Icing Whitefish - The Other Hardwater Species
Last year was the first time that I had a chance to fish on the ice for whitefish and I was really excited, as Don McCaw from Ice Guidez informed me that he was onto lots of great fish. Lonnie King and I planned to meet Don in a parking lot on the shore of Lake Simcoe, and then head out onto the ice with snowmobiles. Don is a very unique guide on Lake Simcoe, as he guides using a GPS and snowmobiles with portable ice huts in tow. This affords Don the ability to be able to cover all the best water with his clients in a single day of fishing and stay on the fish as they move. He provides snowmobiles; portable ice huts; heaters; bait; rods; tip-ups; and pretty much everything you need to have a great day on the ice. When Don told me that I didn’t need to take anything with me other than my fishing licence and warm cloths, I was impressed. I did, however, opt to take along a couple of rods that I had already rigged up the night before, and I was all primed for whitefish action. Don wheeled into the parking lot in his big SUV and impressive trailer early in the morning and didn’t waste any time moving the sleds and portable ice huts off the trailer for us. There were four of us heading out on the ice: Don; his friend Bob; Lonnie and I, and we all got to drive our own sled. After a brief synopsis on what Don had in store for us, we headed off to the first spot.
We set up on the top of a deep reef in 35-feet of water where the whitefish normally stage early in the morning. Since it was fairly mild and we were in ‘search mode’, we didn’t set up the huts, rather just drilled holes and set out our lines. We didn’t have any hits on top of the reef, which was unusual for early morning, so we headed off to another one of Don’s waypoints at the edge of the reef to try our luck in 55-feet of water. This was a good move, as I had the first hit of the day within 5-minutes of setting up. I was ecstatic as I fought my first feisty whitefish on the ice. I had no idea just how powerful these fish were until that moment when my spinning reel screamed as the fish took drag. After a few more runs and powerful headshakes, I iced my very first whitefish of almost 5-pounds.
It didn’t take long to get into my second whitefish, only 10-minutes later, on the same jig and in the same spot. I had a hard time believing I had just caught two whitefish in such a short period of time after hearing just how difficult it is to normally catch whitefish. Many people commonly only catch a couple in an entire day of fishing, and I already had two within 10-minutes. My expectations for the day were already met, thanks to Don’s whitefish expertise, but that was just the beginning of the banner day that was ahead of us. Over an 8-hour period, four of us hooked well over 20 whitefish and a few lake trout on just three of Don’s numerous spots. With a two-fish limit on Lake Simcoe per angler for conservation, we released most of the fish we caught and kept two each for dinner. I did pick up on Don’s technique rather quickly with jigging, as I hooked about 10 fish myself – something that I didn’t think was even a possibility. I believe that my set-up with my jigging rods, as per Don’s instructions for rigging, was a major key to my success and I’m glad I took his advice.
Don believes in using a medium to medium-heavy action ice rod from 28- to 32-inches in length with a spinning reel spooled up with 6-pound test. I had my success with a Rapala 32-inch medium-heavy rod spooled up with 8-pound Maxima Perfexion line. I chose 8-pound Perfexion line because it is extremely strong and has the diameter of other lines that are approximately 5-pound test. This allows for more movement, causing the jig to act more naturally. The jigs Don likes are Bad Boyz, Little Foxee or Hump Back Creepers, which are weight forward lead jigs with a single hook at the rear. He then tips the jigs with a micro tube without using any real bait. He does however, add a little of his secret scent inside the tube. Don advised me to allow the jig to sink to the bottom and start jigging with a moderate motion, allowing the bait to pause intermittently. This proved to be the most effective presentation that day by far, although we did get several fish on his unique handmade tip-ups.
Don learned of a great tip-up technique on Lake Nippissing and transferred it to Lake Simcoe for whitefish and lake trout with great success. I was instantly glued into the spring portion of the door stop. At the end of the dowel, there is a metal loop inserted with an opening for the line to be placed through and placed over the ice hole. intrigued with this hockey stick and door stopper contraption he called a tip-up, as I have never seen anything like it before. I asked a lot of questions about this distinctive tip-up as I helped Don set up and clear holes. The main body of the tip-up consisted of a hockey stick cut to size with a spool mounted on the side to hold line. A door stop spring was mounted on the top of the small piece of hockey stick where it is cut at a 45 degree angle, and then a dowel is inserted and
At the business end of the 6-pound test line, is a size 4 or 6 Gamakatsu octopus hook with an egg sinker placed about 18-inches up from the hook and put in place with a small split shot. A large emerald shiner is then hooked in a very unique spot through the lateral line close to the caudal peduncle (near the tail). The shiner and egg sinker is then let down to the bottom, with the spool of line just tight enough to be keep the line taught and the dowel of the tip-up almost at a 45 degree angle. When a fish sucks in the minnow, it doesn’t feel the weight or the line, as the light spring and dowel has lots of give allowing the fish to suck in the bait completely before feeling any resistance. This also allows a great visual to the angler when the brightly painted dowel moves down, and allows some time to rush over and set the hook before the fish feels anything abnormal. Whitefish are commonly a very skittish fish, and if they feel anything foreign, they will spit out the shiner before the hook is set with a common tip-up rig.
Don has learned that whitefish like to move onto the top of deep reefs that rise off the bottom several feet early in the morning to search for food. As the morning wears on, the fish move to the edges of the reef a little deeper, and then eventually move out further into the main basin of the lake by late morning. Whitefish will not sit in one area for very long, but can be coaxed into staying a little longer if a variety of baits are set out in a small area. Whitefish typically keep moving around in the main basin of the lake in schools, and is one of the main reasons for Don’s high success rate with his portability. Anglers in fixed huts must wait for an active school of whitefish to pass under their huts, hoping that a few schools of fish will swim by in a day of fishing, limiting their success. Don is also a big believer in quality sonar units on the ice to see if the whitefish are around a certain area, and to work the jigs more efficiently when the fish are under him. The electronics are also effective to understand if the whitefish are in an active or negative mood, as he can adjust his presentation accordingly.
After such a fantastic experience on the ice for whitefish with Don, I am incredibly excited about spending more time for this not-so-popular species in the winter months in the future. Don’s knowledge on the ice, his unique method of putting clients on fish and his concern for safety all make a trip with Ice Guidez a must for any hard-water enthusiast.
Aaron Shirley is the Host of Surely Fishing TV - freelance outdoor writer and photographer. Be sure to check out his website www.surelyfishing.ca for informative in depth fishing articles, blog, video tutorials with tips and trick for a variety of fish species. Be sure to subscribe to his SURELY FISHING TV channel on youtube for excellent technical videos for a variety of fish species throughout the province.