Wednesday, 29 January 2014

They Keep Calling Me Back

Out of bed minutes before my alarm was set, my body craved a few more hours of sleep, but the perch were calling. Kettle going and tea leaves in the thermos, I put the layers of clothes needed to stay warm in our harsh winter on, before the water had come to a boil. I was outside waiting for my ride with plenty of time to spare, excited as ever for another chance at some jumbo perch.

On the road with a few hours before dawn and my morning mocha from Hortons was worse than dish water, leaving a bitter taste that I couldn't get rid of for hours. The roads, at least on our side of them, were reasonably decent as we had just received about ten centimeters of snow and the plows were out in full force. As usual the conversation on our two and a half hour drive was filled with tactics and strategies, until we came across an abandoned truck half on the meridian and half on the passing lane of the perimeter highway. Accident avoided with no clue who to call, we pressed on, only to come across a hitch hiker thirty kilometers later in the pure darkness and blowing snow, no light or reflective clothing.

We made it to our destination with time to spare before sunrise, we were the first folks out as usual and loaded up the plastic sled with our gear and pushed on. The three to five foot snow drifts felt like mountains with all the weight in the sled but luckily the wind had died down and it wasnt as cold as was predicted. After a grueling walk we made it to where we wanted to try, we had to dig down to the ice to be able to drill all the way through. It was over three feet thick!!!  We quickly set up the shelter for a home base as the wind was to pick up again, and got to fishing.

I decided I was going to dead stick a minnow tail on a 1/16th chartreuse jig half a foot off the bottom and as I was setting my slip bobber up a fish had hit before I was done. This repeated itself for the first thirty minutes, one after another up came 7-10 inch perch, I didn't even have time to get working my other lures on my main line.  With the initial flurry of a school of eater perch slowing down, I was able to get working some tried and tested lures to call in the big girls.

It was around this time that most others were making it out onto the lake on foot or sled and within two hours of the sun rising we were surrounded in all directions, pop up shelters, with one as close as 15 feet. If I can hear your conversations, you are probably too close. This lake isn't small, there's hundreds and thousands of square feet of ice to drill through and setting up that close to others is only hampering your chances at fish and numbers. We had planned on the shelter as a home base and to do some running and gunning before the wind picked up but seeing as how we were surrounded, that was now impossible.

None the less we carried on fishing and were confident that our lures and techniques would shine, and that they did. All morning my dead stick float was getting sucked under and I was nailing the perch, the occasional tap of my finger on the float would usually trigger a strike. On top of that my go to lindy darter did not disappoint with a nice 14 inch perch landed and released using it. The first pike of the day was landed sometime before noon and with half our shelter an inch or two deep in water it made for some entertainment when it made it up the hole. It felt the water and splashed and thrashed all over making a real mess inside before being sent back to fight another day.

Not being able to hop holes outside we were forced to try many different lures and combinations, tricking already weary fish into smacking a different offering. If a noisy lure caught their attention but didn't tickle their fancy there was always a good chance it would slam the dead stick or someone else's lure. These are the times I like to have a 3rd and 4th rod rigged and ready to throw down with smaller presentations like a dropper rig or a small tungsten jig tipped with something smelly.

As the afternoon wore on the perch seemed to get picky and I would have to wait longer before setting the hook on the dead stick. I only figured it out after missing about twenty bites, I found it weird how they could go from being so aggressive to very timid and cautious, but credited the weather change and our lack of finding fresh schools to that as well. We fished on until we were some of the last folks on the ice and with thirty minutes before dark packed up and trekked back to our vehicle. On the way we came across a pair pulling a sled smaller than ours but almost as full and one of them looked worse off then me having to stop and rest every hundred feet or so. On that note I hope my fishing pictures are cigarette free by 2015!!

The day ended up being a great time, I was able to bring home a good feed of perch, we each fought at least one feisty pike on light action and didn't lose any lures. Sadly Jay still didn't land his sumo but the days events made up for it with steady action and a few laughs. In the parking area we happened to chat with the anglers that were fifteen feet from us and they caught 8 perch biggest 15 inches. We said fishing was good our way, not telling them how many were iced in our tent. Eight perch, I thought to myself, they would never know that just fifteen feet away fishing was eight times better than what they experienced.

As the days get longer the perch get hungrier, the way the weather is going, the ice will keep getting thicker. They keep calling me back, I just don't know how many more trips are realistically left for me and this lake for the season.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Catching, Not Fishing

This post is titled "Catching, Not Fishing" and here's why. A good friend of mine has had his fishing time significantly cut lately and most of our trips to the local lake had not been worth the effort. He was tired of fishing and needed to do some catching, so we decided to target some perch at a lake where we had landed some sumos last ice season. I had been there a few days earlier with decent success, so I was confident we would do some catching.

With the snow crunching beneath our feet, beards and eyebrows icing up with every breath, we were trekking across what felt like a frozen wasteland. Our goal was a small feed of perch and perhaps a football to catch and release, and knowing what lurked below the three plus feet of ice and snow was motivation enough to keep pushing on.

With the sun breaking the horizon and temperatures below -30 (which has been the case for most of this season so far), heat and shelter were the priority. We set up shop not far from where I had fished days earlier, a good number of perch were caught that day with the biggest being fifteen inches, about ten or so pike were caught as well, some hooked so badly they had to be retained making for a good meal. That success was why I was back. Not many people look at perch as a trophy fish but I truly do, as well as the two anglers I was with this day.
The auger cut through the ice giving us six holes in a shack formation and our pop up shelter was up in a flash. Within thirty seconds of dropping a lure down below, Jay had his first perch on the ice, a nice eleven inch eater. The action wasn't non stop, but as the schools came through you'd better hope you had at least one line down there. We had about eleven feet of water below the ice, with most of the fish in the bottom two feet., the occasional pike swimming at six feet.

As is usually the case at this lake I needed to miss more than a few bites before my first solid hook up. A thick red mark showed up at six feet on the flasher and I raised my lure just above it, wham came the tell tale strike of a pike. The other two anglers reeled up their lines quickly as to avoid tangles and snags beneath us, it's common with the peeling runs of these 24 - 32 inchers on ultra lite or lite tackle to go where they want at first. After an enjoyable battle I finally forced the pike up the hole where we were able to get the hook out and send it back on its way.

Temperatures made running and gunning impossible so we fired up the heater and hunkered down knowing that we couldn't stay on the school but would be warm waiting for them to come back by. And that they did. Frodo seemed to be out fishing Jay and I at least 3 to 1, easily catching and releasing 10 perch to my first three fish. He was using a few different set ups, one of which was a dropper rig, I plan on using one in the future. I was using a larger lure trying to target the sumos and because of my ultra lite rod lacking a bit of backbone, (it's great for gills and crappie however) I was missing some hook sets with some solid marks. Next time I will try a light rod with a sensitive tip but more backbone.

All in all it was a great day on the ice with many lures and baits tried, most all of them successful in one way or another. We fished from sun up to sun down, less pike than my previous trip, but more perch, which is what we were there for any way. A couple 13 inch perch were the biggest of the day and they were sent back down to grow some more.

The thing that made this lake rare is that the perch community had a long time to develop before they were noticed - including by Fisheries Branch. Given the abundant food source and large predators, some individuals in this population are larger than what is achieved in some lakes. The word got out a few years back on the good numbers and huge sizes and it's been getting hit hard, with 9 out of 10 "trophy" sized perch caught being retained to eat by anyone lucky enough to catch one. Not us though, anything above twelve inches and usually below nine gets sent back, and if anyone does want to keep some, it's nowhere near the limit of 25 in our southern region.