Hallowed Grounds: Lake Trout & Whitefish Tactics on Lake Simcoe
By: Jamie Wilson
As an angler, there are moments of excitement so glorious that you literally want to jump up and scream. I’ll tell you this, watching a lake trout chase your bait from upwards of one hundred plus feet of water on your sonar, and then ultimately hitting your offering like a freight train, is definitely one such moment.
Southern, central and northern Ontario hold a bevy of lakes where you can experience some of the most heart stopping action on the ice. One fine example is the hallowed grounds of the fourth largest body of water wholly within Ontario, Canada’s borders.
Lake Simcoe is the mecca for both lake trout and whitefish in central Ontario during the hard water season. This large seven hundred square kilometer expanse of varying depth and structure offers endless opportunities to hunt down either a fish of a lifetime, or some fine table fare. With an average depth of 40ft, and a maximum depth of 135ft, an angler can expect to spend a portion of their time figuring out the key depth and structure that either lake trout or whitefish are relating to.
First off, herring, aka cisco are a lake trout’s main forage base. Now, obviously, if you can find schools of herring, you will ultimately find lake trout. Keep in mind that these schools of bait will move around so you’ll have to follow suit. To locate lake trout, good places to start are areas that have structure such as shoals, humps and main break lines/tight contours adjacent to deep water. A GPS mapping app for a phone or tablet is invaluable when locating these structures. Positioning on such areas will give you the ability to quickly experiment with different depths that lake trout may be keying on. This could be anywhere from 60ft-100+ft of water, so you should definitely keep an open mind.
Lake Simcoe local hot stick Colin Booth spends his time doing just that, so let’s pick his brain a bit. One key component to an angler’s success when searching for these often elusive fish is without a doubt, a portable sonar unit. Without one, you are fishing blind. Colin explains “I prefer the graph mode on the Marcum LX-7 unit, as it gives me a history on how the fish are reacting to the presentation”.
As far as baits are concerned, you have to match the hatch. To mimic herring, a light colored swimbait rigged on a 1/2oz-1oz football or darter style jig head can’t be beat. Colin’s go-to choice for swimbaits is theBass Magnet Lures “Shift’r Shad” in a white or “glo” pattern. Other great options are the Angler’s Choice“Sniper Shad”, and the Lake Fork Trophy Tackle “Live Magic Shad” which is a segmented style swimbait. As far as other color options, I’ve had success with chartreuse as well. When this presentation isn’t as effective, silver jigging spoons or lipless crankbaits will more than likely be the ticket. Colin’s choice for lipless cranks as of late is the Smartfish by Kamooki Lures Ltd. “If you’ve haven’t seen this bait, you must check it out. It’s such a unique lipless style crank that is neutrally buoyant, yet is nose weighted so it stands up with a flaring action when it’s resting on bottom or suspended. My first laker of 2015 was caught on this cool bait in the herring pattern”. Another top bait choice is a good old 3-4” white tube. This is a deadly presentation that mimics an injured/dying baitfish which will provoke a feeding response in finicky, inactive fish.
Now, lake trout are triggered to strike when a baitfish freezes in fear momentarily, like a gazelle on the Serengeti, only to swim away in a panic. Colin explains “lakers love the chase. I start by dropping the bait to the bottom, jigging/bouncing it a few times to stir up silt to attract their attention. I then reel the bait up to about half the depth of the water column, at which point, I slowly swim the bait up and down a few times, let it fall back to the bottom and then I repeat”. 9 times out of 10, if you follow this method, a lake trout will either rise from the depths or it will just appear on the sonar and b-line it to the bait”. He continues, “Once this happens it’s a game of cat and mouse. Simply reel away from the laker provoking it to chase, if it turns away drop the bait back down and repeat the process until you trigger the fish to strike. It’s much like a video game, and really gets the blood pumping”.
His set-up of choice is a medium-heavy 28”-32” rod paired with a 2000-2500 series reel with a smooth drag to handle the long runs lake trout are known for, 15lbSuffix 832 braid/10lb fluorocarbon leader round things out. For tubes, make sure your main line to leader connection is made with a swivel as tubes spiral and will ultimately cause line twist.
Lately, Colin has been targeting whitefish on shoals in 40-50ft of water. “We used to find them in very deep water but they seem to have adapted to, and begun to feed on gobies. This makes sense because whitefish are primarily bottom feeders, which in turn, makes gobies the perfect meal.”
Since gobies are on the menu, baits that mimic them such as brown tubes rigged to sit nose down are effective. “When schools of whitefish appear, very subtle lifts to get the tail moving is the preferred technique”. He continues, “Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a blast when they make an appearance on the sonar”. Aside from the tubes, the Kamooki Smartfish is a great choice as it will balance itself on bottom sitting tail up, along with the appeal of the rattles to attract their attention. Another choice is the “Twitch” by Bass Magnet lures which usually is a drop shot style bait, but in this case, rigged onto a 1/2oz jig head. This alternate bait can be fished on bottom for whitefish, and often will incidentally turn bites from lake trout as well. Colin’s rod/reel/line combo is essentially the same set-up as utilized for lake trout, the only real difference being a lighter 6-8lb leader.
Lake Simcoe is very accessible and is surrounded by many attractions and amenities. Obviously it is quite large, with an ATV or snowmobile being ideal, they are not a must. When venturing out make sure to check reports on unsafe areas, and steer clear of dangerous pressure cracks. Head out with someone that knows the lake and take proper precautions by carrying safety gear and exercise common sense. Chasing fish around this fine fishery is unparalleled fun, but just don’t take any unnecessary risks doing so. Get out there and put the techniques that we discussed today to good use and you’ll be bitten by the bug just like I was. Trust me.
See you out there!
This article was originally posted at http://fishulo.scout.com/
Author Bio: Jamie Wilson is a passionate lifelong multi-species angler specializing in both smallmouth and largemouth Bass. He is a writer for such online publications asAngling Authority, Rahfish, Exist to Fish Canada and now, Fishulo. Along with being a tournament angler, Jamie comes to us representing the Canadian Bass Angler Fan Page, and he is a staff member/promotional team member for Rage Fish Attractants,Lake Fork Tackle, Rod Sox, Fizards, Easthill Outdoors, Riverrun Tackle, Musky Innovations, Bumblelure, Kamooki Lures ltd. and Bill’s Bait and Tackle.