By Chris Shaffer | 03/29/2015
My eyes were focused roughly 12 feet below, through a tiny, circular, ice carved hole. Sitting on a lounge chair, in a hut, sporting insulated guide wear, even without a portable heater it’d got so warm I had to take off my down jacket. I’d stripped down to just a sweatshirt under my bibs when I looked at Bojan “Bojangles” Zivkovic and noticed his hands were blue.
“Are you ok?” I asked him. “Your hands are blue. I told you to stop using your hands to remove the ice out of your hole. Use that ladle.”
“Call me Papa Smurf. These blue minnows are crushing the perch,” he said to me. “Look at the bottom. They are fighting over the ones we brined blue.”
Zivkovic and I were in Southern Ontario, roughly an hour from Toronto and the Greater GTA (with no traffic) at Lake Simcoe between Snake Island and the mainland in search of what they refer to locally at “jumbos.” Set near the town of Keswick, the shallow flats in this part of the lake are home to many of Canada’s largest perch, and arguably some of the biggest in North America. Staring through the hole reminded me of an aquarium. The water was gin clear. We watched perch swim in and out of the picture.
For the second year in a row, Ontario endured a brutal winter. Despite temperatures that rose into the upper 30s Thursday (4 Celsius) there was still enough ice for SUVs (and our small four-door) to drive on it. In fact, we almost needed an auger extension to drill holes. The ice was nearly 20 inches thick. Locals mentioned under these conditions vehicles will gain another week of ice access. Snowmobiles, bikes and foot traffic can possibly see another few weeks. In short, the jumbo perch season isn’t over, yet.
Meanwhile, the traditional easy limits of jumbos haven’t materialized the past two years, many retired folks who fish here several times a week told us. They were still being caught daily, but not in historical numbers. Fortunately, the bite kept pace with smaller fish, particularly if you had blue and chartreuse brined minnows.
Minnows are one of the better baits for jumbos. Pinhead minnows are the best, but many GTA bait shops were out. We found the next size up at North Canadian Outfitters in Vaughn and before we left the shop poured half a bottle of Blue Fire Brine in one bag filled with a dozen minnows and half a bottle of Chartreuse Fire Brine in the other bag, which had minnows, too. The staff at this small tackle shop had no idea why we were doing this. It’s become common practice in The States, but just creeping into Canada, although we do recall getting an email from a few Canadians who did this here two years ago (see photo below that they sent to us).
Brining cut bait does several things. It toughens the minnows up to keep them in the correct position on the hook better, makes their scales shine, prolongs the time you can use the bait and gives it color. The blue and chartreuse brine is UV, meaning it gives you a bolder presence under the ice and attracts perch (and other species) from a greater area. Zivkovic cut our minnows in half because they were larger than pinheads. The smaller profile proved to be more attractive to the perch. We also used small Rapala ice jigs with a six-inch dropper. On that dropper Zivkovic placed a single Gold Label salmon egg on the hook. The smaller perch inhaled them as you’ll see on our next edition of Pautzke Outdoors, which we filmed here.
Did the brined bait work? We started the afternoon near about a dozen anglers and were hooking fish constantly (we fished from Noon to about 6). Within a few hours a few of the old-timers had migrated over to our hut to grab a few of our blue and chartreuse minnows.
Shortly after Zivkovic was walking from angler to angler pouring the Fire Brine in their minnow buckets. We had so much success on the blue (even a few herring grabbed them) the chartreuse weren’t broken into until later in the day when we were about to leave. By the time we headed back to Toronto Zivkovic wasn’t the only one with blue hands. (It does wash out with soap.) Many of the anglers around us had them, too, a sign that they were catching jumbos alongside us.
“Ever heard of wearing gloves?” I asked Zivkovic.
“I like of like the blue look,” he said, sporting a huge smile.
Fortunately, the jumbo perch did, too.
How To Brine Your Minnows
Brining minnows couldn’t be easier, is effective and a quick process. While you can simply pour your chosen color (blue, purple, orange, green & chartreuse are most popular for perch) into the bag the morning you fish, it’s less messy and better if you brine them the night before (they gain color within an hour if you choose to do it on your way to the lake).
Step 1: Place live or dead minnows (or any cut bait) in a container.
Step 2: Pour chosen Fire Brine color into container with the minnows. You only need enough to submerge the minnows.
Step 3: For best results let the solution sit 4-6 hours.
Step 4: Drain brine and place minnows in a Tupperware (or something similar). Unfortunately reusing brine isn’t effective. Once you use the brine on cut bait the agents in the brine are absorbed into that bait. It wouldn’t be as productive on round two.
Editor’s Note: Chris Shaffer is the Director of Operations at Pautzke and has been to Ontario three times since December. He recommends grabbing some Timmy’s in Keswick before heading out on the ice. Always check to make sure the ice is safe before venturing on it. Pautzke Fire Brine is available locally at several Canadian Tire stores, Bass Pro in Vaughn and Niagara on the Lake, Sail and most Southern Ontario tackle shops.