Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Pond, Familiar Lake

There are stories passed down between fishermen when they meet as acquaintances.  Most involve tales of how big the fish were or the quantity caught the last time the angler was fishing. Once there is trust established by this conversation the "sharing of the spots" sometimes occurs. I was fishing the ice on a lake I fished a lot last year.  I had things figured out so I could find the crappies I so love to catch last year so when we didn't have early winter and didn't have the extreme cold, and snow the fish weren't in the same places as they were last year.  

The story that got me to even try this new body of water was due to the expert words shared by a fisherman that his buddy's friend said if I walk x-number of paces off this landmark on the shore of this new pond nearby I'd find a 17-foot hole full of crappies. Hmmmmm....the buddy's friend says, huh.....well what the heck.  I took the week off to ice fish and relax.  So fish on this stranger's-buddy's, friend's, recommendation I shall!

This week has been pretty warm; in the 40s during the day and around or just below freezing at night.  I was happy to see I had "that many" inches of ice.  (1" increments were etched in my old hole-scoop; it broke)  I'd guess that's at least 6-7" which is plenty safe even in the warmer temperatures.  Now to drill holes based on the coordinates provided by...well, you've been reading.  You may be guessing how this will go.

I drilled more than 40 holes in this new pond.  I drilled near the landmark, set number of paces off the landmark, deep into two lobes where the pond juts off in directions; basically all over the pond.  I didn't catch my target species but I did get to increment my species caught and species caught through the ice by one.  Please welcome the Yellow Bass to the number of species I have caught freshwater fishing in my lifetime.

While pretty, the Yellows were also kind of tiny.  They did fight well for their size but after two hours, 40+ holes, and only two Yellows to show for my morning I decided to cut my losses and fish the nearby familiar lake where I'd learned about this little gem of a pond.  (can you feel the sarcasm?)

I traveled light to this lake.  It was warm and from what I learned the other day fishing I would need to be mobile and it was too warm for me to be stuck in my shelter.  My ultra-light custom ice rod, my fishing bucket that held my flasher, auger battery, jigs, larvae, and plastics, and my ION auger all were placed in my small Otter sled.

I found I could kick my holes open from the other day.  That will save me time.  I found my holes over five feet of water and dropped in a jig tipped with a waxie.

Bam!  I got a quick hit on my first drop.  A nice perch came up for a photo.  I wonder if...

Well, fish do school and look at that.  More than one nice perch from the same hole.  I wonder if I can do it again.  Nope.

I jigged up a crappie!  One of my favorites!  I wonder if there's anything else down this hole. There wasn't.  I had to go fish another hole; several actually.  What did I find in those holes?

A few hours of catching and I had my fix for the day.  I caught fish on both live maggots and artificial plastics.  I switched from live bait after I started catching more small bluegills than anything else.  The plastic I fished was the Trigger-X Moustache Worm.  It's like fishing a stick-worm wacky-style in concept; in practice it probably resembles some kind of bug.  The fact that the two, wispy tails cause the bait to sit horizontally makes it a large target. Most fish will think twice about the size of their mouths before attempting to tackle this bait and that was the idea.

Now while I don't recommend following every recommendation a stranger's-buddy's, friend makes regarding life choices fishing is another thing entirely.  All it took was the suggestion that this new pond held fish to push me over the edge to fish it.  I had been "Google Maps scouting" the pond for a while now.  I would have fished the new pond eventually but it took a recommendation from strangers-buddy's, friend and now that I've fished it I doubt I'll fish it again.

As for the Familiar Lake, I'll be back always looking for for more fun catching. More fun fishing, and more species diversity.  All fish got to swim away with nothing more than a cool lip-piercing and photo to show for their topside visit.  

I never did find that "crappie hole" as described by a guy I didn't know.  I didn't suspect I would.  I had to fish the New Pond for the same reason people climb mountains; because they are there, because they pose a challenge, a puzzle to unlock. I had to return to the Familiar Lake for the same reason.....and because there are fish in that lake.  Catching fish is ALWAYS more fun then searching for fish!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 First Time On Ice

ICE!!!  We finally have ice!!!

Living in northern Illinois I often watch ice reports from North Dakota and Minnesota.  Those are the first states I see ice reports from.  I start to get excited when Wisconsin and Iowa have ice thick enough to fish.  I wait semi-patiently while weather gets cold, skim-ice starts to appear on ponds and lakes, my fellow ice anglers and I turn into weathermen as we watch extended forecasts waiting for the water to get thick enough for us to feel comfortable walking out on the water.  This year we had a few weeks of cold, then warm, then cold, then warm, then frigid, then finally frozen!

This past Saturday was my first opportunity to get out and ice fish.  My friend Alan was just as excited as I was and we met shortly before sun-up to take our first steps into the 2015 ice season.

I started drilling holes; the first to test ice thickness which was 7-10", the rest to find weed edges, and the depth transitions I knew should hold fish.  Alan followed with my Vexilar flashing depths and checking for fish activity.   As often happens to the person following the hole-driller Alan hooked up with his first fish of 2015!

Ok, a little underwhelming but the skunk was off Alan.  I kept drilling holes with my ION until I heard Alan say, "Hey, a big mark is chasing my jig."  Yeah it was!!  Alan set the hook when he felt a mushy sensation and was rewarded by his straight line reel handle spinning backwards and whapping his palm several times before he could use his hand as drag. With pressure on the line the fish knew it was hooked and began to massively bend Alan's panfish rod toward the hole.  After five minutes of back and forth Alan turned the fish and got its head up the hole.

Alan seriously upgraded on his second fish for 2015!  A very nice largemouth bass with a tiny, perch-pattern Fiskas jig tightly embedded in its upper lip.

We decided to set up my shelter over this hole for the obvious reason being held by Alan above. We were sitting on top of 7-8' of water right off a transition down from 5'.  It didn't take long before I was able to jig up my first fish of 2015 using a small Salmo Chubby Darter lure.

While it isn't a huge crappie I'm glad my first fish of 2015 was a nice chunk of a speck.  I enjoy catching the wily crappie and I released this pretty example back to the cold water to swim, eat, and spawn.  

It turned out this would be the only fish I caught my first outing of 2015. Alan started moving around a bit bouncing from hole to hole outside the shelter when he hollered for me to come check out what he caught.

Alan hooked into a very nice perch!  There is probably a good reason the perch-pattern jig caught the nice largemouth bass earlier today.  This perch was also released to eat, spawn, and grow.  I feel it's the right thing to do in small, un-managed lakes and ponds and so does Alan.

The sun was high in the sky, the ice surface was getting sloppy, and frankly I was tired.  We called it a day around one o'clock.  It was a great day getting out on the hard water!  Alan had a fantastic day of catching and while I only caught one crappie it was enough to get my skunk off as well as give me a taste of ice fishing again.  It had been too long since I last walked on water to do one of the things I enjoy most.  I'll be sure to get out again soon.