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Spend enough time around ice anglers who fish for walleyes and yellow perch in Northern Ontario and you'll soon find yourself immersed in the ever-persistent debate focused on the best presentation to offer the fish—an artificial lure or live bait?
Well, here is a surprise because many days the answer is neither.
Indeed, we've been enjoying a scorching ice bite this winter for big, beautiful, jumbo yellow perch. Most days it has been hard to catch a striped bandit under a foot in length, with most of the tasty oversized fish averaging between 13 and 14 inches.
That is stout.
And the perch bite has been so knock-on-wood consistently good that most days we've not even targeted their bigger, bolder, beautiful walleye cousins. Seems more than enough nice opal eyes have simply shown up on the ends of our lines, as bonus happen chances.
What we've been using for bait, on the other hand, is something I've relied on since I was a young kid ice fishing for perch on Lake Simcoe's famous Cook's Bay. It is the eye that I have carefully removed from one of the fish that we've already placed on ice.
Carefully pinned to end of a jig or dangling below a small spoon or jigging minnow, there is absolutely nothing quite like it. It looks, smells and tastes like what the fish are eating.
A good friend, Dr. Bruce Tufts, a fish physiologist at Queen’s University and superb angler, often talks about "super stimuli"—things that make fish flip head-over-heels and open up their mouths wide when they see it.
At the top of the list is an eye.
A widely held belief amongst anglers is that fishing is usually the most challenging the first couple of days after a cold front passes through an area. And cold front can be a misnomer, because in a sweltering hot summer like the one we are currently experiencing across Northern Ontario, it can actually be a welcome relief from the heat and humidity.
Early last week, for example, the temperature moderated significantly here in Northwestern Ontario, when a cold front pushed through Sunset Country, dropping the daytime "feels like" temperatures from the mid-90° F / mid-30° C mark to the much more pleasant mid-70° F / mid-20° C range.
What typically happens when a front like this moves through the area is that the walleyes, bass, muskies, and pike go on a feeding frenzy just prior to the arrival of the weather. In fact, they feed so ravenously that the next few days, when the puffy white clouds and bright blue sky arrive—classic hallmarks of a front's passage—the fish are much less hungry. Indeed, they are laid back, relaxed, and generally taking life easy.
Anglers have long countered the effects of a cold front by scaling back their tackle, using light finesse tactics, and slowing down their presentations to a snail-like crawl. A classic example is walleye anglers draping light jigs tipped with small minnows over the side of the boat. It's like offering a well-fed diner a chocolate-covered mint as he or she walks out of the restaurant at the end of a satisfying meal. Who can refuse it, right?