Early in the season (the first 3 weeks after safe ice) I find both lakers and Whities in good numbers in 35 to 60 ft of water. I especially love working hard bottom areas like humps or rock shelfs that drop off into deeper water. While on these type of structures if you can locate the bottom transition where it changes from a hard bottom (rock/gravel) to a softer bottom (silt/sand) then you could be sitting on real hotspot! Schools of Simcoe’s big Whitefish and good numbers of lake trout seem to love traveling along these transitions and its usually not long before you connect into some good fish. As the season progresses both species tend to move out into deeper water. When this happens I find that the Whities relate more to the deeper main lake basin in the 80 to over 100 ft depts and the lakers will also go deeper but they seem to prefer area's near humps, main lake shoals and off deep points.
Today's modern electronics are awesome and really help me to see exactly whats going on below the ice. Units like Lowrance's 'Ice Machine' and the 'Vexilar' allow you to easily see hard and soft bottom transition changes to locate these key areas on the big lake. Of equal importance is you can also see (real time) your lure moving up and down and actually watch the fish and see how they react to various lure jigging actions when trying to trigger a strike.
In terms of presentation I like to keep things simple. Early in the day I take advantage of the more active feeding mode of the fish and aggressively work various spoons and jigs just off bottom. Williams ice jigging spoons, Blue Fox matrix spoons and Ice fishing Jigging Rapalas are all awesome lures to use. Whitefish tend to most often bite on or close to the bottom. Although lakers will also relate to the bottom one trick that often works great is to reel up the line 10' off bottom and continue to work the jig for a couple of minutes then reel up another 10'. I will continue this process until I'm up to the top and at that point I will start the process over from the bottom again. I have caught a number of trout the same day using this technique while jigging on the bottom produced nothing.
When the fish activity and bite slows down during the day I often bounce the jig right on the bottom to 'kick up some silt'. This mimics an injured or feeding minnow and often results in aggressive strikes from both Whitefish and lakers. When fishing conditions are really tough I find that a small shiner minnow can often work wonders. I like to hook them just behind the vent or thru the lips and present them on 6lb flourocarbon line and a light wire hook just off the bottom. Slowly lifting and dropping the line is often to key in generating strikes when nothing else seems to work.
Another key to success is to be portable allowing you to move around to a different location on the lake. You don’t have to move to the other side of the lake… often just moving a couple of hundred yards can mean the difference between getting skunked or limiting out!
Remember to be safe out there and best of luck this season!
Author Greg Klatt with a BIG Simcoe Lake Trout.