Despite good weather and great ice conditions, ice fishers say there were fewer jumbo perch on their lines this season.

Yellow Perch, oft-considered the ultimate pan-fryer, is the star of Lake Simcoe’s winter fishery.  And, a nice jumbo makes for very good eating.

Rick Cross, 59, and Susan Bernardi are among hundreds of GTA anglers who travel to Lake Simcoe in hope of catching tasty jumbos.  Instead, they caught a lot of dinks.

“There’s lots of fish, but almost all of them we put back because they are less than 6 inches. We call them dinks,” said Mr. Cross, who drives up from Toronto with Ms. Bernardi almost every weekend to ice fish. “We haven’t hit the jumbos. Sometimes we’ll hit the 13 or 14-inch ones. But we’ve only got two all year that size.”

Local anglers are also upset about their diminutive perch catch.

Jason Verissimo, 39, from Willow Beach, and his cousin Jason Costa, 36, have been fishing on Lake Simcoe since they were kids.  But this season, the best they’ve caught were four perch between 11 and 12 inches.

Jason Verissimo and Jason Costa
Jason Verissimo and Jason Costa want lower limits and more enforcement on the lake.

“It hasn’t been great,” said Verissimo, “There’s a lack of fish. It’s not like years back. Ten years- ago everyone was pulling out 60, 70 fish. And, now you’re lucky if you get ten.”

Both anglers blame overfishing and poaching. They would like to see daily limits for perch reduced from 50 to 25 for a Sports Licence and more enforcement officers on the lake. 

“These limits are ridiculous. I don’t know why you have to take home 50 fish. And in some places, there’s no limit at all,” said Mr. Costa. “Whatever you catch you take. There’s no need for that.”

While some anglers don’t agree with reducing daily limits, they support the introduction of slot limits, which would force more anglers to catch and release.

’There’s slot sizes for almost every other fish. There’s no slot size for perch,” said Mr. Cross. “If it’s over 13 inches or under 6 inches, throw them back. Because the bigger ones are the breeders. They’re always female, always full of eggs.”

 “And they don’t have as much meat,” added Ms. Bernardi.  “So, you think you’re catching a big fish and you’re not. Your catching all her eggs.”

While most ice hut operators reported a good season, several say their customers caught less perch this year. 

Perch fishing was “very poor” according to Ken Heynik, 58, who owns Hank Heynik Fish Huts in Jackson’s Point.  But he doesn’t see a need to change fishing regulations, yet.

“I’d say wait, it might be just an off year,” he said.  He wants the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to complete a comprehensive creel census for Yellow Perch before any action is taken.

While Mr. Heynik thinks it’s too early to react, at least one operator is calling on MNRF to take immediate steps to protect Yellow Perch.

Paul Giles, 56, who’s operated Paul’s Fish Huts in Port Bolster for the past 36 years wants a closed fishing season for Yellow Perch, from late April to mid-August.

Ice Hut Operator Paul Giles
Ice Hut Operator Paul Giles wants closed season on Yellow Perch

“There are fewer jumbo perch because people are catching them in the spring,” he said.  “That’s when they spawn. You can’t have them both in the winter and in the spring. You can’t catch your cake and eat it too.”

Mr. Giles also believes double-crested cormorants are a big part of the problem and would like the MNRF to introduce a cull.

 “Cormorants aren’t a native species to Lake Simcoe,” he said.  “They’re eating all the small fish. They’ll eat their body weight every day.  They should have a bounty put on their heads and if the ministry wants to do that, I will support it 100 per cent.”

A MNRF decision on a province-wide cormorant cull is still pending, as public input for the proposed cull closed on January 3rd.  And, as of press time, the ministry has not forwarded a response regarding the health of the Yellow Perch population in Lake Simcoe.

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