LAKE HERRING (CISCO) (Coregonus artedi)

See also: Yellow Perch, Lake Trout, Northern Pike and Burbot

Lake herring (Coregonus artedi), often referred to as cisco, are a vital and ecologically significant fish species in Lake Simcoe. They play a crucial role in the lake's ecosystem as both a prey and predator species. Lake herring are a forage fish, forming the base of the food chain by consuming zooplankton and algae. In turn, they serve as a primary food source for larger predators such as lake trout and whitefish. These slender, silver fish inhabit the cold, deep waters of Lake Simcoe and are known for their schooling behavior, making them an intriguing target for both anglers and researchers. While they are not typically sought after by anglers due to their small size, their presence and abundance in the lake are essential for maintaining the overall health and balance of the aquatic ecosystem in Lake Simcoe. 

The MNRF has re-opened the Lake Herring fishery (in 2015) after being closed for 13 years as the population was in a steady decline due to over harvest, invasive species and decreasing water quality.  Due to an increase in water quality conditions and closing the season to allow the populations to recover, there has been a positive trend in lake herring numbers, thus the reason the season was re-opened. The Lake Herring population has played an important role providing a major food source for several species of sport fish, as well as a significant recreational fishery. 

Biology: Lake herring, a pelagic species, predominantly inhabit the midwater zone of coldwater lakes, and their characteristic schooling behavior is notable. They exhibit seasonal migrations to shallower waters in late fall, primarily for spawning purposes. Spawning typically occurs when water temperatures dip below 40°F, taking place in water depths ranging from 3 to 10 feet and over various types of bottom substrates. The hatched eggs give rise to young herring in early spring. While their diet primarily consists of zooplankton and insect larvae, they also feed on fish eggs, larvae, and smaller fish. Lake herring hold a significant place in the food web as prey for various predatory species, particularly lake trout, emphasizing their ecological importance.

Ontario Angling Record: The largest Lake Herring documented in Ontario was captured on May 22, 1991, from Corrine Lake. This remarkable specimen weighed 4.33 pounds, measured 23.5 inches in length, with a girth of 12.7 inches, and was caught using a jig and worm.

Lake Simcoe Size Range: Lake herring in Lake Simcoe typically average around 1 pound in weight.

Recommended Equipment: For anglers targeting lake herring, an ultra-light action ice rod paired with a 500-1000 size spinning reel, spooled with 2 to 6-pound braid, monofilament, or fluorocarbon line is recommended, providing the necessary sensitivity and control for this species.

Recommended Baits: Baits that have proven effective for catching lake herring are similar to those used for yellow perch. Small minnow-type baits, spoons, small jigs, and small emerald shiners are all successful choices for enticing these fish.

Depth Range: Lake herring display a versatile habitat preference, occupying water depths ranging from 10 feet to well over 100 feet. They can be encountered at various levels within the water column, from swimming near the lake bottom to suspended beneath the ice. Often seen in substantial schools, it's not uncommon for fish finders to illuminate with a flurry of herring activity when a school is in the vicinity.

Current Lake Simcoe Regulations: Anglers should be aware of the specific regulations governing lake herring fishing in Lake Simcoe. The open season for lake herring extends from January 1 to March 15, with a secondary season starting from the second Saturday in May and running through September 30. Under a Sport License, anglers are allowed a daily limit of 2 lake herring, while a Conservation License permits a daily limit of 1 lake herring, with these regulations designed to ensure responsible and sustainable angling practices.

Lake Herring are commonly mistaken for Lake Whitefish. The key distinguishing characteristic  – a Lake Whitefish has a pronounced under slung mouth (bottom feeder type mouth) whereas a Lake Herring does not. 

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