• Chumming the Ice

    Part 1

    Grant Ferris
    Grey/Bruce Outdoors

    For more than a century, Ontario anglers have baited the lake bottom under their ice huts to attract fish. Until recent restrictions came into effect, Lake Simcoe rental hut providers used enormous numbers of summer-caught salted minnows to attract lakers and whitefish for their ice-fishing customers. About twenty-five or thirty years ago, a few Georgian Bay anglers began chumming with salmon roe under their huts or anchored boats and the technique quickly spread. Chumming is now a common practice from Nottawasaga to Wiarton and results in a good number of fish being caught every year.

    Unlike small lakes or rivers, there is a lot of water in which to try and find fish in the big lakes and chumming can transfer a slow day into a great day with plenty of action. To address depth and current considerations, anglers have refined the practice from dropping the bait through the hole in the ice or over the side of their boats to accurately depositing their fish-attracting baits right below them, using weighted chum cans attached to a heavy line. Lots of chum-can designs exist, all based on the idea of transporting the bait to the bottom where it can be dumped out in an enticing pile where baited and weighted hooks can follow. If you're fishing in 5-10 feet of water with no current, dropping your chum over the side or through the ice-hut hole can work pretty good but if there is any current at all or if you're fishing in 80-100 foot depths, the chum is long gone before it gets to the bottom, spread out for dozens of meters or washed down-current far from your fishing location.

    How much to chum is also important to fishing success. Initially you might wish to chum the equivalent of a soup can of bait, followed by one quarter of that amount every half hour or so. It isn't necessary to chum very much once you get feeding fish beneath you, perhaps just a bit when the bites slow down. You can chum too much and lower the odds of fish taking your bait, or not enough to really attract any fish to your general area. Strangely, Georgian Bay anglers who try and catch lakers and whitefish with minnows for bait, even chumming salties the way they do Simcoe style, report poor results compared to those chumming a few salmon eggs and fishing with roe. Since salmon eggs are not a normal part of the general food supply for deep water fish species, why roe is such an attraction is a mystery that has yet to be solved. Now that some of our Georgian Bay streams close for upstream angling earlier than in the past to protect spawning salmon, many of the "five-gallon pail chummers" may have to be a little more frugal with their eggs. At one time it wasn't uncommon to see anchored jig-fishermen in Meaford, Owen Sound, Wiarton or the Notty river mouth dipping scoop after scoop of eggs over the side to attract fish.

    One year I discovered that chumming a mixture of pasta called “stelline” with a handful of eggs worked pretty good and extended my egg supply considerably. For about a week after I first tried it some of my friends reported catching lakers, rainbows and whitefish with little star-shaped pasta in their stomachs. Another chum extender is tapioca, flavoured with eggs or a little cod liver oil. According to one local angler, this mixture can also double as a snack if the fishing is a little slow. In Fisherman magazine writer and retired MNR District Director Gord Pyzer told me that he has even seen big whitefish gobbling macaroni that he dropped into shallow water near his Kenora home on Lake of the Woods.

    When it comes to making a chumming can, my favourite style is made from an ordinary soup can with a simple hinge, magnetic latch, weighted lid and a screen on the top. The screen is keep the bait in the can but leave a scent trail leading down to bottom. I've watched on my graph as passing fish suddenly dropped down thirty feet to my bait after intercepting the scent trail left from the can's passage. I dedicate a short stiff rod with a free-spooling level wind reel to lowering and raising my chum can and I use a non-stretch Dacron trolling line so I can pop the release at the bottom or a few feet above to spread out the bait. Chumming is legal in Ontario and it works quite well, although attracting the fish won't necessarily make them bite. A future column will address local tackle, baits and fishing techniques.

    Part 2

    Grant Ferris
    Grey/Bruce Outdoors

    In Chumming Part One some of the history and practice of chumming was covered, so the next step is to explain some tackle and jigging techniques.

    Deep water jigging and shallow water jigging can both be highly productive but rarely during the same time period. During the winter, whitefish and lakers are mostly found in water deeper than 40 feet but like all fish, they sometimes ignore all the rules. If I had an opportunity to fish in February or March I would love to be sitting on safe ice over 80-100 feet of water on the south side of Colpoys Bay.

    After chumming, I would use either a light spinning reel with a nice soft drag or ideally, a small level wind reel with a selectable anti-reverse. With the level wind I would tighten the drag, turn off the anti-reverse and use my thumb for those very soft-mouthed whitefish that are so hard to reel up from the bottom without them getting off the hook. My rod would be three to five feet long and have a delicate tip to signal those tiny nibbles that you get with even nine pound whitefish.

    For line I would use a non-stretch super line like Fireline or Fusion and I would tie a five to eight-foot leader of decent four-pound test monofilament on the business end. If you have some good fluorocarbon leader material like Seaguar, use it here. The non-stretch line is unbelievably good for transmitting delicate bites in deep water, also for setting the hook when 80 feet of straight monofilament simply stretches like a rubber band.

    Deep bay water often has strong currents so I would use a sliding or egg sinker (1/4-3/8 oz depending on current and depth) held back a foot to two feet from my hook by a plastic bead and a slip-float stopper. This would allow line to slide through the sinker when a fish picks up the bait but prevent it from sliding down to your hook. Tiny #14 or #16 trebles baited with a couple of single eggs or tiny rainbow bags would complete my tackle selection unless I chose to fish with spoons or jigs

    If I could get them, I would love to have some waxworms on a single hook but they are difficult to find this side of Lake Simcoe or Cambridge. With modifications the same rig would work just fine in much shallower water around Owen Sound, Meaford or the Nottawasaga river mouth in the spring. For sure though, I would NOT use trebles in shallow water where rainbows or little salmon are found, as they swallow the bait and you have the choice of losing a lot of expensive hooks or killing fish you don't really want.

    If the lack of ice doesn't allow for safe hard water fishing again this year, I hope to get my boat out once the weather allows and start some exciting spring jigging for whitefish, rainbows, brown trout, salmon and whatever else shows up off our productive river-mouths.
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