Ice fishing sometimes is thought of as something that it really isn’t. When the conversation of ice fishing comes up, and there are people in the conversation who don’t go ice fishing, their first thought is of how cold you get when you go ice fishing. While it’s true that it requires cold weather to make ice, you don’t have to get cold just because you’re ice fishing. And, best of all, young people, even those with a short attention span, can really, really enjoy ice fishing. I relearned that fact on a recent weekend.
We had family with young boys visiting, and all week we had been planning to go ice fishing, and all week the weather forecast was for below zero temperatures and strong winds. We agreed that a small pond would be the best place for those conditions. Small ponds are usually somewhat protected from the wind, and we wouldn’t need to cover a lot of ice and drill a lot of holes to find the fish.
The youngster’s dad Dax and I went to the pond, got the holes drilled, located some fish, set up a small hub shelter up and got the heat started. We then called mom and grandma and said that they “should bring the guys out.” Fifteen minutes later, they arrived and the action commenced.
The pond we were on has bluegills, bass, and some perch. We focused on the bass. In cold weather, and for these bass, my favorite bait is a 16th-ounce Forage Minnow Jig tipped with a couple of waxworms. This is a single-hook bait, and I really prefer single hooks with young anglers. We could get the fish unhooked much safer and more quickly than with a treble hook.
Three youngsters started fishing, and all three caught fish quickly. After a while, two decided that sledding sounded like a better idea, so mom and grandma took them sledding. The middle son, Rex, age 7, wanted to keep fishing.
We were using spinning tackle with 6-pound test P-Line Floroice on a medium light rod. Rex’s dad lowered the bait and showed him how to see the bait on the sonar. Rex picked up quickly on the technique and soon wanted to do it himself.
It wasn’t long, and Rex was doing it all. We kept an eye on him, but he was lowering the bait and reading the sonar, and understanding what it was telling him. He was using a Vexilar FLX-20 and telling us when he was going to get bit, and he was usually right. We were catching 12- to 14-inch bass consistently. Not big, but great for a beginner. Rex took big fish for the day, and he did it with no help. He caught a jumbo perch, a true 15-incher. Talk about excited!
The weather started to turn for the worse, and we decided to call it a day, although Rex was still interested in fishing. It’s a good idea to end the fishing before beginners ask to go home.
There are lots of public and private ponds or small lakes all across the ice belt. We need to get permission to fish the private ponds, and we need to be sure to clean up after ourselves. We can fish the public ponds pretty much anytime, and we again, need to remember to clean up after ourselves.
The next few weeks will be outstanding for ice fishing. The days will be warmer and longer, and as that happens, the fish like to bite. Find out for yourself.
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.