It’s been a very interesting ice fishing season so far. Ice came early to quite a bit of the ice region, then the weather got warm. Rain fell in some areas, heavy snow fell in others. We maybe didn’t lose a lot of ice, but we also didn’t make much. There’s cold weather in the forecast, and I’m starting to plan some trips to get after fish through the ice. There are are a couple of lakes that I would like to visit in the next few weeks. They both offer outstanding options for a variety of fish.
One of the legendary fishing locations in the Midwest for both open water and ice is Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. Big Stone used to be known mostly for its open water walleye fishing, and it’s still an outstanding open water walleye fishery.
However, in the past few years, Big Stone has really become popular for its through-the-ice perch. Simply put, it can be one of the best around. We fished perch in the open water this summer on Big Stone and caught them one after the other. There were lots of year classes, so we caught plenty of little ones which is a good indicator for the future, but we also caught plenty of those that are perfect for the table. Try the new smaller Glo-Shot Jigs from Northland. Tip them with a small minnow or waxworm.
Big Stone is also developing a strong fishery for big bluegills, and of course there are walleyes. You’re going to have to experiment a bit for these two species, and of course a sonar unit is a very helpful, almost necessary tool for most ice fishing. Vexilar has a sonar unit that will fit anyone’s needs and budget.
I have a plan to visit Clear Lake in North Iowa very soon also. In the past 10 years, Clear Lake has become one of the premier multi-species lakes in the Midwest. Through the ice you’ll catch walleyes, crappies, yellow bass, bluegills, perch, and it’s not unusual to hook up with a musky or catfish. For several years, the yellow bass in Clear Lake got a lot of ice fishing attention, and that’s no surprise: They’re super plentiful and outstanding on the table. But recently Clear Lake fishing guide told me that last year his clients iced more walleyes than the several previous years combined. That’s good stuff!
Clear Lake is a very versatile fishery. You can catch walleyes and yellows in the basin along with some crappies and perch. Try 1/16th- and eighth-ounce Buck-Shot Rattle spoons tipped with a minnow.
But if you like to fish shallow, shallow being 4 feet or less, you can do that also. Bluegills along with more crappies are up there in the abundant vegetation. Tiny Mooska Tungsten jigs tipped with waxworms or spikes or the tiniest Impulse plastics will be productive.
Check out Clear Lake and all that the area has to offer.
Wherever you live in the Midwest, there is a good ice fishing opportunity within an easy drive. Clear Lake and Big Stone are two fantastic opportunities. In the next couple of months, do what you can to check them out.
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.