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On the ice, in the dark

March 30, 2015

As dusk fell on Lake Simcoe’s icy expanse, the moon’s silvery glow began to take hold. The wind calmed and an absolute silence settled in its place only to be broken, yet again, by the roar of my Jiffy auger.

The night was approaching and I was back, drilling another hole, in search of a fish that had captivated my late ice fishing endeavors. Just as I had feared, the burbot hole I had frequented for the past two seasons had been closed for ice fishing. So there I was, in the middle of Lake Simoce, with new-found hunger to replicate burbot fishing at its finest.

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Paying keen attention to the bottom return of my graph, I watched it swell with a slow, steady confidence. The swell lingered and I slowed my jig to but a quiver and then to a stop. Then came the all too familiar slurp and the unmistakable fight up to the hole. I was shaking with excitement to have landed my first Lake Simcoe burbot.

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After some hooting and hollering, I was back at it to find some more.

That night, I would go on to get two more onto the ice, and loose another.

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The fishing was slow, and the burbot demanded drilling a lot of new holes to find them. Regardless, that night I felt like I had made up for what was otherwise a lackluster ice season on Simcoe riddled with some picky whitefish here and some blank screens there.

In the wake of cautioning early ice reports and some scary stories, I had started my Simcoe season plenty late on the 3rd weekend of January.

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I began with what had worked the previous year, only to find mostly blank screens and refusing fish. I still managed one whitefish that day, but that first trip set the tone for the rest of my whitefish hunt this year.

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After a few trips in, my record was looking grim. The fish I hooked fairly would get stuck on the rough under-ice and unbutton themselves. Eventually, I had iced more whitefish hooked outside the snout or in the pectoral fin than I had iced fairly. I questioned what was leading these fish to swim into my nearly stationary presentation and entangle themselves. I was marking the fish, they just really didn’t want to bite.

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On the plus side, the fish I was catching fairly were absolutely pristine naturals:

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In late February, I was invited to fish a friend’s (mostly) private lake that had been known to hold brook trout. The first of the two mornings, I fished a featureless basin in about 15 fow with a jigging rap and managed two small brookies. The second of the two mornings, I followed Eli’s advice to fish shallow. I managed two more fish, but one of them was a better size and my new PB for a brook trout.

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After this brief brookie intermission, it was back to Simcoe. It wasn’t until late in the season that I intercepted my first lake trout of 2015. This was followed by another on a subsequent trip, but I was fishing mostly for picky marks on the graph at this point and not actually expecting anything to bite.

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By this time, March had rolled around and I was planning a trip to last year’s burbot spot only to discover that we were no longer permitted to ice fish on the spot. It was back to the burbot drawing board, and some gains came from this fresh start. While I did not find the numbers, what I did find was substantially more substantial. I found some bigger burbot!

Before I could get to work on the Simcoe burbot, Ken and I took a roadtrip to upstate New York to meet Eli’s friend and roughfishing legend, MikeB.  We would hopefully witness his lifer catch of a chain pickerel. We accomplished just this, and then some more.

A few hours in, I hooked a fish that took me on a few spirited runs. We were fishing a weedline in 12 feet of water on a shallow, weed-choked lake. When this came through the hole, I absolutely lost my mind. Needless to say after a season of tough whitefishing on Simcoe this was the last thing I expected to come busting out the hole.

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I started screaming “Whitefish! Whitefish!” atop my lungs when Eli came over and corrected me by pointing out the upturned mouth. It was a lake herring, a cisco! It was an absolutely massive cisco!

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We were all at a loss as to how to explain this catch and deemed it a fluke. However, a few hours later another one, this one even bigger, appeared reluctantly from below. At this point, all of my whitie woes had been washed away.

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And if two jumbo cisco out of a weed-choked lake wasn’t crazy enough, Ken and I both hooked up within seconds of each other leading to what is probably the world’s first double header of chain pickerel and cisco.

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Insanity aside, we packed up the car and headed back to Toronto. The next day I would set out on the burbot hunt.

And so I found msyelf where I began this post. As March progressed, I revisited this spot and was able to replicate the burbot.

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As the 15th approached, Ken and I pulled a two-nighter, camping out on the tried spot. We managed two burbot, two lakers, and one whitefish. Clearly the lakers and whities wanted very little to do with me this season.

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As the 15th past, Ken and I set our sights on another lake for whitefish and burbot. Two days later and one whitefish on the ice, we hadn’t found our new burbot hole yet.

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As the ice season began to fade away into spring, with two mid-week days off, I decided to follow a lingy tip from Eli. I had a depth chart for the lake but absolutely no gps coordinates.

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Over 50 Jiffy’d holes later, I had a general idea of where I wanted to be fishing. Still, the burbot were off the spawn and demanded mobility and hole-hopping in order to get caught.

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I have noticed in the past that burbot can cruise in from a few feet above the bottom. What surprised me on this lake was that the majority of the burbot I caught were cruising down from as much as 10 feet off the bottom.

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I’m looking forward to nailing down the spawn on this new body of water. Hopefully, with time, we’ll be back on ‘em.

Looking back, this 2015 ice season was neither simple nor commensurately rewarding.  It was a head-scratcher of endless drilling that added a lightweight auger to my 2016 gear wishlist.  However, it did point to new beginnings and new adventures that I will continue next year. After all, this is fishing we are talking about.  Bring on the ling!

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