Lake Simcoe Whitefish Action – May 2010

Every year, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) stocks 140,000 whitefish into Lake Simcoe. Recently anglers have also been catching 'wild' whitefish- that reproduce naturally and are not stocked from the hatchery. For the most part the primary whitefish fishery occurs during the winter months when more people fish the lake then the other three seasons combined. However for a short window each spring an incredible opportunity has emerged that hundreds, possibly thousands of anglers are capitalizing on.

Picture a scene a few miles offshore on a calm Lake Simcoe out from communities like Jackson's Point and Willow Beach - where not just a few, but literally hundreds of boats are floating around.  In each boat there is an angler or two- maybe more often entire families - all with simple fishing rods that have a spoon tied on used to mimic an injured baitfish. These anglers of varying skill levels are aware that pods of whitefish are roaming around below them in depths ranging from 60-90 feet and one of the best methods to catch them is by just jigging that shiny spoon up and down, up and down until "thunk"- that upward motion becomes a whole lot heavier.

Fishing Boats

Whitefish on Lake Simcoe average 3-6 pounds and the open water spring fishery begins the 2nd Saturday in May until the water warms up sometime around mid-late June.  Typically, by the time bass season opens on the 4th Saturday of the month (the last fish in the lake to become fair game)  whitefish have dispersed and spread out into different areas of the lake. It then becomes much more difficult to pinpoint their location and therefore target them specifically.

Due to various other commitments and previous high winds ... I was uncustomary late this spring to venture out to the whitefish grounds on Simcoe.  My first outing was on May 22nd with my son Izaak. The weather was incredible in fact it was so calm that a bit of wind would have actually helped turn the lethargic whitefish on. It certainly would have kept the pesky gnats- flying around in hoards, at bay.  They may not bite - but surely can be aggravating - all-be-it somewhat entertaining to watch as boat after boat of anglers could be seen swatting away at them.

We found that despite the apparent lock-jaw most of the whitefish had that day there were a couple of tricks you could do to help make them bite.  One definitely was to  keep roaming until our Lowrance LMS 522 c sonar unit showed us there were fish below.

Lowrance Sonar Unit
Lowrance Sonar Unit shows the whitefish on and near bottom. Note the split screen feature
allows a close up (left side of unit) of the bottom 20 feet.

Without our underwater eyes revealing us the fish's' location - it really was difficult to expect to get bit. Most of the boats out there however were anchored - fixed to one location - hoping the fish would come to them. I'm far too impatient for that approach and used my MotorGuide electric bow mounted trolling motor to quietly manoeuvre over various depths searching for the telltale signs on my graph that told me I had a shot- no guarantees but at least a chance of trying to convince those fish below to strike my bait.

I found that the traditional spoons did not work as well.  My first fish came from one - but it was a big cisco (lake herring) - which can closely resemble a wild whitefish of the same size - but unlike the whitie does not have that telltale underslung mouth.  That cisco was quickly live released as this fish is protected with a closed season while the population rebounds from near collapse.  Fortunately - for anglers and the lake itself- this does appear to be happening as more and more cisco are being caught by anglers and detected by MNR crews monitoring the lake.

Customarily some of the best whitefish action occurs early in the day and although we were out there around sun-up it was not until after noon that we found the special spot that held a good healthy pod of whitefish.  The area was unique in that within a few long casts the bottom varied from 65 to 85 feet - and the whitefish that day found this to their liking. By noon the sun had come out and the weather  warmed but my son had already resolved himself to "not getting bit' as he lazily stretched across the seats of our Nitro bass boat soaking in the sun.  Fortunately - he didn't mind waking up once in awhile to grab the net and land a whitefish for his old man. 

Wil holding whitefish
Lake Simcoe Whitefish

Although the action appeared quite slow that day for most boats and their anglers we did see some fish caught and folks were having a great time.  Our fish came from Lil' Foxee Jigging Minnows on 6lb test Suffix Florocarbon line matched with a 6'3" R-Type spinning rod and Rapala spinning reel. Although I often like heavier line and the backbone of baitcasting equipment for whitefish and the occasional bonus lake trout out there - the tough conditions simply made the beefier tackle less productive. The jig was tipped with a small green tube jig and subtly worked on bottom with very minute up and down movements. The trick in fact was to actually not allow the bait to lift from the hard bottom and to keep the heavier nose section connected to the lake's floor.  

Lake Simcoe Whitefish in May

Later that day Izaak didn't mind devouring those delicious whitefish - along with his older brother and mother. The fat-free fillets were first sprinkled with olive oil  and then covered with Club House Salmon spice and their dill weed before being placed on the cedar plank and slow roasted over the BBQ. Served with fresh fiddleheads and a tasty rice dinner it was a perfect ending to a great day on the water.

Wil Wegman