April 30, 2014

It's not always easy...

On Trout Opener, the water was pea colour with just enough visibility. The conditions could not have been better.

Two days later, the water had dropped significantly and the water was gin clear. Since the fish had been hammered hard for two days, they were now on high alert.

From the start, the pool that was extremely productive for us on Saturday morning was completely unresponsive. There were a few fish around, but you could tell all of them were shell shocked.

Michael joined me a while later and our decision was to hike downstream. On our way, we passed by a shallow pool where a few fish were hiding under a cedar branch. Michael tried to toss spinners at them but it was a difficult spot. While he moved on, I sneaked into position and delicately drifted a worm to the fish. BAM!

Unfortunately, since I had to downgrade to 4lb fluorocarbon in order to get bit, I had little control over this fish, even if it appeared to be only 4-5lbs. The fish eventually ran me into a log jam and snapped me off.

After I re-rigged and re-baited, I drifted another worm back to the same spot and almost immediately I was hit! Similar to last time, I had no chance at all. After losing a second fish, the pool had been disturbed enough and the fish went into lock jaw mode.

So I hiked just 50 yards away to fast corner run. At the top of the run was a riffle where a few fish could be seen spawning. There was a smaller steelhead in that group that might be feeding on the loose egg. I got into position and carefully presented the worm toward the fish and it came upstream to meet the worm. Got it!

This time, the fish was so shallow it had little places to go. I actually managed to keep it from returned toward the deeper run and pulled it up onto the wet gravel with little issue.

The fish in the riffle stopped responding to the worm. This pod of fish composed of one larger female, one large male, and a couple of smaller males jostling for position. I tied on a spinner since I figured the aggressive males would try to kill anything they deemed intrusive. It took two casts until one of the males charged at the spinner. This male cartwheeled through the run and ran angrily. But it was not match for the heavier gear that I used to fish the spinner.

Another few drifts to the pod of stream downstream yield the same result...an angry male charging at the spinner.

The run was adequately disturbed by this point. I had to move on.

A little hike later, I came upon another pod of spawners in a shallow riffle. I hooked one of the males on the spinner but the hook came out during the fight when the fish jumped.

Michael had hiked downstream all the way to the Suicide Pool. When I finally caught up to him, he reported catching one and losing one. He said the fish were already non-responsive, however, I wanted to give it a shot anyways. I got into position and took one drift with the worm when a fish grabbed it. Michael couldn't believe it.

There were quite a few fish in the pool so I methodically worked the pool through pods of fish but they would not respond anymore. By this time, it was time for Michael to head to work. No sooner than he had left shouting range, I fished the lower part of Suicide Pool and hooked up on the worm.

I fished the lower part for a bit but didn't get a respond. I headed back to the top of the pool with a spinner to see if there were any aggressive males. It took about 5 drifts when a fish smacked the lure. I fought this fish with maximum pressure and had it beached already. But since the fish was so full of energy from the short fight, it wriggled back into the depth before I could grab the camera.

It seems like the pattern of the day...if you fought a fish, the nearby pod of fish would become extremely wary and they will not bite anymore.

If I rested the pool a little bit, there might be a chance the fish would respond again...and that's when I got another hit on the spinner by a fish that was hiding under a log. It came flashing out quickly to grab the spinner. I tried to pull it away from the log quickly and pulled the fish to the surface. The fish sensed the upward momentum and jumped 3 times and threw the hook. Bummer.

Afterwards, fish seems to have turned off on the spinner. I tried fishing the worm again for no response. I switched to a small two egg roe bag but fish were even dodging the roe bag as it drifted in the current. At the end, I found a little spoon that I bought in British Columbia. I originally got this spoon to fish for Pink Salmon. It's slender shape allows it to track well in faster current, but it will also seductively wriggle in slower current.

With this lure, I got 3 fish to hit violently. This lure has the right action to somehow trigger some very aggressive bites. I beached two of the fish but wasn't able to get a photo. The other fish managed to throw the hook within seconds.

Finally, it was about time to work my way back upstream toward the car. Using the spoon, I managed to get a lot of attention from aggressive males from all kinds of little spots. A few males would even chase the lure as I retrieve it for the next cast. Strangely, I lost all the hits with this lure. I suspected that the single siwash hook on this lure had a hook wire so thick that I was not able to set the hook properly. It was especially frustrating when I was getting fish to hit from unlikely scenarios. On one occasion, I was presenting the lure toward a male sitting out in the current when a female charged out from under a log to destroy my lure. I thought she was hooked well until the fish jumped and threw the lure back at my face.

Finally, I was back at the deep run. This time, the fish appeared to have remembered me. They were all super spooky and even the males backed off the charge.

The cedar tree that was productive earlier was very dead as well.

I was about 50 yards from the pool at the access point when I saw a male steelhead sitting just behind the root of a washed up tree. I was drifting the worm to the fish when I saw a flash of white jaw opened but missed the worm. This fish was so well hidden under the root that I didn't even know it existed. The male was spooked off and I lost sight of the willing fish. Relying on blind faith, I drifted that spot again and had a take on the second drift. Yep! Got that fish again!

Unfortunately, this was a very fresh fish full of vigor. It powered up the rapids for 50 yards and I had to chase it the whole time. At last, it found refuge under a log jam and finally snapped me off.

By this point, I had gone into a 0/6 streak without landing a fish. I really wanted to finish on a good note. I hiked a bit upstream of the access and found a nice log jam that may hide a fish. I carefully drifted a worm toward the log jam when a flash of silver took my worm!

This time, I managed to get the fish out from the log jam into some deeper riffle. It was still a tough fight since the fish used the current to its advantage and swam with the current downstream. I ran after the fish trying to keep the rod tip high and the drag light. After what seemed like a 50 yards dash downstream, the fish finally settled down a little and it was a tug of war trying to get it out of the current into the shallows. At long last, I prevailed and ended the day with a beautiful fresh hen.

Speaking with the people on the stream, everyone reported a very difficult day. Many were skunked and a few lucky ones landed a single fish. On days when fish are spooked and the water is gin clear, you have to be extremely careful about presentation and your presence around the fish. That was my key to success going 9/17 on an otherwise impossible day.

April 28, 2014

Fishing so hot it was a nuclear meltdown!

Just about 30 minutes drive from my neighbourhood is the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant. This plant has 8 CANDU reactors but I think only 4 are operational at the moment. Like many power plants, Pickering draws in water from Lake Ontario to cool the generators and the resulting cooling water is ejected from two outflow areas. This outflow can be quite warm, especially in winter, and it acts as an attraction to many fish.

Michael had been fishing this area from his kayak since last summer. He had tried to entice me to fish the spot, but since I'm boatless at the moment, I don't have the means to reach this area.

I talked to Richard about fishing the outflow and he was excited about the opportunity. The only determining factor was the wind. If there was a strong south wind, water would be pushed across Lake Ontario onto our northern shoreline and it would be too rough for boating (at least for small boats). A north wind is the most preferable, but even if it has a westerly or easterly component, it would be fine as long as the wind is not too strong.

So I woke up at 7am today to find out I had overslept my alarm (due to yesterday's steelhead marathon). I set an alarm for 8pm with the intention to give Richard a call for Sunday's fishing plan. Luckily, Richard was still interested in fishing at Pickering. We decided to meet up at 1:30pm to start our adventure.

After picking up some minnows and putting the boat on the trailer, we finally got to our launch by 3:30pm. Upon arrival, the wind did not look like the 7km/h east wind that was predicted. In fact, it was coming from southwest and blowing about 15-20km/h. There were a few small white caps in the water and 2 foot swells with a 2.5 second period. We were in a small Zodiac style tender boat but Richard reassured me that his boat can handle it. Alright...let's go then!

We motored slowly through the swells and wind chops. This actually allowed us to troll a couple of lures along the way. However, nothing came knocking but we did get to our destination safely.

There was a nice eddy at the corner of the outflow which pushed us toward the shore and allowed us to anchor. This eddy was also a prime spot that held a good number of fish.

On Richard's first cast, he landed a 3lb Smallmouth Bass. Since bass was still out of season, it was promptly released. I dropped my line straight down and immediately hooked a 2.5lb Smallmouth Bass also.

This area had a pretty good variety of fish. We were hoping to catch other species but the bass were just jumping onto the minnows faster than other fish. Luckily, while Richard was freelining a dead minnow, this little guy came to play. This was Richard's first ever Longnose Gar. Congrats on the lifer!

Michael arrived a little after. With three rods fishing this eddy, no fish was safe!

The outflow holds a good number of resident Common Carp and Freshwater Drum. We didn't catch any carp today, but this Freshwater Drum had me fooled initially. I had never caught a Freshwater Drum over 3lbs...so this was my PB!

If you thought that was a pretty nice drum...

...so I broke my PB pretty quickly. We didn't weight this one, but I would guess it was close to 10lbs since it was long and skinny. If it had more girth, it would weight a few more pounds!

In between the drums and smallies, there was the odd White Bass. This one was 15.5" and it was my PB White Bass!

Richard said he has never caught a Freshwater Drum before. We hoped to remedy that today. However, the drums were just taking my minnow all the time but ignoring Richard's. This one had me fooled it was a big carp. It even fooled Michael since this fish took a couple of long straight runs and it didn't have a lot of headshakes. We decided to net it since it looked pretty big. I was hoping to catch a double digit drum and this one was 10lbs! This fish looked smaller in the picture because the head and tail was pointed away from the camera. It was really quite the pig!

Richard had switched to lighter fluoro leader and he was fishing basically the same manner I was. For no better reason, I was catching more drums while Richard was not getting bit. I hooked two other drums that were probably 8-10lbs, but since I wanted to get the fish in quickly to allow Richard to get his line in the water again, I put too much pressure on the fish and my fluoro leader snapped on both fish.

Unfortunately, the sun was setting quickly and we had to get back to launch before dark. We finished the afternoon session with about a dozen Smallmouth Bass, Richard's single Longnose Gar, my single White Bass and 7 Freshwater Drum. Michael caught some Smallmouth Bass, some Freshwater Drum, a couple of White Bass and a Steelhead while trolling. It was only 3 hours of fishing so it was definitely a productive evening. Richard's unaccomplished goal will have to be realized on another day...but that would mean we'll be fishing here again!

April 27, 2014

2014 Trout Opener

To the steelheader, trout opener allows access to the headwater section of steelhead spawning streams where fish were protected during the spawn. These headwaters contains a high number of spawning and post-spawn fish that are aggressive and hungry. Usually I'm foaming at the mouth thinking about that violent disappearance of my float upon the take of a steelhead toward a seemingly innocent drifting worm.

To the fly angler, trout opener allows access to streams that had been closed to fishing since October 1st of last year. Since Brook Trout and Brown Trout spawn in the fall, and the area where these two trout are found are usually at the headwaters of steelhead streams in Southern Ontario, it make sense to close fishing until spring. This long closer period creates an intolerable itch to wave the light-weight fly rod by mid-winter. Usually I'm foaming at the mouth thinking about a brook trout sipping blue-winged olives in a pool on a small intimate stream.

If I had to pick between the two, you'll find me most often choosing steelhead. I dearly love fly fishing for brook trout...but I can do that throughout spring to fall. Steelhead are only there for 2-3 weeks after Trout Opener. Once they complete the spawn, fish will start to drop back into Lake Ontario. The window of opportunity is short, and prime fishing is now.

Having set up the background to this story then...let's begin!

Our gang consisted of my buddy Matt, Michael and I. Matt and I finished work early, but since Matt had to drive from Cambridge to Toronto through rush hour, he didn't get to my place by 7pm. I carpooled Matt to Michael's place by 8:20pm and finally the three of us arrived at the stream by 9pm.

We wanted to fish a pool way downstream, but since it was dark, we opted to stay closer to the car for the night. We hiked a distance from the access to our destination...just far enough from the crowds but still close enough to the car. With a lot of gear, it was a lot of work. Upon arrival, the first task was to find some wood to start a campfire. The temperature was dropping to a low of 3C overnight so a fire would be very welcoming. It was difficult to get dry wood since it had been raining since 3pm. Luckily, we found some dry tinder under a couple of logs and the fire was eventually hot enough to dry and burn the wet branches.

Once we got the fire started, the loooooooong wait to 0:00:00 of Saturday April 26, 2014 began. I set an alarm for 23:58 (two minutes earlier to allow time to put on a glow stick, tie on a hook and bait on a worm...because you don't get your gear ready until it is time...just in case our MNR officers came to check on us). Even so, we were checking our watches every so often and you know that a watched pot doesn't boil. We continued to gather wood to pass time time.

Finally, the moment came! We all made our first drift in the pool. It was difficult drifting in the dark. Even when Michael had scouted the pool a day in advance, and with his description of all the snags in and around the pool, all of us snagged up almost on the first drift.

Retying my line at...

It is not easy catching steelhead at night. Not only for the fact that it is more difficult to see obstacles at night, but it is also difficult to locate the fish at night. Fish migrate upstream in the cover of darkness and they are often found in shallow riffles and runs. Sometimes you may hear them kick in inches of water, but more often than not, they move in water just deep enough to conceal their position. A trick I found was to search with my headland until I see a fish, then switch off that headlamp immediately so I don't spook them too much with the light. It is important to target these fish in bottleneck areas. One such area I had luck on this night was a narrow deeper run. As fish swam upstream, they had to pass through the deep channel on the right due to the barely submerged riffle on the left. The difficulty in this run was two trees above and a log lying through the length of the run below.

I hooked a fish at 1am and managed to pull it downstream out of the trouble areas, but the fish eventually threw the hook while headshaking in the shallow riffle.

After I re-baited and found a couple of fish to target, it took another 15min before one would commit. This time, it was a big fish that I had little control in the dark. The fish first ran into the log and wrapped the line around while still powering upstream through a riffle. I had to wade chest deep into the water to free the line from the log while keeping the rod tip off the log. I had to open the bail to let the fish run without breaking my tip or my line. When the line was freed, the momentary slack line wrapped around the tip guide since the rod tip was in the water and the current swept the slack downstream. The fish felt the slack and came swimming back down past me into the riffle. The line came tight again as the fish swam down. It was difficult trying to free the line from the tip guide with pressure on, but I finally had the line freed. The fish swam up to the log again and wrapped me a second time. I freed the line the same way and this time the slack line was wrapped further down the blank. The fish swam back to the riffle again and while I was freeing the line, the line snapped. I managed to catch it as it was exiting the second last line guide. My only option now was to hand line the fish. Since the fish had fought my determination more than the rod or the drag, it was still completely fresh. Without much trouble, the fish finally snapped my leader off at the hook. At least I retrieved my float and most of the terminal tackle.

At around 3am, I lost another fish to the log. This one didn't even give me a chance as it snapped me off immediately. Not long later, another fish threw the hook within 30 seconds of hooking up. This one threw the hook while headshaking in the shallow riffles as well.

It was now 4am and I was extremely tired. Matt and Michael were already settled into a nap. I set the alarm for 5:30am, but woke up at 5am when the fire almost burned out and the cold woke us up. Matt was already fishing again and he landed the first fish of the day.

Michael and I were shivering...so our priority was to get firewood and get warmed before fishing. It didn't take long after I started drifting to get my first of the day.

Released, re-baited...first drift...

Matt hooked up while I was re-baiting. Strangely, most of the fish we caught were over 5lbs, with the exception of this one.

I went back to fishing after taking the picture...and second drift...

While I was fighting the fish above, Michael hooked up his first fish of the trip. We were hoping Matt would hook one for the triple but it didn't happen. Since Matt was fishing and Michael was fighting his fish I didn't have a photographer. We wanted to release these fish in prime condition so I quickly released mine to help Michael land his first of the day. We didn't bother with the double picture.

Some were spawned out and skinny like this one. This fish would be over 10lbs in prime condition, but now she simply looked like a snake. Her fins were all worn out due to redd digging.

I think we can call this pool the Glory Hole.

Matt and I were outfishing Michael for a while...until I got on a 0/5 stretch where all my hooked fish came off within 10 seconds of the hookset. I checked my hook and it was sharp...but yet I sharpend it just in case...and I was still dropping fish. :(

Meanwhile, Matt hooked one of his biggest of the day...

Fishing was crazy for an hour...then it slowed down. We must have hooked all the hungry fish in the pool because despite trying different baits and lures, we didn't get the fish to go fast and furious again. We hook a fish here and there and landed a few more, but it wasn't off the charts like it was early in the morning. Michael took the hike back to the car to drop off our camping chairs and unnecessary gear. When he returned, we packed up to search for new waters.

Since it was now later in the morning, there were many more people who showed up on the stream. Most of the prime pools were taken so the picking was slim. We had to hike quite a ways downstream to the Suicide Pool. I guess we could fish the little runs and slots in between, but I just wanted to get to the suicide pool. Upon arrival, there were 4 guys fishing on the lower end of the Suicide Pool. I tried the upper area without much success. They might have fished it hard already because the fish that were there were super spooked.

Michael went ahead and found an unoccupied little pool. It was difficult to fish here since there was an overhanging tree just inches from the water. Only one person could fit in that pool. Matt fished a little slot just above the pool. Michael landed 3 and lost a few while Matt lost 2. Since there was no room for me, I hiked further downstream on my own until I got to a nice pool that I found last year. Again, there were a few fish here and there in the small runs and slots, but I ignored them hoping to find that prime pool for myself. Initially, all I got was a gravid White Sucker.

Fearing that I had wasted time hiking to this pool and missed other opportunities along the way, I decided to go through my arsenal before moving on. I made a small switch in lure and presentation...BAM!

Unfortunately, I lost that fish when it ran me into the log jam.

So I retied again and it took 2 drifts until I hooked up a big fish. This one was out of control from the beginning and it tried three times to run me into the log. I pulled it back over and over again and finally thought I had it beat. Since I was alone, I tried to beach it in a shallow area. If either Matt or Michael was with me, the fish would have been netted already...but unfortunately they were not and it was difficult for me to net the fish without high-sticking a 12'6" rod. The fish gave a last kick and got back into the current...straight back into the log. PING!

I retied my leader and hook and started drifting again. The extended fight from the last fish much have spooked the pool. I fished it for 5 minutes without a hit. Matt finally came to join me. I just finished explaining to him where I hooked my last two steelhead. On the next drift, I actually showed him where the fish were sitting in the pool.

After releasing the fish, I took two drifts again...

I have never weighted a steelhead. I figured I had caught a few close and perhaps even over 10lbs...but it was all guesstimation. Since Michael arrived while I was fighting the fish, and he had a digital scale, I put this fish on the scale. It was 10lbs on the dot. So there's my first confirmed double digit steelhead!

Matt and I lost a few fish after and the bite stopped. Michael had hiked down to parts unknown. It was about 1pm by now so our plan was to find Michael and then work our way upstream again.

We hiked back to the Suicide Pool and tried it with different baits and plastic lures. Fish were very spooky and we had zero success. I saw a couple of aggressive males jostling for rank. I said to Matt and Michael that I'm going to try a large spinner. Michael had the same idea and already had one rigged. Before I had my spare rod lined and rigged, he already landed two steelhead on a smaller silver spinner.

My spinner was larger and heavier and it took some time to figure out how to best fish it in the pool. If I let it drift with the current, it would sink quickly to the bottom and snagged. Lucikly I was able to free the snag each time. If I were to cast it across and slowly retrieve it, the fish were spooked by the commotion. Fish would only responded when I swung the spinner in front of their faces and held it in place in the current. Not every fish would respond since most of the fish were spooked by the approach of the spinner. It was difficult holding the spinner in one spot long enough. However, if you get it just right the odd aggressive fish would swim up from behind and smash it violently. This was my first ever steelhead caught on a spinner. It was quite addictive watching them smash spinners!

I got about 7-8 hits on the spinner but nothing would stick. I am not really sure why because the hooks were sharp and the fish would grab it with mouth wide open then turn as they close their mouth. Usually the fish set themselves hitting a lure with a treble hook in this fashion. Still, it was heart stopping to see them grab something so violently.

At long last, we had to end the day since Matt had to get home before 7pm.

This was one of the most memorable opener I had. We had some non-stop action and we had great better company. Although the bite at night was slow...and losing all my hooked fish was very disappointing, it was still wonderful to be fishing while most were in bed. I don't know what my total number of landed fish were...since I only took pictures of the first few of the day, and then the bigger fish later in the day. I know a few smaller ones were landed that I quickly released without pictures. A safe guess would be 10+...but I lost probably twice the number of fish yesterday. Getting 30+ steelhead bites in a day is sure to satisfy anyone!

I'm already looking forward for next Trout Opener!

April 20, 2014

My duty as a Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassador

Fishing is not always about the fish. As a member of the Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassador, I try to promote fishing in Toronto whenever I can...as long as my fishing isn't interrupted too much LOL.

I love to chat about fishing with people in general, but I really do love to share the sport with kids.

Today, I was fishing in a river right in downtown Toronto. This river is as urban as it gets. Since Trout Opener is still 6 days to come (Yes!!! 6 more days!!!), I figure I would get some more practice drifting, reading waters and setting some hooks into fish.

Well, the fish were really tight to bottom so in the end I did more bottom bouncing than float fishing. I was getting nothing on the float until I met Dave by sheer coincidence and we started bottom bouncing the pool. It didn't take long to catch some of the White Suckers we were after.

While we were fishing, a family came by. First it was the mom with a 2 year old boy. She was interested to find there were fish in this "dirty" river. Soon I was able to catch one and show them a healthy White Sucker. The 2 year old was a bit unnerved by the fish. However, his older brother came to join us. As in my typical fashion, when kids are around, I work hard to try to get a fish on the hook and then hand off the rod. Dave said I have a touch for catching fish on demand for kids. Indeed, it only took the next cast to get one. I handed the rod to the boy and with some coaching he was able to bring a nice White Sucker to the bank. It was his first fish ever.

We released this fish and chatted about the importance of catch and release and selective harvest. We also mentioned that fish in Toronto is not as heavily polluted as some may think. You just need to know which species can be safely eaten and how many meals a week to consume. It is all about moderation. I wasn't trying to preach these ideas. The family were interested and they asked the questions.

As much as I love to catch fish of my own, and work on my lifelist, there is really very little that compares to the accomplishment I receive when I can help kids learn to fish...and especially catch their first fish.

Although I'm a bit less involved with TUFA these days, I always look forward to volunteering at any of the family fishing events every year. To me, there is nothing more important to our sport of fishing than promoting fishing to the next generation and to instill important conservation concepts in their young minds.

April 7, 2014

Last Minute Redemption

I've been trying to land a Lake Whitefish this whole winter. One thing or another, it had been a very difficult season targeting these wonderful creatures. I did not know why it had been so difficult until the dying hours of this icefishing season. In hindsight, one of the main reasons was my new icefishing rods. I had to acquire a couple of new replacements since I've snapped my old faithful rods last season. There was still adjustment needed toward these rods with their new action, and it was especially crucial when fishing for the finicky whitefish.

I do take fishing success and failures quite seriously. A trait of great vs. good anglers is the ability to evaluate and understand failures, then take steps to mitigate shortcomings to achieve success. Without doing so, an angler is stuck either randomly trying new things without a benchmark for comparison, or finding the occasional success that doesn't lead toward future consistent success. What I want to achieve is to find equipment, techniques and locations that consistently offer success.

You see, Lake Whitefish presents a unique challenge. Their upper jaw and skull is hard and difficult to bury the hook past the barb, while their lower jaw and corner of the mouth is soft and easy to tear hooks out. They often bite a bait or lure in a lifting action, that is, as the fish bite it would swim (or lift) itself a little bit higher. Thus, the bite is often registered as a loss of line tension instead of a "thud". They may suck a lure or bait in so softly that it simply feels like a "doink" on the light action rod. As if it wasn't difficult enough, once a whitefish is hooked, it would immediately swim upward in the water column before attempting to head back to bottom again. This rapid upward motion is the reason a lot of whitefish are lost within the first few seconds of the fight. Whitefish diet often consist of small prey items less than 2" long. In order to imitate their forage, you need small lures which requires light action rods.

Without the proper light action rods, all these factors will affect your success in tempting, hooking, fighting and landing a whitefish. This is the exact issue I had this winter with my new gear.

This weekend, we were fishing on the same northern lake again. We were hoping to give the Burbot another try. On the first night, we fished a little shallower in 36 feet of water and found no bites. We didn't even mark much on the sonar. So on the second night, we decided to fish the same 44 feet of water where I caught two Burbot last weekend. In fact, we found the exact same holes where we fished!

These were the exact same two holes where I fished last week. And a week later, I was fishing in the same position in these holes until they were frozen over.

How do I know they were my holes? Last week, my chair broke while I was packing up. I didn't know the foot of my chair had broken off until I was home drying the chair. Well, I found that broken piece at these holes. Yep, these were my holes from last week.

Anyways, the Burbot fishing sucked on the second night as well. We did mark something on bottom at night, but they were not biting. Were Burbot eating our chum? We won't know for sure. But by the size and duration that these "fish" were lingering below my holes, I'm tempted to say so. It was strange that they did not bite my lively minnow suspended just an inch off bottom though. Burbot are not picky or wary. They usually don't refuse a struggling minnow.

During the day, we fished for Lake Whitefish and Lake Trout. Well...I fished...Michael caught. After 2 days, Michael had caught 3 Lake Whitefish and 2 Lake Trout. I had lost 3 possible Lake Whitefish. I say possible because they bit like whitefish and fought like whitefish and I lost them in ways that you usually lose whitefish...the few seconds after setting your hook. While Michael got his whitefish bites jigging, I got mine by deadsticking a lively pinhead minnow on bottom.

So now we're into the dying hours of our trip. Our trusty morning/afternoon spot was not producing the bite it had in the past. We were just looking to catch some Rainbow Smelt in shallow water when Michael hooked and landed two Lake Whitefish a few minutes apart. This was over 11 feet of water and apparently, it is possible, even typical, on this lake. After seeing Michael's random success, I was jigging for whitefish when the smelt school was not present. When the Rainbow Smelt appeared again, I would switch back to smelt fishing.

It was on one of these occasions when my screen was filled with smelt. I was using 1/128oz jigs and a light action rod to catch some fine eating swimming fish sticks (aka smelt). The smelt was so thick that my sonar screen was almost completely red. Smelt bit very lightly and often they attacked the bait from the side, causing a loss of line tension. I had just landed a smelt and dropped my line back down. Within seconds, my line lost tension indicating another bite. But this time, I set the hook into something bigger. By the way it was fighting, this was no smelt.

Since I was using a light rod, it was completely bent over and I could only put so much pressure on the fish. In hindsight, this was a saving grace since any more pressure and I might have pulled the tiny hook out. The bend of the rod also cushioned a lot of the headshakes to keep the line under pressure at all times. After the first minute, we already guessed that this was a Lake Whitefish. When I saw the silvery body under the hole and got a visual confirmation, my heart was pounding even more. Throughout this icefishing season, I hadn't even come close enough to seeing a whitefish circling under my hole.

Since I was fishing for smelt with the small jigs, and smelt don't get too big or heavy, and it was difficult to tie on these tiny hooks, I simply used a double granny knot to tie the hooks on the line. Now it presented a real issue. Will the knot stay strong? With that worry in mind, I backed off the drag and played the fish gingerly. If I had bigger hooks and used a proper knot, it would have been game over for this fish already.

After another 3 diving attempts by the Lake Whitefish, I finally got the head into the hole. This is where a lot of whitefish are lost as well. When you have the head of the fish just out of the water, while the body is hanging vertically in the tunnel of the hole, either a sudden loss of line pressure from a dreaded head shake, or an attempt to grab the slippery body, could cause the hook to fall out or pull out. I could now see that the tiny jig was barely grabbing the upper bony jaw. It wouldn't have penetrated far into the bone. So I reached down and pinned the fish against the side of the hole and on the second attempt scooped the fish out in one go.

FINALLY!!! In the dying hour of this icefishing season, I redeemed myself for this season's failure.

The bonus was this beautiful side profile picture. I had been trying to get a good picture for my lifelist. But Lake Whitefish often continues kicking once landed (similar to tunas) and they often get their fins torn or coat themselves with snow as they wriggle around. These fish also bleed profusely if they were hooked with bigger hooks. But this time, conditions were just right and the fish even cooperated by spreading all her fins.

Yes, I know it was a female since she had eggs inside.

What a completely unexpected catch! This Lake Whitefish was suspended amongst a school of Rainbow Smelt almost 8 feet off bottom and it took a 1/128oz jig with a chunk of pinhead shiner.

This single Lake Whitefish is the most memorable catch for me this ice season. Having gone through so much frustration this season, I finally found reasons to my failure and will be taking steps to get another lighter rod for next season. Since I jig with a lighter rod, I relegated the heavier rod for deadsticking. Most of my bites this year had came off deadsticking and the heavier rod just couldn't keep the Lake Whitefish hooked during the fight. I was either pulling the hooks out or allowing the fish to shake the hook out with the stiffer and less responsive action of the heavier rod. Next year I'll use the light action rod for deadstick and hopefully that will solve my ongoing frustration with these wonderful fish.

Before I finish this fishing report, I want to share a little bit of my constant adventures. After all, this is MuskieBait Adventures.

We were getting off the ice late in the day. Since the afternoon temperature was close to 10C on this day, there was serious slush all over the lake surface. Michael's snowmobile had already overheated once during our 5km run back to the launch. We were within 100 metres of the launch when the snowmobile was stuck in a foot of slush. You see, when the snowmobile had recovered from overheating, Michael was trying to take the shortest way toward the launch. However, the shortest way had all signs of disaster written on the surface. Needless to say, it was a fun time pulling the 500lb machine out of its death trap. Here is a picture once we puled the snowmobile out of its deepest trouble. The hole behind the track was what we were stuck into.

It took a lot of grunting and pulling to get it out. It was difficult to even get a decent foot hold in the watery slush. In the end, we got the snowmobile onto some snowy slush. Once there, we were able to get the snowmobile moving by having Michael controlled the throttle while I lifted the back end to reduce the weight on the soft snow. If you simply throttle up, the weight of the snowmobile would dug itself deeper as the track ran and removed more material from under it. Once the soft snow was removed, you'll be back in that watery slush again. It wasn't an easy task, but at the same time, we were surprised how quickly we got it out of the danger zone once we got the machine moving. I had the fun time of getting sprayed by slush while lifting the back end.

This stuff is reserved for airboats and hovercrafts ONLY!

I think the icefishing season is officially over :(

We were lucky that once we got the snowmobile out of the worst slush, it wasn't too much trouble with the rest of the 100 metre run. We were lucky we were stuck close to the launch and not in the middle of the lake. Had we been stuck badly in the middle of the lake, dusk was approaching and we may have been trapped there for the night. Night time would bring freezing temperatures and the snowmobile would most certainly froze into the ice overnight. There was no good solution to get out of such situation in that case; since we would then need to wait for the ice to thaw into slush again the next day, and we'll be traveling in bad slush again. You have to count blessings when they come your way...and this time we were truly blessed.

The lesson here? No matter how good the fishing could be, no matter how desperate it was to finally catch the first whitefish of the season at the final hours of the season...always think about how you are going to get off the lake...