What does it take to land on good perch fishing spots on ice?
Can you say "location" three times?
Skip the first two and just keep moving. As the ice season progresses, moving to the right location helps fill buckets with rotund ringbacks.
That's the lesson learned Wednesday after heading to the eastern shores of Lake Simcoe for a near-shore sally in search of perch.
Steve Barber at Steve's Fish Huts in Pefferlaw set up a trip to good perch ground between the Pefferlaw River and Duclos Point. Fishing had been good in relative shallows. Earlier, many a sizable, slab perch had come up along with the run of runts Simcoe supports lakewide.
Drive time and road conditions to the eastern shore of Simcoe have eased in recent years. The ride takes a nudge over two hours from Buffalo-area digs, but clear roads and expressways make it a smooth run.
Hut operators offer heated huts and motored transportations to the fishing spots. Steve Barber at Steve's Fish Huts operates his headquarters at the landing on Holmes Road. Barber is set up with nice gear. From the fully refurbished 1974 Bombardier to bright, new, insulated huts, his operation is neat.
First stop was to renew the Ontario fishing license ("licence" in Ontario) with Jerry Kucharchuk at the Peninsula Restaurant. Jerry, his mom, Helen, and his late dad, Steve, have a nice motel and dining setup next to the river. They also have a good handle on what's happening out on the ice.
Jack Wallace, trip coordinator at Steve's, greeted me at the desk as Wes Sheehy got anglers ready for the run out to huts. Near-shore ice has hardened to about 10-inch coverings around most shore areas.
"We have 19 huts out now," Sheehy said as we headed to a hut over 17 feet of water close to shore. Setting up close to shore may seem easier, but one look into cutouts and it was clear stuff below the ice wasn't clear. Huge chucks of "shove" or "sub-freeze" ice had to be moved out of the way before a line could be sent to the bottom.
Bottom looked good at 17 feet. The sonar screen showed all kinds of perch-like fish movement down there. They were. But the moves were belly-to-the-bottom and feeding was far from frenetic.
From an 8 a.m. start to Wes' arrival for the trip to shore, that sonar screen showed fish most of the time -- but not one fish (minnow school or predator fish) made a sonar mark separated from bottom readings.
Fish totals were high that day. My count blurred well after 50 perch hooked. But fillet-size fish were few and far between. The catch rate averaged just below 10 fish caught to each keeper.
A dozen medium-sized guys got to head home for supper, a count slightly above takes for most that day. Once home and back on electronic line, it became obvious that location matters.
Outfitters, with and without huts, were just starting to venture out to deeper waters to set up over the lake trout and whitefish grounds. Anglers can take two of each species daily, and fillets from these fish are a delicacy.
But first forays to deeper drops showed the pack of portly perch had departed to the deeps. Blog and site senders are zipping off stories and photo proof of 12- to 16-inch perch caught in limit and near-limit numbers. Anglers can possess 50 perch per day from Simcoe waters.
For details on upcoming trips with Steve's Fish Huts, check with Steve, Jack, or Wes at (888) 525-3474.
After location, gear and presentation become foremost factors. Even with a sonar screen silly with fish signs, getting fish to bite can be testy.
Yes, perch -- and most other catchable fish species -- have brains about the size of a wide spot in a human's nerve ending. But on outings similar to this past Wednesday -- full-moon days in a northeast wind -- seeing (on the sonar screen) can be grieving.
Moving is a must if a location offers no sign of fish movement. When fish show, they may be holding high or low. While fish were bottom-bumping, many perch seekers hook into hefty sizes well off bottom. Rich Davenport, a Chautauqua Lake perch pro, works 45-foot depths and reports ringbacks ranging 10 to 20 feet off bottom when feeding.
Lure preferences vary. During the nine hours I spent playing with picky perch, feeding patterns changed dramatically. First a minnow on a small jig was big. By noon, a plain minnow got all the attention. From noon to about 3 p.m. -- the peak period on the solar-lunar chart for that day -- a J- or Jack-hook did all the damage.
The J- or Jack hook is simply a small hook brazed onto a long, narrow spinner blade. Most are the willow leaf shape. Some have a bead at the base of the hook. When fish are biting, this lure works without bait. It allows for swift hook removal and a quick return to feeding fish.
When fish get finicky, a grub (mousy grubs, spikes, waxworms, or oak leaf bugs) perks up perch. During the span of J-hook dominance, they even altered preferences between waxworms and two or three spikes as a teaser.
As always, take along a variety of tackle choices, change locations and gear to improve the size and catch count, and be sure ice is solid before heading to that next hot spot.