Splake: the MNRís gift to the discerning fisherman
By Dan Gagnon
Up in Elliot Lake and much of Northern Ontario in winter, lake trout is king. Tons of anglers head out to remote lakes with their snowmobiles and motorized augers, with great success.
But for those of us looking for a tastier option and one that requires a little less hassle and equipment, splake is a perfect fit. Splake is a genetic cross of a male speckled trout and a female lake trout. They taste better than lakers and fight like a speckle trout and you donít have to worry about deep water and running tons of line. Plus, theyíre easier to catch in the winter than in the summer.
The MNR began breeding and stocking splake in an attempt to counter the damage to lake trout stocks caused by lampreys in the great lakes in the 1960s. By the 1990s and into today the MNR continues to breed and stock small inland lakes with splake, right across the province.
The Elliot Lake area has a number of splake lakes nestled in among the lake trout and traditional speck lakes. In fact, unless you get some local knowledge before heading out, itís a crapshoot whether that tap on the jigging line or flag on the tip up is a pure bred speck or a hybrid, migrant rogue splake. Both are quite tasty and worth the effort, but today weíre concentrating on splake techniques.
Splake will tend to group together and wander from deep to shallow water, working structure and breaks. Look for beaver houses and points that look like they arenít far from deep and shallow water. Bore some holes across a bunch of depths to see whatís working, pay attention to the depth and structure and work that structure again and again.
I like to mix it up, using both a subtle and flashy technique. In Ontario, youíre allowed two lines per fisherperson, so I like to use a tip up with a lively minnow maybe two feet off bottom and a subtle presentation with a small treble hook and clear monofilament. At another depth, say 8 to 10 feet, Iíll use a jigging rod with a small (1 to 2 inch) spoon, Williams Wabbler or Swedish pimple, tipped with a minnow for some flash, try to attract a hit with a fairly strong jigging action. An aggressive splake will nail that spoon in no time. If theyíre not in an aggressive mood, try slower, smaller jigging or leave the spoon in favour of a small white jig and minnow. They could be lightly taping the line so you have to be on your toes and ready for the slightest nibble to set the hook.
For the tip up, keep it simple and subtle. Try using a swivel with about 10 inches of mono and a small split shot, then tie on a small treble hook. Hook only one of the trebles under the skin of an average sized minnow just behind the head, allowing the bait to swim around freely. The swivel will prevent the line from tangling and the split shot will generally keep the bait down to where you want it, a few feet off bottom. That way the minnow will swim fairly freely and realistically, and a roving splake will gobble that bait without thinking, and without being spooked by traditional black braided ice fishing line.
You might think at first youíll lose a lot of bait but I think what you will find is that you catch more fish and hence the bait is doing its job. It takes some getting used to. Since the hook is just behind the head and relatively small, when the splake (or laker or speck, you never know in winter) hits that bait head first he wonít even notice the hook. The tip up lets him run with it. This is where it takes some nerve. Let him go for second or two, lightly get ready and as soon as you feel the weight of the fish set the hook. That way the bait is well within his mouth when you set the hook and you greatly increase your odds of hooking and landing that fish.
Depending on the size of lake, the temperature and my energy level, I tend to move around, if splake arenít interested in that particular spot, pack it in and move on. You could always circle back and try again later if you donít find a reason to stay anywhere.
Next time you see all those pickup trucks and snowmobiles heading north for lakers, try a nice little splake lake and get a taste for what a gift the MNR has given us. Might as well take advantage when they do something right. Try mixing it up between medium and shallow depths, subtle and flashy techniques, and you wonít be disappointed.