Tips from insider-expert Chris Huskilson
The spring fishing season in the Kawarthas Northumberland region offers many angling opportunities for the beginner and the avid fisherman alike. As the ice begins to melt, typically mid to late March, the ice fishing gear is quickly packed up in anticipation of what is always my favourite time of year!
Countless hours are spent rigging rods for several species inland, on the Great Lake tributaries. The boat is out of storage and loading begins. The smell of spring is in the air. I feel alive again! The first stop on many anglers’ list of opportunities this time of year is often a tributary flowing into Lake Ontario. The sudden increase in air temperature triggers an increase in runoff from melting snow and rain to raise the water levels and trigger the steelhead spawn. This is really a species accessible to anyone!
Some great areas include the city of Port Hope where the Ganaraska River flows straight through, or Wilmot Creek in Newcastle, Ontario. Each offers many accessible public shore locations to fish from. Be sure to check the regulations to see where fishing boundaries start and end this time of year, as a great deal of these tributaries will have sections within them that are closed to ensure a successful spawn. These fish are extremely strong and acrobatic, yet are beautiful in coloration and very intelligent. Using light line and very small hooks are a must to fool these fish into biting.
Some basic tackle tips include, but are not limited to the following:
One of the most appealing features of the marabou jig is that they almost appear to “breathe” in the water. When using a jig, be sure to sharpen the hooks. A razor sharp jig will make a huge difference. I also look for jigs that have a light wire hook. These will give you better hooking ability than a heavy gauge hook.
A commonly used method involves a float and series of split shot weights with a fly, roe bag, trout beads or a jig as mentioned above. The illustration in particular outlines the use of a bead instead of a roe bag. The same setup can be used for the other commonly used offerings mentioned. Fresh-tied roe from a previously caught female trout or salmon are a great option under a float! This is one of my absolute favourite ways to catch trout. Something that has really taken hold as of late are artificial egg imitators, or trout beads (rigged as seen below). This is a great alternative to tied roe when targeting extremely pressured fish. Often times a fly presented under a float is just what the doctor ordered and is often a go-to for me when targeting pressured fish as well.
While chasing rainbow trout in a river or stream is very enjoyable, I tend to favour the comfort of my boat and casting open water once available. The first stop on my list is always chasing pike. There’s just something about them that gets me fired right up every year! Fortunately, a great deal of the Kawarthas Northumberland region lies within zone 17. In this zone, pike are open all year long! I spend most of my time in the Havelock area at ice out looking for pre- and post-spawn pike. A very simple assortment of baits will dramatically increase your success rate this time of year. The water is very cold, the fish are sluggish, but very hungry as they prepare for and recover from the spawn. In most instances, they have spawned just before we are able to get the boats in the water. By the time we are finally able to get to them they are in a transition phase; recovering from the spawn. I will look for mud flat spawning bays on the north shore of the lake, adjacent to deep water. This will be the first area to thaw and will have the warmest water. The fish will be on the first depth variation with cover. In most cases, this time of year, this will be last year’s dead weeds in about six to eight feet of water.
You can quite literally get away with one type of bait the first few weeks after ice out, and that bait is a suspending jerkbait. This bait allows for erratic side to side action, a rattle to call fish in, and the ability to impart long pauses between jerks. These long pauses are when the fish will strike. Given their sluggish demeanor this time of year, the jerkbait offers the complete package while giving the fish long enough to find and attack the bait. The region is known to have high numbers of Pike, but also contains some big females! Fish in excess of 40-inches are not uncommon.As far as jerkbaits go, both hard and soft are effective. Some basic tackle tips include but are not limited to the following: The Jackall Squad Minnow 115SP Jerkbait is a great choice, and for soft plastic jerkbaits, the 5″ ‘Magic Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures rigged weightless can be very effective for finicky pike. Another option is the ‘Live Magic Shad’ swimbait (Lake Fork Trophy Lures) or a 5″ Jackall ‘Ammonite’ Shad rigged onto a chatterbait for more strait/steady retrieves.
A suspending bait can be key this time of year. The water is cold and the fish need that extra hang time to convince them to commit to a bait. The minnow style bait portrayed below is definitely a staple for me. I like to fish swimbaits very slowly on light wire, and wide gap hooks with a 1/8 oz. bullet weight pegged to the nose. Slow and steady wins this race at times in cold water. As we make our way through April and into early May, my next target will be the black crappie. The Kawarthas Northumberland region plays host to some of the greatest crappie fishing in the world. Not only are the numbers of fish high, but the size of the fish are exceptional as well! Fish of 15+ inches are not uncommon!
As the water temp approaches 55°F (or 13°C), these fish move shallow in large schools to start their spawn. During this time, I fish most often on the “Tri Lakes” of Pigeon, Buckhorn and Chemong Lakes. These three lakes offer some of the best crappie fishing in the region, not to mention that all of them are accessible by boat without needing to make use of the locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway. I typically have great success casting small soft plastic artificial baits under a slip float through the schools of fish, while suspending the bait directly above them. This typically generates some very aggressive strikes and is a very common technique. But when the weather turns quickly and the fish are feeling pressured, I have a few other tricks that I like to implement to increase my odds of success.
My first efforts will involve removing the float from my setup and casting my small soft plastic bait on a very light 1/32oz. jig head and swimming it through the school. Gentle twitches directly above or in front of these fish are difficult to refuse and often generate success when the float will not. Another option is a drop shot rig. This is not something typically used for crappies, but has proven very successful for me when times are tough. The ability to cast the bait to the fish and hold the bait stationary creates a very realistic appearance in my offering and flat out catches them when nothing else will. These fish are excellent table fare, so don’t hesitate to keep a few for a shore lunch. Just be mindful and release any over 12-inch as they are the “breeders” and their conservation is key to the continued success of the species. My humble yet personal opinion. Some basic tackle tips include but are not limited to the following: Small tubes are a staple in any crappie anglers’ arsenal. I like to keep my presentations as small and natural as possible to increase my odds of success. With so many options out there for small soft plastics, I keep things simple. The bait in the image below has been a staple for me in the past year or two.
I would highly recommend swimming baits through schools of crappie. This little morsel seems irresistible at times. A slender profile imitating forage fry will often be the ticket to get the job done for me when times are extremely tough. A great place to start is with a slip float setup. You will be able to detect the mood of the fish rather quickly to determine if changes are necessary. This is often a starting point for me.
Just as the crappie fishing peaks and begins to taper down we enter the season most anglers are waiting for. The opening of walleye season, in Zone 17, is the second Saturday in May and do we ever have some great fishing in the region this time of year! The zone does have a slot limit of 4 fish. They must fall within the slot size to keep (13.8 – 19.7 inches). By this time the walleye have finished their spawn and have fallen back from the current they have done their business in. They can be found in numbers in weed clumps or pockets out at the mouth of the tributaries they have spawned in. I spend a great deal of time on Rice Lake during this period utilizing a few key techniques to catch a boat load of fish. Catches of 30 to 50 fish in a day are not uncommon, with plenty of over and slot limit sized fish.
Some basic tackle tips include but are not limited to the following: hand-tied hair jigs are a mainstay during this time of year when targeting walleyes. Short pitches into pockets in weeds followed by very erratic “rips” of the rod tip will catch you a tone of post spawn walleye. This technique is typically referred to as “rippin hair” and is a lot of fun. Strikes often occur while the bait is falling, making the hooksets very heavy! There will be times that an aggressive technique like ”rippin hair” will not be appropriate. Sudden cold front conditions this time of year are very common and will make the walleye hold tighter to the weeds. A more subtle presentation is required when this takes place as the fish are not as likely to chase down the hair jig. This is when I like to utilize scent as well! I will choose a light button style jig head, with a light wire hook, and pair it up with a very simple yet effective soft plastic bait, imitating the forage the walleye are feeding on in the area. I will continue to make short pitches into pockets in the weeds but I will leave the bait in place much longer. The slower fall rate and more natural presentation, the more bites you will get during this time.
Liquid Mayhem Garlic Minnow scent is a must! Scent can be the single most important difference maker when it comes to finicky walleye. Not only does it mask any odour that I may impart on the bait, but it provides a natural scent trail. This will allow the fish to track down my offering and will typically cause the fish to hold the bait longer, allowing for a good hookset. To say I am an avid angler is an understatement. Fishing and the outdoors are my passion and always have been. I am on the water every chance I get whether it be with my young family or competing in a tournament event targeting every species of fish under the sun that our great region has to offer… and let me tell you that there are many! The spring time angling opportunities in the Kawarthas Northumberland region that I call home are an anglers’ paradise! Come see for yourself!
Thanks to Exist To Fish Canada for their support!