After an extremely warm December, winter finally arrived in Montreal in January, though ice still took a while to form. I didn't get out too often by my standards, and when I did, it was a few short outings with mainly smaller perch being all that I caught, as I was limited to fishing only certain areas due to the lack of safe ice.
When the ice was finally thick enough, I made it out to one of my local spots to prospect for pike. I know there were lots of smaller walleye there, and after setting out a number of pike lines while jigging for perch without as so much as one hit, I can safely confirm that the area doesn't hold many winter pike, probably due to the deep water and lack of perch or other forage species.
Not wanting to waste the day, I switched to jigging for walleye by mid afternoon, and sure enough, managed to land a few small ones under 14 inches.
Walleye that size don't give me too much of a thrill, so I decided to think "out of the box" and try jigging in a deep hole near my walleye spot. I had marked lot's of suspended fish there in the past, and after drilling over a 50+ foot hole and adjusting my flasher, I was marking many suspended fish between 15 and 40 feet. They looked quite small, wasn't exactly sure what they were.
Jigging a micro spoon tipped with a live mealworm at 25-30 feet, I eventually managed to get one to follow my lure. I slowly reeled towards the surface, and the fish stayed on it, following the lure up from to about 8 feet until it hit pretty hard. From the way it was fighting, I though it may have been a crappie, until I pulled it out and was extremely surprised to see it was my first mooneye.
Needless to say, I was more than thrilled. Though I often see tons of mooneye surfacing to eat flies off the surface when catfishing or carping on warm summer evenings, the only time I've ever seen them hooked was by fly fishermen that target them using tiny artificial flies. I had no clue where they spent their winters, nor that they could actually get aggressive under ice. Not that I'd given them any thought, simply one of those species that most fishermen don't think of too often.
I got back to jigging for mooneye again, and sure enough, landed another mooneye about 1/2 hour later.
Though I'm not much one to keep any fish from the waters around Montreal, I decided to keep it for the table, as I had never tasted mooneye before. Turned out to be similar to crappie in texture, though a bit fishier, almost an anchovy like aftertaste. Made be burp like crazy after eating it, so I wouldn't bother trying it again...
After doing some research, I learned that I was lucky to be one of the few to catch mooneye on ice. Doesn't seem like anyone actually targets them while ice fishing, even though they give a surprisingly good fight on light tackle. Many of my die hard ice fishing friends were as surprised as I was, and received many congratulatory comments.
My fishing passion kicked into high gear for this species. The fact that I was able to catch 2 mooneye that evening, proved that it wasn't accidental, but now I wanted to try to build a pattern of what worked to catch mooneye under ice.
I headed back to my spot a couple days later, for a short afternoon / evening outing. We had lot's of rain on the interim day, followed by a cold front. The ice no longer had any snow cover, it was clear enough for me to be able to see under it, even with a good 14 inches of solid ice. Amazingly, I was able to get an accurate flasher reading without even having to drill any holes, which made prospecting pretty easy. Found them marking over a 50 foot bottom again, drilled a couple holes, and started jigging for mooneye using the same setup as the previous outing.
Sure enough, I got my first follow within about 10 minutes, though the hit was less aggressive than the ones on the previous outing. Fought the mooneye up to the surface, as pretty cool to see it fighting under the ice I was standing on. I had some people fishing nearby snap a quick pic:
With the quick success, I though I had it made, and anticipated some non stop mooneye action. I was wrong. Though I was getting a decent amount of followers, most wouldn't commit to chasing all the way up. Maybe the combination of bright sun through clear ice had them a bit more finicky, or possibly the barometer, as low fronts are typically more productive than high fronts under ice. I fished hard, getting a good 10-12 follows on about 20 or so fish I manage to draw in, but only 1 more mooneye landed at sunset.
I would have stayed after dark, as I know that mooneye feed all through the night, but had to get back home to babysit.
I just discovered a newfound passion for ice fishing for a new species, that is abundant, rarely targeted, and receives virtually no fishing pressure. Though I plan to spend some time targeting bigger fish this winter, I'm quite sure I'll be back for mooneye on ice from time to time.