Ciscoe movements throughout Lake Simcoe

Date added:
Wednesday, 25 May 2016
Last revised:
Wednesday, 25 May 2016
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Question and Answer


Hello Wil. Thank you for your many useful information on fishing.  It has certainly helped me improve my odds.

My question is regarding ciscoe movements throughout Lake Simcoe in the spring(early/mid/late).  I understand that this is the main forage of both Whitefish and Lake Trout.  Where do they move in the spring throughout the lake, water column, do they school or spread out.

Anything to improve my odds on catching Lakers/Whitefish.  I have a boat with a Nav. chip.  I use the Williams Whitefish and Bad Boyz.  Any information to improve my hunting off these beautiful species will be appreciated.

Thank you and keep up the great work!


Hi Tony,
Thanks for your questions about forage fish for lakers and whities in Lake Simcoe.  You're on the right track in assuming that a better understanding of forage movements, means a better understanding of where these two gamefish will be during the different seasons.

So ... let's look at your questions about cisco.  They are considered a pelagic baitfish ... meaning they typically reside well off shore - and can roam mid lake wide open stretches void of structure, yet rich in zooplankton which they feed upon. The later is pretty well impossible for us to detect, basically meaning "these darn fish can be almost anywhere'.  

There are some common traits throughout the seasons that can help you to find cisco in Lake Simcoe. Early in the season just after their season opens (2nd Sat in May)... along with lakers and whities ... you can still usually find cisco relatively shallow ... adjacent or on mid lake humps, off breaks near extended points and so on.  Not surprisingly, here too you can find your lakers and whities. 

What a lot of people don't realize about cisco movements and feeding habits ... is that they don't feed on zooplankton alone ... and take they do indeed take advantage of those occasional 'flat calm days' on Simcoe in the spring, when major hatches of a variety of bugs ... like May flies etc hatch. I've seen hundreds of cisco breaking the surface feeding on various hatches - and on more than one occasion there were lake trout beneath also snatching the odd cisco.   Here's where your current choice of lures may be too limiting and you'll have to expand your arsenal. The new lifelike soft plastic swim baits ... such as those that Storm puts out can closely resemble cisco and are an excellent bait when the clear water conditions on the lake are nice and calm and you can cast  for these beautiful lake trout.   Even if the cisco are not seen breaking the surface ... using the swim bait with a 3/4 oz jig and casting it a mile ... allowing it to sink to where you're marking cisco ... can be a hot ticket!

Cisco are the classic schooling fish ... so regardless of the season, you will seldom see only one ...; almost always they are grouped together. As the season progresses, they move out deeper - not clear across the lake from their spring haunts, but they could be 1/2 km or a couple kilometres from those areas.   Here's where searching with good electronics plays  a key role.  I rely on my Lowrance Elite and HD systems to mark those fish ... and realizing that most of the time, they are suspended within the water column is important so I'm doing a lot of searching and hunting before I even drop a lure in the lake.  If you start finding cisco say at 40 feet overtop 60' ... then use your Nav Chart to find similar contours/depths and fish those.

Another effective spring time technique - both for lake trout and whitefish can be long lining ... or strolling, with bottom baits like the swimbait or tube jig ... and drag those baits wayyyy behind the boat utilizing your bow mount electric or with a drift from prevailing wind.  Key is you need to feel bottom - so this may mean that if you have a standard spinning reel that 2/3'ds of the line is in the water.   Think length of a 1/2 a football field and you'll be on the right track! 

Once you mark a school of cisco- look for those larger marks below.  Those tight to bottom are often whities, while lakers are typically off bottom. This is when you can anchor if you like and start jigging. Bad Boyz or Foxee jigs right on bottom - or the Williams spoon from bottom to anywhere in water column.   Although I've caught a pile of lakers and whites on the tried and true Williams ... there are so many others that work - when these don't - that you may need to expand your spoon collection.   I do well with the Blue Fox More Silda for instance - a much heavier more slender spoon that seldom fouls on itself.

Ok ... now that we've discussed cisco movements in relation to lake trout and whitefish ... here's the kicker.  These two fish species are not so selective that they will focus all their efforts on chasing just cisco around the lake.  Although Cisco numbers have truly exploded compared to ten years ago ... there are still plenty of other forage baitfish species around for them ... such as emerald shiners, mimic shiners, some smelt, and especially now- round goby. When lakers can't find suspended baitfish - they know the gobies are almost everywhere and will do in a pinch.

Whitefish on the other hand have made a metamorphosis during the last decade from a species that has been forced to range out of its comfort zone near bottom, to one that will look up for pelagic baitfish and chase them down.  They do occasionally still do that ... but now have re-discovered their roots and are once again sticking to their comfort zone near bottom ... why? Because two of their primary forage species reside there almost 100% of the time ... round gobies and zebra/Quagga mussels. The quagga mussel is very similar to a zebra- just a little larger, more oval shaped ... but most importantly has expanded the dreissenid mussel range way out into deep waters ... and this can be perfect gobies to expand their range (as gobies feed heavily on these mussels) and for whitefish which feed on both. Their underslung mouths are perfect for picking off darting gobies or mussels from rocks.  During the spring - check out many of the same shallow water (less than 45' say) areas that you'd catch lakers in ... and as the season progresses look  deeper - just like you would for lake trout ... but understanding that even though some big whities  will chase down and follow a cisco (and your spoon/lure) ... for the most part - mnay have been re-programmed to stick to their comfort zone near bottom ... wherever that may be on the big lake - dependant on prolific populations of mussels and gobies!

Hope this helps Tony ... and please feel free to report back with some pics if you get on em.


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