Boy, oh boy, what a change. When the new year started a couple of months ago, we were looking at a very mild winter. The ice wasn’t as thick as it usually is at that time of year, and there wasn’t much snow around either.
Fast forward to early March, and there’s plenty of ice and too much snow. All this weather has made it difficult for some of us to get on the ice. The fishing is still good, and there’s lots more ice fishing coming up, but for now, I’m remembering some of the changes that I’ve seen in ice fishing through the past three decades.
When I first got serious about ice fishing, I had the good fortune to share a shelter for a day with Gary Roach on Lake of the Woods. Gary is probably best known as an open-water angler, but whether it’s open water or ice, Gary figures out how to catch fish. This day was one of those days.
It was March, the ice was thick but the weather was mild. We were out about 20 miles. I was just getting started in ice fishing and was learning how to interpret my depth-finder. I knew that walleyes were mostly bottom-dwelling fish, so I was keeping my bait close to the bottom.
Gary was catching; I was fishing. After catching several walleyes to my none, Gary showed me why he is one of the most respected pioneers in fishing: He was fishing where the fish were.
We were in about 30 feet of water, and we were seeing fish swim through at about 15 feet. I assumed they were whitefish or something other than walleyes, and we were after walleyes. Gary didn’t assume anything: He brought his bait up to the fish’s level, and he caught them, and they were walleyes. He showed me what he was doing, and I started catching fish. A good lesson: Don’t assume anything. And even if they would have been whitefish, they would have been fun to catch.
I was with another Roach, Tony Roach, one day a couple of years later. We were on Mille Lacs Lake fishing for perch. We arrived at our spot, and Tony took off with his auger, popping holes along one-quarter mile of structure. After creating a bunch of holes, we started fishing. Tony never fished a hole for more than a couple of minutes if he didn’t see fish on the sonar. He kept moving until he found some perch. He caught the ones that would bite then move on. It’s this style of fishing that created the phrase “trolling on ice.”
Last Lesson: I was on the ice on Upper Red Lake with John and Duane Peterson during the crappie explosion that happened almost 15 years ago. We were experimenting with some small flashlights and baits that had been painted with glow paint.
The water in Upper Red Lake is pretty stained. We charged our baits with the glow flashlights and started fishing. We could see lots of fish below us, and we caught a good number of them. After about 20 minutes, the bite stopped. We could still see the fish, but they wouldn’t eat.
Then we noticed that our baits had lost their glow. We re-charged them and started catching the crappies again. Baits that glow at times are what it takes to catch fish. Just as in open water, sometimes bait color is an important consideration under the ice.
The weather-person on TV says the weather is going to improve, and late season ice is my favorite ice for fishing. I’m looking forward to getting on the ice to create more memories and to learn more about ice fishing.
The best ice of the year is ahead of us. Take advantage of it.
Photos: Big fish caught in North Iowa
Steve Young muskie 1
Kid catches muskie
Houston muskie in East Park
Logan Conway and Muskie
Steve Ibarra 2
Sea Wall muskie
Clear Lake muskie
Redig's big fish
12th Street cat
Tom Caswell's Muskie
Big fish in St. Ansgar
Santee's northern pike
Richards' river monster
Mike Uhlenhopp's northern pike
Lenz lands a big one
Georgia Hanford cat
Frank and the fish
Echelbarger's northern pike
East Park walleye
Mom and son muskie
2 for one on Clear Lake
Big muskie caught on Clear Lake in January, 2016
Jeff Lutcavish with giant northern
Catfish in Clear Lake
Fall Classic walleye
Jensen's Fishing the Midwest: Fall can be the best time for trophy fish
Depending on where you live, the young people and their teachers are getting ready to go back to school, football season is either here or just around the corner, and the fall fishing season is not far off. Some folks may not like this progression of seasons, but many anglers do. They know that autumn can provide the best fishing of the year for both numbers of fish and trophy fish. Many anglers have caught the biggest fish of their life in the fall. If we want to take full advantage of fall fishing, now is a good time to make preparations to do so. Following are some things to keep in mind as we prepare for fall fishing.
Whether you’re fishing a lake, river, or reservoir, at some point in the fall the fish will school up. In the summer they’ll be loosely schooled more of the time, but when the fish feel the water temperatures drop and notice the days getting shorter, they’ll group up. Therefore, it works well to keep moving with an eye on your sonar until you find where the fish are hanging out.
The importance of paying attention to your sonar was once again driven home on a fall trip to Lake Kabetogama a couple of years ago. Kab is known for its walleyes, but it’s also a world-class smallmouth fishery. We were fishing for the smallmouth on deep structures. We located the structures on the maps in our sonar units, then cruised over them looking for fish. The first two spots were fishless, the third showed fish.
We dropped jigs and dropshot rigs to them and had immediate action. Just for the heck of it, we tried similar looking structures that didn’t show fish on the sonar, and that’s what we caught: Nothing. The fact that you’ve got to fish where the fish are if you want to catch fish was reinforced that day. We were using Raymarine sonar at the time: I can’t remember which units we had, but the Axiom series of sonar from Raymarine that we’re using now does an amazing job of showing fish, and they have the other features necessary that make fish-catching so much more consistent.
Start the autumn season off with fresh line. Just as we start the season with fresh line, we want to be sure our connection to the fish is in good shape in the fall. Be sure that when that fish-of-a-lifetime eats your bait, your line will be ready to handle it. There are lots of line choices out there, and they all have a purpose. With that said, day-in and day-out, I use P-Line CX or CXX Premium. These are kind of like monofilament line, and I’ve developed a lot of trust in them. If I want more sensitivity and better hooksetting ability, I use XTCB braid with a Tactical fluorocarbon leader. This set-up provides the ultimate in strength and minimal stretch, yet allows for a very natural presentation.
In the fall, fish like larger lures. Even the smaller fish eat bigger baits in the autumn. Mother Nature tells the fish that it’s better to eat one large meal instead of several smaller ones. Use big bait for big fish.
There are lots of options for recreation in the fall. Football and hunting take up lots of folk’s time. But if you like to fish, reserve some time for doing-so. The weather is pleasant, the scenery is nice, and the catching can be outstanding. Discover that for yourself when the leaves on the trees turn colorful.
Muskies: Mitchell County Conservation intern explains 'the mystery fish' (with photos)
OSAGE | Local anglers had an opportunity to hear about the “mystery fish" -- also known more commonly as the muskie, from Levi Nettleton, recent naturalist intern with Mitchell County Conservation.
Nettleton, who will be a senior science education major at the University of Northern Iowa this fall, told attendees muskies are known as the mystery fish because of their unpredictability.
“Muskies are very unpredictable,” he said. “You can find them in waters that are 6 inches to a 100 feet deep. They look like a pike, but they have six teeth instead of five teeth like northern, and northern are spotted.”
Nettleton said a female Muskie can lay up to 265,000 eggs, but their survival rate is very low. They spawn best in water temps of 55 to 65 degrees, laying their eggs randomly in shallow waters where predators can consume the eggs.
“Many fishermen believe the muskie is a major consumer of other game fish such as bass and walleye, but they are apt to eat softer fish like bullheads and minnows,” Nettleton said, noting they also eat insects, crayfish, small mammals and waterfowl.
"Many believe they are aggressive, but that isn’t true, unless they are feeding," he said. "They are complicated for naturalists to study.”
Nettleton said Muskies’ habitats also vary, meaning they can be found in weeds like tobacco cabbage or 30 feet deep in open water. He said fisherman can find them in different places throughout the year.
Nettleton shared his enthusiasm for catching the large game fish, something he started four years ago.
“Once you do it, it can become an addiction," he said. "There's a lot of skill in muskie fishing, and sometimes, muskies are called the fish of a 100,000 casts.”
Nettleton’s study has rewarded him well, as he caught and released 36 muskies last year and 12 so far this year.
Fishermen seeking muskies typically use 7- to 10-foot rods, according to Nettleton. He uses a 300- to 400-foot reel with 22 pounds of drag, with 50-100 braid line and steel or fluorocarbon leaders.
He also carries needle-nosed pliers longer than 8 inches and a rubberized net, so he doesn't harm the Muskie.
He gave some additional pointers:
• Leave the catch in the water and support and release it when the fish is calm.
• Cut the hook if the fish has been deep-hooked.
• Don't fish over 80 degrees.
• If trolling, start at 2 mph, increasing to 4 mph.
• Do figure-eights to attract muskies.
Nettleton, who whose biggest catch was 53 inches long, said there are Muskies in the Cedar, Iowa, Shell Rock, and Winnebago rivers, as well as in Clear Lake.
The largest populations of muskies are in Minnesota, according to Nettleton, where the largest caught was 56 inches long and weighed 54 pounds.