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Ode to the Old Board and Flag
Planning to Change the Winter Routine
Addicted to Ice Fishing
“Mobility and Stealth” for Early Ice Success
Spoons Across the Spectrum
Ode to the Old Board and Flag
By Tom Neustrom
There’s not a bone in my body that says “drill, quit and sit…” That’s not a consideration when I’m prepping a battery of tip-ups for a day on the hardwater. No, tip-up fishing is an interactive enterprise that requires as much forethought, foresight and gamesmanship as run and gun jig fishing It’s still about mobility and , but instead of physically jigging from hole to hole, the tip-ups do the work. Just for an off-the-cuff example, I drill one hole for every six flags. Sounds like the exercise regimen of a madman, yes. But it’s the only way to maximize use of these seemingly simple, yet crucial pieces of ice fishing gear.
Let’s start with walleyes. To most, they’re a distinct second to northern pike when it comes to tip-up tactics. Flip-flop that for me. Walleyes, even more than pike, run cruising lanes with regularity. So if you can locate those roadways, tip-ups are ideal for lining the shoulders and passing lanes and cutting off fish.
The spools on my walleye flags are wound with 30-pound braid. To that, I factor in a 24-inch segment of 8-lb. Suffix Elite monofilament – connection provided by an InvisaSwivel from Aquateko. These premium swivels self lubricate even in the coldest water, and are incredibly durable as well. Never, ever had one break. Before tying on the hook – a #6 VMC octopus livebait hook – I slide on a 1/8-ounce barrel sinker, which is held in place by a string bobber-stop, followed by a flicker blade or single colored bead. Rigging it this way, I can slide the weight up or down, depending on if I want the bait anchored near the bottom, even on the lake floor, or with a foot or more of line so the minnow can swim freely to attract walleyes from a distance. Adding the single bead and or tiny flicker blade imparts the triggering mechanisms of color and flash. Yeah, it’d be easier to just tie on a hook and plunk down minnow. But that’s lazy, and frankly, less productive.
Minnow-wise, for walleyes, the best all around candidate is a shiner, especially local run bait. Minnows from 2- to 4-inches are preferred. Hook them just behind the dorsal fin, penetrating the skin and some meat, but not causing mortal wounds. And it never hurts to experiment with hooking styles. Years of fishing saltwater has taught me that snout hooked minnows stay the liveliest. Simply pierce it sideways through the nostrils like the nose ring on a bull. At first it’ll seem odd, but once you lower it down the hole and watch the bait swim like Olympian Michael Phelps, you’ll understand.
My preferred strike indicating instrument is Frabill’s Pro Thermal Insulated Tip-Up. They seal holes to prevent freezing even when it’s blowing; stack like poker chips in a 5- or 6-gallon bucket; and they’re durable and reliable. Sure, there are plenty of dimes-store lookalikes out there. But you get what you pay for in ice fishing equipment, tip-ups included. Those knockoffs crack on contact when it’ really cold and spin about as smoothly as the rusted steering wheel on an old farm tractor.
Once set, an inactive tip-up shouldn’t stay idle for longer than 30-minutes. Waiting any longer is a waste of a line, and your precious fishing time. Keep relocating them, searching for productive structure, cover, and depths. Remember, you should have 6-holes available for every tip-up. Eventually, you’re going to come across that ‘hot hole’ or busy area. Without fail, there are two or three holes that see most of the action. Once clearly identified, start hop-scotching the furthest tip-ups in that direction. That’s also the time to retire a tip-up and jig amongst the spread of tip-ups.
For northern pike, I outfit the same Pro Thermal Tip-Ups with 50-lb. braid or a comparable superline. To that, I add in an InvisaSwivel tethered to a heavy fluorocarbon leader. Aquateko’s Knot2Kinky titanium leader wire is another option. It’s tie-able, actually stretches to absorb the shock of a strike, and is quite thin and inconspicuous for its strength and bite-proof properties. The hook is a 1/0 or 2/0 VMC Kahle, which is paired with the largest shiner minnow in the shop or a 4- to 7-inch live sucker. You don’t need 12-inch ‘decoy’ sized suckers, even for pursuing enormous fish. Giant suckers are expensive and can actually turn pike off. Big pike don’t like chasing giant minnows around. With that said, they will swallow up a good-sized dead smelt or herring – no chasing, just gorging with dead bait.
Set your lines with an ‘inside out’ blueprint, dropping tip-ups in and along the weeds and moving deeper only if the shallows aren’t producing. And again, those deeper holes should already have been drilled per earlier instructions.
Now even though I’m using the same model tip-up for both species, I keep separate stashes of each. In one bucket there’s a selection of pike-specific tip-ups. In the second, everything’s fixed for walleyes. And I take both buckets of tip-ups on nearly every mission. Quite often, classic weedy pike areas butt right up against primo walleye structure, such as steep breaks and rocks. That, and a thick green weedbed is attractive to all species, pike and walleyes included. So intermingling of species isn’t out of the question.
Treat tip-up fishing like the most rarified forms of fly-fishing and you’ll reap the rewards. Setting out a couple of shoddy flags with less-than-par riggings is flatly unacceptable, unless you’re just out there to stare at the barren icescape and freeze your fingers at the end of the day with no fish for your gullet.
Professional fishing guide Tom Neustrom is a recent inductee into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis. He owns and operates Minnesota Fishing Connections, a respected multi-species guide service based out of Grand Rapids, Minn. Website is www.mnfishingconnections.com.
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Planning to Change the Winter Routine
By Jerry Carlson
I find I am typically a long range planner. Don’t get me wrong, I do plenty of “spur of the moment” activities, but for the most part, I like to plan ahead.
That is why I was not the least bit surprised to find myself thinking about early ice way back in mid October. Every time I walked past the ice rods hanging on the wall, my thoughts went to fishing.
The memories I kept coming back to were all related to early ice panfish. Although I certainly catch my share of fish during the early ice period, my thoughts focused on the need for change. This year, I was going to shake up my routine for the early ice period.
Like everyone else, I have my favorite panfish hotspots that I like to visit. When these perennial favorites slow down, I broaden my horizons to other frozen water. However, it is this comfortable pattern I have fallen into that has been my mistake. I believe I am waiting too long to work on a few of my secondary locations.
The last two years have been classic examples of my inability to cash in on a great opportunity.
I remember my first trip to one particular lake that took place well after people were driving on the ice. The bite was not spectacular. However, the fish I did catch were very impressive.
In talking to other cronies that work this lake, the major bite was already over before I ever set foot on the ice. While I was chasing mediocrity someplace else, I missed the big bonanza. This year, I will get to this lake as soon as the ice is safe for a four-wheeler.
And then there was a lake I have been hearing about for several years. I have should have been willing to make the extra drive to find out more about this unknown resource, but I didn’t. I fished the same lakes I always fish.
When I did get around to spending the extra gas to learn about a new body of water, I was surprised at what I found. The panfish in this lake ran a very healthy size but once again, I was a day late and a dollar short of really hitting the major feed.
All serious ice anglers know that the first-ice bite can be pretty darn special. The fish locations are predictable and the crappie and bluegill are hungry. It is a great combination.
However, taking advantage of this great combination isn’t as easy as it may seem. We are such victims of our own habits that we do what we did other years even if it is not working very well. I think it is called human nature.
So, it was back in mid October that I started breaking the mold. It was two months ago that I convinced myself I will mix up the routine a little bit more this year.
There is no doubt I will visit my perennial favorites like I always do during the early ice period. There is also no doubt that I will check out some other locations to get a better feel for the bite that is taking place on other lakes.
Visit Jerry's website at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com
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“Mobility and Stealth” for Early Ice Success
By Gary Rehbein
The days of the hot blistering sun beating down on my sunburnt face are a distant memory and I waited as long as I could before packing up my open water gear only to be longing for spring to come as soon as possible. With the arrival of much colder temperatures and signs of the upcoming winter, my attention has turned to ice that has formed overnight beneath my boots. Ice covering the North country lakes comes without a second thought and I find myself pulling my sled across the newly formed ice.
Early season ice fishing can be outstanding and I like to be the first one out on safe ice. Without hesitation I packed my truck and headed out to one of my favorite early ice lakes. When I get there, I talked with a couple of other anglers heading out to a similar location on a small body of water, but judging by the load they where piling on their sled I know I would be the first to drop a line.
After a few moments of fishing and with a couple of Bluegills flopping on the ice, the other anglers made there way onto the ice. With every piece of gear imaginable being towed behind the lead angler (shelter, power auger, propane heater, dozens of rods, and who knows what else) the two anglers made they way out toward me. By the time they reached my location they looked wore out and exhausted by the journey and I was ready to pick up and move to my next spot.
I began getting ready to move and no sooner had that thought crossed my mind, I was already underway. I put my hand auger, sonar, ice scoop and my two rods in the sled and off I went easily across the ice moving at a good pace to my next location. I walked quietly across the ice only to reach my next fishing area within a few minutes. Looking back over my shoulder it appeared the other anglers had not even completed unpacking their gear. Early season ice fishing is often characterized as a time when you need to be efficient and make the most out of your time on the hard water.
Making the proper adjustments for early season ice fishing is important. Most of the fish are very active and willing to bite most offerings. Accordingly, mobility and stealth is the key and that is my first major consideration when packing for these adventures. I will spend less time worrying about my lure choices and focus more on finding the right locations and getting to them quickly and quietly.
Things to Contemplate for Early Ice:
Grabbing the hand auger over the power one is an important consideration early in the hard water season with most ice only being 4-6 inches in thickness. There are a few reasons I go with the hand auger; it is lighter, can quickly go through thinner ice, and is less noisy in shallow water situations.
Limited gear is essential during these early season outings. You do not need to bring every piece of gear you own. Bring your two favorite jigging sticks for panfish, one or two tip-ups and a jigging stick for Pike and Walleye. The key here is not going overboard with the “I mite need this!” scenario. For panfish, I often utilize micro soft plastics exclusively in these situations. They pack small and are very effective at catching active feeding fish.
Leave the portable ice shelter at home! Portable shelters can considerably reduce our mobility as we get comfortable and anglers will often limit their fishing activity to a certain area. Portable shelters become significant when the ice is a little thicker and snowmobiles and AVT’s come into play. They are essential in extremely cold and windy situations, but it you can get by without a shelter, reduce the load and you will have the opportunity to explore new waters more quickly.
Going light and keeping things simple is a the key to success during the early hard water season. When you can be the first one out on the ice, making frequently moves to keep up with the fish and you will have a great amount of success. Look into what you traditionally carry and find ways to slim up your load. It will make for an easier trip and you will spend more time actually fishing. As a reminder, always be safe and do not go onto ice that is unsafe. Early ices fishing is great fun, get them while they are hot!
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Addicted to Ice Fishing
By Dennis Foster
First ice is nearly here-and that can mean only one thing… ice fishing! The first forays onto hardwater, in my eyes anyway; stirs up something deep in the soul akin to a religious experience. There is a direct correlation, as after all, we as mere mortals are indeed walking on water. Not God-just God like, as we once again gingerly place our feet onto the beautiful playing field the creator has so generously laid before us in full anticipation of what is to surely come.
Maybe a little too introspective there, but the sentiment is genuine, nonetheless. I am not alone in this passion (perhaps addiction) to the sport, as there is an ever growing legion of those who consider ice fishing not just another outdoor endeavor, but rather the most important of all outdoor activities. This can be witnessed in the fact that ice fishing is the only segment of the fishing industry that is actually growing and not remaining flat or trending backwards. This is truly a benefit for the ice fishing enthusiast as no matter what your level of interest, capitalism still works in America and the fishing industry has responded with an ever expanding array of shelters, tackle, clothing, electronics, and other goodies to meet anyone’s needs and budget. Budget is one of the most attractive things in ice fishing as it is an inexpensive pastime. For a very modest investment, you can be outfitted as good as anyone out there. No sparkly $70,000 boat needed here folks.
As our options in equipment escalate each year, it would be in your best interest-whether novice or veteran-to check out what is new and improved. Electronics have seen the most dramatic developments and this year is no different. There are many good companies to choose from for Flashers (fish locators) and Underwater Cameras. I am most familiar with and trust Vexilar as they started and continue the revolution to this day. The advent of their Double Vision system (flasher and camera combined in one darn handy carrying case) is the most talked about new offering this season.
The vast array of lures and jigs continues to grow, with workable micro plastic tipping options being noteworthy. Many unique designs are now donning the shelves and perhaps the most interesting is the use of Tungsten in jigs. Much denser (heavier) than lead, thus allowing us to get very tiny packages quickly back down to a hot panfish bite. These have been somewhat of a closely guarded secret and mostly imported from Europe, but are now widely available as HT Enterprises has come out with their own domestic line.
Shelters have advanced from simple windbreaks to portables that are as warm and cozy as they are simple to set up. The ultimate evolution being wheeled houses that are no longer “permanent” as you can leave them hooked to your vehicle and literally drop em and pick em up in mere minutes; thus allowing the ultimate in portability and luxury. The models from Lodge www.ice-shack.com are RVIA certified and offer more standard amenities than your first apartment. They even serve double duty as toy haulers and campers in warmer months.
Our first order of business is and will always be to gain access to the fish and what was once a chore is now darn there fun with the latest generation of power augers. StrikeMaster continues to the lead the way and their new Big Volt electric is just what the doctor ordered for the aforementioned hard sided shacks.
Lots to look at and little time to do so as first ice quickly approaches… thank God.
Dennis Foster is an Outdoor Writer as well as a Fishing and Hunting Guide in South Dakota. You can learn more by visiting www.eyetimepromotions.com or calling him directly at 605-887-7069.
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Spoons Across the Spectrum
The author shows off a big Leech Lake walleye caught on a Northland Tackle Forage Minnow Jigging Spoon. The fish was lured in with a snap-jigging approach in deep water.
By Jason Durham
Whether used for open-water application or beneath the icy skin covering a mid-winter lake, spoons are both archaic and avant-garde.
Once man-kind was able to pour, shape and render various metals into parts, machinery and firearms (or weaponry), adaptations were made to construct the perfect lure; something that would attract fish of any kind and offer anglers a link between work and play.
The spoon continues to thrive in angling productivity while some of the “standards” from the past continue to pass in time; often due to flashier, more refined counterparts.
Spoons, per say, haven’t fallen from the radar by either fish or angler. The slight alterations to what once was initially was a scrap piece of metal with hooks attached, has now been tuned into a hyper-active, multi-functional tool for novice to expert anglers. In essence, a spoon can catch fish, centuries after its introduction, from east to west, north to south, boiling to freezing. Spoons may possibly be one of the most versatile fish catching attractors ever made.
A spoon surprised a guide client when, after continually re-baiting with minnows, maggots and plastics, had landed so many fish (and gained equally frozen hands upon the icy glaze of a northern Minnesota body of water), discontinued placing natural or artificial flavor or taste enhancements on the hook. Cold hands were the greatest contributor toward the fisherman discovering that when the fish are active, a spoon, sans bait, is super deadly.
Yet this isn’t typically the case and although spoons are hyper-attractive to fish, live or artificial bait delicately hung from the hooks is what commonly finalizes the smashing reaction from freshwater fish. It doesn’t need to be much; a single wax worm, maggot, minnow head or minute strip of scent and flavor enhanced plastic will get the results you want.
Now spoons aren’t simply used for big fish. In the open-water arena, anglers often think of spoons as being applicable for northern pike, muskies and trout. Vertical presentations can even garner a few smallmouth, spotted bass, largemouth and walleye. But through the ice, everything is vertical in presentation. It’s a top to bottom, bottom to top approach which is important to remember when utilizing this dynamic fish-catching option.
Spoons work especially well through the ice because they attract fish from long distances. Even in water that has low clarity, the flash and vibration out-performs many other presentations because the fish can simply locate the lure easier than traditional jigs or live bait options. In clear water, the variables are slashed. Fish can see, hear and feel the diverse characteristics of a spoon.
Big fish undoubtedly love spoons, engulfing the jittering, hopping, pulsating piece of metal into their gaping maw. But unbeknownst to many anglers, smaller scale species are equally attracted to spoons. Crappie, sunfish and perch are perfect targets for spoon fishing, the only difference between being the size of the spoon used as an attractor. Yet most ice anglers can affirm catching rogue jumbo perch, slab crappie and bull bluegills on a spoon much larger than they ever thought a panfish would grab. Using a smaller sized spoon exponentially increases the catch rate.
For northern pike, bass, rainbow and lake trout, a “ripping” action is quite productive. Those species are aggressive and won’t hesitate to inhale a spoon on the up or down-stroke of the anglers jigging cadence. Panfish are more commonly caught using a “salt-and-pepper” style of jigging, where the angler attempts to keep the body of the spoon still while only moving the small hook and bit of live or artificial bait. The action is similar to shaking salt or pepper onto a steak at dinner. Concentrated strokes make the bait dance and tremble, an action big panfish can’t resist.
Speaking of big panfish, spoons also decrease the number of smaller fish you’ll have to deal with. And when we’re talking about removing the hook from hundreds of panfish a day (in sub-arctic temperatures), spoons not only keep your hands warm, your ratio of large to smaller fish at a premium, it also protects the future year classes. Small fish that are repeatedly exposed to freezing temperatures can suffer to blindness and frozen fins, which ultimately can lead to mortality.
So if you want a premium approach to landing more and bigger fish of all species this season, tie on a spoon…you won’t be disappointed!
Jason Durham is a guide, writer and outdoor educator from Park Rapids, MN. You can contact him at 218-252-2278 or go to his website, www.go-fish-guides.com
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