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A Tried and True Game Plan

Even though whitefish are a cold water loving fish they, too, will slow down and seemingly take “life easy” during the “mid-winter doldrums”. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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A Tried and True Game Plan

Kick the February ice fishing blues with these tips

Jigs and similar type lures have worked wonderfully well this ice fishing season -- as they do most winters -- across all of Northern Ontario. And for a wide range of fish species, too, including walleyes, yellow perch, black crappies, lake trout, northern pike and whitefish.

But, jigs have a problem, and ironically, it is their name.

You see, most anglers tie on jigging-type lures to the ends of their ice fishing lines and then, well, they jig them. And if that doesn't produce a big Lake Simcoe jumbo perch, Mattagami Lake walleye, Lake Temagami lake trout, Ranger Lake speck or Rainy Lake crappie, well, they jig them some more.

And it works, from as soon as the ice is safe enough to travel upon in early winter until about right now when we're entering the "dreaded February doldrums" and you need to change the way you fish.

Indeed, what I find so ironic about the supposed seasonal slowdown is that last weekend, while ice fishing for walleyes on Lake of the Woods in Sunset Country, my daughter Jennifer, grandson Liam and I enjoyed the fastest action of the season.

As a matter of fact, Jenny caught a fish the first time she dropped her silver Syclops spoon down the hole and the fishing remained so consistently active until sunset that Liam phoned me every single afternoon this week as soon as he was off the school bus and into the house. He has been anticipating even more of the same on Saturday and Sunday.

So, talk about the seasonal slowdown-"bark" being worse than the "bite".

The real problem with the mid-winter doldrums theory, however, is that many anglers fail to take into consideration the fact that while winter looks like one consistent season above the ice, it is much more dynamic, below it.

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, husky Northern Ontario Walleyes like this beauty was spotting a jig as soon as it fell into a hole and rising up quickly to intercept. Not so now, however, as they wait near the bottom to be tempted. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

In fact, I always think of "first ice" in late November and early December as the end of the fall fishing calendar period. It is why I've preached for years that the best way to enjoy immediate hard water success right across Northern Ontario is to go back to the same spots where you left the fish when you put the boat to bed for the winter.

But, that was two months ago, and this is today. By February, the walleyes, perch, crappies and pike have finally consolidated and are resting -- en mass -- in their winter home ranges.

Something else that few ice anglers take into account is the fact that most fish lose weight over the winter because they consume relatively little fuel while burning plenty to stay alive. Some species like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and muskies even enter a state of torpor, or near hibernation, while their walleye, perch and crappie counterparts put the engine into neutral to conserve nourishment.

Thick ice has also, for many weeks now, acted as an efficient barrier, separating the water below it from the air above it. This means that the only oxygen available to the fish is what was recharged and replenished during fall turnover.

Think of being locked up for two months now in an airtight room and you'll get an idea of what the fish are experiencing.

And it is even worse if the ice formed early on your favourite lake and turnover was "incomplete".

But here is the good news, where there is a will there is always a way. And with jigging-type lures -- leadheads, spoons, lipless cranks and metal body baits -- it is a combination of either jigging them gently or not moving them at all.

Again, last weekend was a great case in point.

For the past month or so we've been knocking the walleyes on their collective noses by rather vigorously jigging a silver Mepps Scyclop spoon tipped with a minnow head and a Rapala Snap Rap also adorned with the noggin' of a minnow. On the weekend, however, the secret was to drop the lures down the holes, lift them up and down gently once or twice and then let them sit totally motionless. And when you thought you needed to jig the bait again, it paid to resist the temptation.

Lake trout are perhaps the species least affected by the mid-winter doldrums in Northern Ontario, but it still pays to present your lure more slowly and deliberately. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Honest truth, the lure hanging motionless in the water column, one or two feet off the bottom, attracted more big 'eyes and jumbo yellow perch than did moving it. In fact, the walleyes and perch viewed a moving lure with total disdain, while they rose up slowly to inspect the dead still chunk of heavy metal.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anglers who enjoy fishing at high noon in the heat of summer when a similar dead-stick approach is equally effective.

In both seasons, you're playing to the lethargic mood of the fish, which is a ho-hum, take it or leave it attitude. And it is why, for the next month or so, no matter where you fish across Northern Ontario, it is best that you forget they're called "jigging lures".

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