January is traditionally one of the toughest months for ice fishing success. In Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, heavy snowfall over the past couple of weeks has made travel and access very difficult. It has also slowed down fishing success rates in many areas.
On Lake of the Woods and other bodies of water in northwestern Ontario, ice conditions are not good. Many anglers report only 15 centimetres of ice on many sections of the big lake, combined with large areas of slush. Access in most areas is limited to snowmobiles. On Lake Winnipeg, a winter road was plowed out of Warner Road on the west side. But stray off the beaten track with a vehicle and you will probably get stuck.
I had a chance to get out to do some perch fishing a couple of weeks ago before the big snowfall hit. It was my first perch adventure of the year and it turned out to be a tremendous day of fishing. In recent years I have spent a larger percentage of my time fishing for this species through the ice. It's just something that I really enjoy and one of the reasons for this is because of a guy called Dave Genz.
Genz happens to be one of the most accomplished ice anglers in North America, if not the world. He fishes for a variety of species, but his insight on catching jumbo perch is second to none. We have big perch in our waters, but few anglers really try to target the big ones.
For years, East Angling Lake in the Duck Mountains has been very good for producing perch in the trophy range. The largest perch registered on the all-time Master Angler list are listed at 40.64 centimetres (16 inches), caught in three different bodies of water: Lake of the Prairies, Winnipeg River and two in Oak Lake.
I have caught some nice perch while fishing for walleye on Lake Winnipeg, but few large specimens. Lake of the Woods also has some beautiful, big perch in sections of the lake.
Now the Shoal Lakes in the Interlake have been added on the list of big perch destinations.
According to Genz, in some bodies of water, spoons and minnow parts work best for perch, while in other bodies of water, especially prairie lakes, small jigs tipped with bloodworms, maggots and shrimp work best. He says that is just a forage preference, as perch are on a minnow diet in big water, and prairie lakes provide lots of scuds or freshwater shrimp for the perch to fatten up on.
On recent trips, I have been targeting those fish eating shrimp. Most have been in water less than three metres, so the use of my small tungsten 1/16 G-WHOPPER JIG from Bentley fishing has been a perfect fit. It's moulded in the shape of an ice cube and has a Swarovski crystal on the top of its head. This crystal provides a unique flash as it drops weight forward to the bottom. The square shape also allows the jig to rest on the bottom with the hook up. Tipped with a small orange power maggot from Berkley, it proved to be deadly in getting big fish to bite.
When fish are scattered, as they tend to be at this time of year, calling them in from a distance can be the key to success. Genz talks about a number of different presentations, but his mention of the Lindy Rattl'N Flyer jig had me intrigued. It has a sideways glide action and when dropped, will make small clouds of sediment on the bottom. This cloud will attract perch, who think other perch are feeding on the bottom. On my most recent trip, I would jig aggressively with five or six drops, then hold the jig just off the bottom. Once I marked a fish, I would twitch the bait and lift it to see the reaction of the fish on the Humminbird Ice 55 Flasher. On this day, there was no hesitation. Jumbo perch would come up and inhale the bait. These small jigs work great on a long, sensitive custom-made ice rod from Walleye World Custom rods, matched with a single-action fly fishing reel spooled with two-pound ice line. This has been a real great addition to my arsenal. These units allow an angler to spool line straight on, thus preventing line twist. With no line twist the jig will not spin in the water column, a real bonus when trying to trigger fish to bite.