Opening the big world of small waters fishing.

Reflections – Ice Fishing

Reflections – Ice Fishing

Dec 1, 2012

Try Small Waters for a New Lease on Ice Fishing

By Mike Pehanich

Is ice fishing for you?

Don’t answer that yet!  At least not until you’ve read a little further.

Now I realize that most of my buddies at Bassmaster magazine have trouble picturing themselves fishing in sub-freezing temperatures through a six-inch hole in the ice. Ken Duke has trouble even conceiving of fishing in lands given to seasonal snow and ice — a geographical region he quite liberally refers to as “Canada.”

Bass angler Ron Urick treats his cabin fever with a dose of small waters ice fishing.

“I call ‘Canada’ anything north of the Mason-Dixon line!” quips the long-time B.A.S.S. editor and bass fishing historian. “Anywhere it gets cold!”

Never mind that you find Ken well bundled and fishing the float ‘n’ fly technique on Dale Hollow Lake for at least a couple days each winter. You’ll find that he draws his line in the sand deep into Dixie when the topic of “ice fishing” comes up.

His sentiment pervades much of the South where winter weather can be as fair as a southern prom queen — when I’m not there, at least!

I played snowbird one February and fished for big largemouth bass at Rex Pritchett’s Great Southern Outdoors near Union Springs, Alabama. Unfortunately, the cold tracked me down, and nighttime temperatures fell to under 20 degrees. No water for shower or shave that morning. The pipes had frozen.

That season, I discovered that true winter “cold” tends to numb an Alabaman’s senses and skew his perception, at least in the matter of estimating ice thickness. One good buddy from the Wetumpka area swore that ice on the creek bordering his property was two feet thick during the cold stretch that preceded my arrival. Now this fine gentleman wouldn’t lie to the devil or even the IRS, but I’ll bet the only two-foot thick ice he has seen in his neighborhood was part of a piece of ice sculpture!

Northern anglers have no excuse

But anglers in the North have only themselves to blame if they are stricken with a severe case of “cabin fever” and refuse to ice fish!

True, many modern anglers have fashioned their belief systems around the “bass boat,” thinking the only way to fish is to make like KVD, put the trolling motor on high and cover water!

To those, I relate this story.

True or false? Kevin VanDam, king of the bass fishing world, said he prepared for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta "ice fishing for bluegill" in Michigan. True or not, if ice fishing small waters is good enough for KVD, it's good enough for me! You, too?

Less than six weeks before the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, I interviewed Kevin VanDam. During out introductory small talk, I asked him how he was preparing to outwit enough bass in the Louisiana Delta to defeat 49 of the best anglers on the planet.

“I’ve been ice fishing for bluegill near my parents’ place,” he said.

Yes, he did win the Classic!

Bass anglers who haven’t learned to appreciate the quiet – sometimes oh-so-quiet — pleasures of ice fishing may be surprised to find how advanced the technologies and techniques of ice fishing have become. In most ways, they mirror developments in the bass fishing world. The electronics are superb – from sonar units with GPS and detailed graphic imagery to underwater cameras that show what’s really going on in that fish world beneath the ice.

Tackle has advanced light years as well, with technique-specific rods, straight-line reels, effective artificial lures, and highly sensitive spring bobbers adding sophistication to presentation and multiplying per-hour catch rates.

Small waters – the place to start!

Whether you are a newcomer to fishing or a seasoned bass angler, first time ice fishing can be intimidating.

I recall my first ice fishing outing with my dad and brother. We knew nothing about ice fishing, and the sight of that seemingly endless expanse of ice and snow on Fox Lake in Illinois was absolutely intimidating.

What were the chances of stepping onto this frozen dessert, chipping a hole in the ice, and finding fish willing to bite a wax worm right beneath our feet?

Our results matched my confidence level: zero!

Wil Leber caught this four pounder a block from home fishing a wax worm on a tiny ice spoon.

It was many years before I ice-fished again.

I wonder today how my ice fishing skills might have advanced if I had gotten intimate with ice fishing on a manageable body of water.

To young and old, tyro and seasoned vet, I suggest you take this advice: learn to ice fish and develop your ice fishing skills on small waters!

The reasons are the same that Small Waters Fishing preaches for open water fishing.

  • Small lakes and ponds are much easier to fish, much easier to manage.
  • Small waters tend to get overlooked. Many are underfished.
  • You can find and explore high-percentage fish-holding areas in a fraction of the time it would take you on a large lake.
  • You can fish close-to-home waters more often and develop your skills even without traveling long distances.
  • You won’t need big or expensive equipment such as snowmobiles, ice shelters, big gas-powered augers and expensive electronics to get started.

Warning: don’t expect a bonanza on every small lake you pick. Some small waters merit an asterisk.

Nature can be cruel to shallow lakes and ponds. During severe and prolonged cold spells, fish population may suffer from oxygen depletion or even top-to-bottom freeze. Make sure the water you choose hasn’t suffered a severe winter – or summer – fish kill.

Marty Glorvigen, of TV and Wired2Fish fame, find winter the best time to access many of the small waters near the Grand Rapids, Minnesota area.

Secondly, even moderately skilled ice anglers can overharvest small bodies of water. Practice self-restraint and good conservation. Keep fish for a meal or two. Harvest just a few – if any – of the larger panfish and release the rest. Protect gamefish, unless you have a stunted bass or pike population, which may require an intelligent harvest. Release all big fish.

Above all, take responsibility for the lake. Act as if it were your own. Treat it like a precious resource or a pet that must be cared for and treated with kindness and care to deliver continuous delight and satisfaction…for that is exactly what it is!

Now, let me ask again…Is ice fishing for you?

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