe. However, of all the invasive species to enter the lake, Zebra muscles have probably had the most dominant influence. These mollusks and their quaga muscle cousins filter out phytoplankton and other nutrients resulting in clearer water, increased sunlight penetration and therefore more abundant aquatic plant growth throughout the lake.
So What Do More Weeds Mean to Lake Simcoe Pike?
With all the great 'weedy habitat' available in recent years for the northern pike, you would think that this fishery would be thriving in Lake Simcoe - and you know what - it is! There are still plenty of northern pike in the lake, yet for various reasons that no one fully understands, it's more of a quantity deal now as opposed to quality. We have already mentioned that pike from Simcoe do not fall under the category of scrawny little hammer handles - in fact, some would argue that having a fishery that produces plenty of 4-8 pound northerns (pretty-well average for the lake) is much more desirable from an angling perspective then to have only small numbers of big 15-25 pounders lurking around. I guess that's what makes fishing so great though - it can be so many different things for so many different people. Some like trophies ... some just wanna get bit! Count me somewhere in the middle.
Catching Trophy Pike In Simcoe:
Recently someone erroneously reported a monster 44 pound pike caught from Lake Simcoe's Cooks Bay and even supplied the following photograph as proof. "Why, you can even see the bottom end the Bay - at the mouth of the Holland River, if you look closely", they said. And as much as I wanted to believe this to be true, something just didn't sit right. A little bit of investigation and I soon learned that this claim was all a hoax and that the same photo made the rounds up north where it was passed off as a Rainy Lake Fish. Alas, the big brute was not even from North America as it was verified to actually be a northern pike from the Gulf of Sweden.
|This truly monster sized northern pike is not even from North America however
it is every pike anglers goal to catch BIG fish - even if they are even only half the weight of this Swedish northern.
Typically there are two times of year when most 'big' pike come from Lake Simcoe - Spring and Fall. Although we may not see as many 15-20 pounders in the lake as we used to, they are still there and for the dedicated pike hunter - they can be caught and right now is possibly the finest time to chase these elusive yet cacheable fish from Simcoe. Here are five quick pointers that will help steer you in the right direction not only for that occasional 15 pounder but the many smaller 6-10's that are sure to provide you with plenty of thrilling excitement:
1. Trolling weed edges and deep breaks can be an excellent way to locate big pike. Keep in mind though that as the fall season progresses and the water cools, you need to slow your trolling speed down to almost a crawl. Big oversized spinnerbaits are great trolling overtop heavy weeds. Large crankbaits such as the Rapala Super Shad Rap are great when you are trolling the deep edge of a distinct weedline.
2. Clear water makes sight oriented predators like pike very weary of poor presentations. Fishing with your line too close to the boat can spook them, using a big wire leader can make them turn away, throwing your shadow overtop the spot you are casting to sends them the signal that you - the big manly predator that you are, is around. So be conscious of these 'new' factors that have been accentuated ever since zebra muscles infiltrated the lake. Make long casts, troll far behind the boat and watch that shadow will ya huh?
3. Look for crisp clean green weed growth. Many aquatic plants are now dying off and their brown color is a sure give away. Significant portions of weeds and often entire weebeds however continue to live long into the winter period so you can definitely still find beautiful green weeds right now. Finding concentrations of a mixture of weed types - like both coontail, native hydrilla and cabbage - is a real bonus for the fall pike hunter.
4. The deeper the weedline - or edge of a weedline, the better! It may take some doing to find a good weedy edge that abuts water 20 feet deep or more - but these trophy pike haunts are present in ample supply on Lake Simcoe. Quite likely they are not as common throughout much of their historic Georgina Island territory but you need not look too much further than the weediest section of the entire lake - Cooks Bay. Today this is where most pike fishermen congregate and for good reason - more pike are likely caught here then in the rest of the lake combined. However, I can tell you that for Fish On Line Canada readers who may want to explore some lesser fished pike lairs when the northwest winds lay still, you may want to venture a little bit north of there. Big Cedar Point, Innisfil and even way out by Fox Island there are some hidden little gems that can produce some of the biggest pike still roaming the big lake. Deep running crankbaits like Rapala's firetiger colored DT 16 are a great crank because they go deep and you can cast them a mile.
|This 8 pound Lake Simcoe northern came from a deep weedline on the last day of September/06 during rainy, windy, overcast conditions. It fell for a bright chartreuses Rapala DT 16. On calm, clear sunny days Wil prefersmore natural smelt, or perch like colors to trick big toothy critters from Simcoe.
|Pike anglers know their quarry often make last second dashes away from the boat … so be prepared!
|Grabbing pike from beside the boat can be tricky at the best of times, let alone when they hit a crankbait loaded with big treble hooks. Always be extra carefull and hold the fish firmly so you can remove the hooks as quickly and safely as possible before live release
5. Slow down even more! If traditional hard baits don't produce by either casting or trolling, you many need to revert to still fishing with plastics ... or dare I say even live bait. Find a good edge - or possibly even where you have just nailed a good pike on a deep weedline while trolling, throw a marker and work the area more thoroughly with a jig and plastic. Some of my most productive jig additions include the large size Berkley Gulp Smelt baits. Large curly tailed grubs also can be slowly crawled or bumped along bottom to entice big pike. There are those who swear by live bait presentation. Whether it's large lively chubs or oversized suckers and these are often just too darn tempting for even the finickiest pike to refuse.
|Wil with a nice … above average sized Lake Simcoe northern
So next time you are heading to Lake Simcoe for some exciting fall pike fishing action, keep in mind that the lake is always changing and that an angler who adapts to those changes is going to be the angler who continues to get bit! And, I don't care how many anglers tell me they don't really care if they don't get bit …that it's all about "just going fishing" … I say HAWGWASH, I can see your noses growing from here. Everyone loves to GET BIT - so work at it, continue to study and learn, make excuses to go fishing not, ‘not' to go and then continue to adapt - just like fish have had to.
Courtesy Fish On Line Canada