Slowing Down to Speed Things Up!
Jigs and similar type lures have worked wonderfully well this ice fishing season - as they do most winters - across all of Northern Ontario. And for a wide range of fish species, too, including walleyes, yellow perch, black crappies, lake trout, northern pike and whitefish.
But, jigs have a problem, and ironically, it is their name.
You see, most anglers tie on jigging-type lures to the ends of their ice fishing lines and then, well, they jig them. And if that doesn't produce a big Lake Simcoe jumbo perch, Mattagami Lake walleye, Lake Temagami lake trout, Ranger Lake speck or Rainy Lake crappie, well, they jig them some more.
And it works, from as soon as the ice is safe enough to travel upon in early winter until about right now, when we're entering the "dreaded February doldrums" and you need to change the way you fish.
Indeed, what I find so ironic about the supposed seasonal slowdown is that last weekend, while ice fishing for walleyes on Lake of the Woods in Sunset Country, my daughter Jennifer, grandson Liam and I enjoyed the fastest action of the season.
As a matter of fact, Jenny caught a fish the first time she dropped her silver Syclops spoon down the hole and the fishing remained so consistently active until sunset that Liam phoned me every single afternoon this week as soon as he was off the school bus and into the house. He has been anticipating even more of the same on Saturday and Sunday.
So, talk about the seasonal-slowdown-"bark" being worse than the "bite".
The real problem with the mid-winter doldrums theory, however, is that many anglers fail to take into consideration the fact that while winter looks like one consistent season above the ice, it is much more dynamic, below it.
In fact, I always think of "first ice" in late November and early December as the end of the fall fishing calendar period. It is why I've preached for years that the best way to enjoy immediate hard water success right across Northern Ontario is to go back to the same spots where you left the fish when you put the boat to bed for the winter.
But, that was two months ago, and this is today. By February, the walleyes, perch, crappies and pike have finally consolidated and are resting - en mass - in their winter home ranges.
Something else that few ice anglers take into account is the fact that most fish loose weight over the winter because they consume relatively little fuel, while burning plenty to stay alive. Some species like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and muskies even enter a state of torpor, or near hibernation, while their walleye, perch and crappie counterparts put the engine into neutral to conserve nourishment.
Thick ice has also, for many weeks now, acted as an efficient barrier, separating the water below it from the air above it. This means that the only oxygen available to the fish is what was recharged and replenished during fall turnover.
Think of being locked up for two months now in an airtight room and you'll get an idea of what the fish are experiencing.
And it is even worse if the ice formed early on your favourite lake and turnover was "incomplete".
But here is the good news, where there is a will there is always a way. And with jigging-type lures - leadheads, spoons, lipless cranks and metal body baits - it is a combination of either jigging them gently or not moving them at all.
Again, last weekend was a great case in point.
For the past month or so we've been knocking the walleyes on their collective noses by rather vigorously jigging a silver Mepps Scyclop spoon tipped with minnow head and a Rapala Snap Rap also adorned with the noggin' of a minnow. On the weekend, however, the secret was to drop the lures down the holes, lift them up and down gently once or twice and then let them sit totally motionless. And when you thought you needed to jig the bait again, it paid to resist the temptation.
Honest truth, the lure hanging motionless in the water column, one or two feet off the bottom, attracted more big 'eyes and jumbo yellow perch than did moving it. In fact, the walleyes and perch viewed a moving lure with total distain, while they rose up slowly to inspect the dead still chunk of heavy metal.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anglers who enjoy fishing at high noon in the heat of summer when a similar dead stick approach is equally effective.
In both seasons, you're playing to the lethargic mood of the fish, which is a ho-hum, take it or leave it attitude. And it is why, for the next month or so, no matter where you fish across Northern Ontario, it is best that you forget they're call "jigging lures".
For more information on fishing in Ontario visit www.northernontario.travel
To begin planning your next Canadian excursion, visit our Adventure Match to find the perfect lodge to suit your personal fishing or hunting preferences.
Author bio: Gord Pyzer is well-known in Canadian fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer because of his work for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. He's now one of Canada's top fishing communicators and a member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. Gord is a two time winner of Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Presidents Cup and is an internationally sought speaker, tournament angler and co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi.
JOIN THE FISHULO TEAM!
Ice Road Truckin'
Hallowed Grounds of Lake Simcoe