Winter’s White Gold
If you ask any fishermen to give you their top 3 target species in the winter, I can almost guarantee you that you will get Walleye, Trout and pan fish. You may squeeze in pike on to that list as well. I can guarantee you that Whitefish will not make the list.
Now, if you ask any fishermen who fishes Lake Simcoe in the winter to name you their top 3 target species, Whitefish will most definitely be on that list – this I can guarantee! Calculating the equation, thus consistently putting “white gold” top side during the winter months can be a challenge, unless you pay attention to the finer details.
When I first started fishing Lake Simcoe some 10 years ago, I will admit that whitefish would always elude me. But, the odd time I would luck out and get a fish to hit my Williams Whitefish spoon. Now I am not a spoon man, unless there is a frozen desert involved, I would rather show them a finesse presentation and hook these Whitefish with a little coaxing. It wasn’t until I was cleaning a whitefish before I realized that my efforts would pay off if I just changed my outlook and ultimately my go-to presentations.
I always enjoy cleaning fish. In fact, I will say that I love cleaning fish. One of the things that I will do is to look into a fish’s stomach to see what they are eating which is key to success out on Simcoe. You know, match the hatch as they say. What I did discover inside the whitefish was crushed up zebra mussels and round gobies, and lots of them. The other unique thing I noticed was a tinge of brown along the whitefish’s belly, which indicated that these fish were hugging the sand flats. They were not chasing bait fish or my spoon up high in the water column and that was the answer I was looking for. Clearly whitefish are relating to and forage on bottom which was the eye opener I needed.
To fool these often elusive fish, I present baits on bottom, in the sand amongst the thousands of zebra mussels and round gobies that these Lake Simcoe Whitefish are feeding on. Minnows and gobies are a staple in the whitefish diet so the goal is to closely mimic and stand out in the crowd of the tasty snacks that abound.
Two simple presentations that get the job done are both tubes and small minnow bodied plastics. Internally weighted tubes in both white and off colored brown are very effective. As far as plastic minnow bodies, a Lake Fork Trophy Lures “Baby Shad”, “Sickle Tail Baby Shad” or “Boot Tail Baby Shad” rigged on a darter style or a football jig head also can’t be beat. Both presentations can be effectively fish on bottom enticing finicky spooky fish alike. Another piece of the puzzle is scent. For this, Liquid Mayhem “Garlic Minnow” leaves a natural scent trail that can widen the strike zone and trigger more bites along with tricking fish to hold on longer.
Gear wise I spool up with 10 pound braided line paired with an 8 pound fluorocarbon leader (a swivel for line to leader connections for tubes) I’ll start by bouncing the jig a few times on bottom to create a cloud of sand to get whitefish roaming the area interested. Once I mark a school on my electronics, I hold the jig still on bottom on a tight line and monitor the fish’s reaction on my sonar. If the fish does not hit right away, I will bounce the jig lightly on bottom once or twice and hold it still. I then watch the line closely and wait for the bite. The fish will tell you what they want and how they want it, you just need to pay attention to your electronics.
Any of these jigging methods will work on any given day, you just need to adapt to each school of fish entering your zone and experiment with the presentation. If I can give you the most important tip it would be less is more. Don’t over work the jig. It’s a finesse presentation that will coax these elusive whitefish to bite.
Step out of your comfort zone, put the spoon aside and try some finesse jigging for Simcoe whiteys. Pay attention to detail and find those sandy haunts that hold forage and of course, schools of whitefish. Play safe and have fun on the frozen lakes my friends!