Monday, January 21, 2013

Shabbona - The Day of 50 Holes

Some may have noticed I started this blog after my first trip out ice fishing with Dan Byrne aka Pondboy from DuPage Angler.  

Some may have noticed my excitement about ice from my posts here as soon as the weather started to get cold.

I wanted to go somewhere to ice fish that would be challenging to me. I have a poor record when it comes to fishing Shabbona Lake in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area.  I'll own my record.  The sidebar on the upper right side of this page tells my introductory tale as starting fishing again in my adult life on July 3, 2011.  On July 3 and 4th of 2011 my friend Dave and I decided to start fishing and picked Shabbona to be the first lake we'd fish.  On the first day I believe I caught my first largemouth bass ever, then nothing more in 4 more trips.

Now that I see this picture again it's a larger largemouth than I remember it being.  Still after reading the ice reports on Shabbona Lake State Park's Facebook page I was taking a leap of faith that I'd have ice to fish on when I arrived.  The weather had been gradually getting warmer since last weekend's fun out on the ice and today was forecast a high of 47 degrees.  It looked like it would hit it too.

After buying a map and chatting with a man at the bait shop counter I learned there were several patches of open water but 4-6 inches on most of the rest of the lake.  I spent the next 5 hours drilling holes.

Last weekend a stop to check out a lake that I had never fished through the ice caused me to realize my 8"  Strikemaster Lazer Sharp ice auger was a great hole driller but my arms stopped being great human-auger power after 15 holes or so.  To remedy this problem I purchased an ION lithium ion electric auger.  The auger is rated to drill 40 holes through two foot thick ice on a single charge.  I doubt I'll ever see two foot thick ice so I should be able to punch a few more than that.

Today I did.  Today I'm calling the Day of 50 Holes.  I changed locations three times.  In the first location I punched 15 holes.  No signs of life at all on my flasher in any of them.  I stopped and worked a hole when I marked something mid-water column but nothing bit my jig.

Time to move again.  As I was moving spots I got a text from my friend Jason Coyne.  He was going to bring his son Mathew to see ice fishing and all that is involved.  I punched at least 10 holes here looking for a fish crib.  Judging by the number of jigs I lost that got hooked on something wooden I'd bet I found it.

Matthew liked the water puddled on the surface, the rocks people placed on the ice marking locations, the pita chips I had for a snack and a little bit of the ice fishing experience.  Unfortunately the fish just weren't biting.  Jason and Mathew left and I contemplated a third and final move to a spot closer to my car.

Now I know I'm calling this the Day of 50 Holes but I'm pretty sure I drilled at least 30 in this final bay.  It was just so easy with my ION power auger.  I was looking for a fish crib that was centered in the cove and flanked by brush piles on either side. 

It took almost all 30 holes in this last bay to locate my first fish.  I jigged a Fiskas tungsten jig tipped with two wax worms.  Dropping the jig down to near the bottom caused the bottom to move up to check out my jig.  I teased it up, then up some more, then I paused and wiggled slightly until I felt the tap and light pull on my custom ultralight ice rod.  I raised up a hook set and my rod bent with the weight of a nice bluegill.

Hooray for beating the skunk!  It took what seemed like forever but I can now say I've caught two fish at Shabbona.'s getting colder.  Time to flip over my shelter and get away from the wind.  I drilled a few more holes to fit within the width of my shelter.  I slipped my transducer into one hole and dropped in a Fiskas jig tipped with a Little Atom Micro Nuggie in Glow Pearl color.  

Dropping the jig into the brushpile I was over yielded a blip on my flasher screen.  It chased my jig's tail up, and up, and up and SET!  TWO fish!!  

I wanted to get a shot of the Micro Nuggie in its mouth but it really didn't want to cooperate for the picture.  This was a better sized gill than the first one.  I could actually lip this one.  (and I did just to see if I could)  Like the first gill I caught I let this one slip back into the chilly water of Shabbona Lake.

No more fish would come up for a picture today.  I was happy sitting in my shelter relaxing for a moment.  The orange glow of the sunset through the trees behind me bled through my plastic shelter window.  I thought about ice fishing and what I have learned between last year when I started and now.  I reflected on the pleasure of fishing and time spent with friends.  Not everyone can say they have walked on a lake and that's kind of neat.  

When I packed my gear in my shelter's storage areas and collapsed the tent I saw the vast field of  holes I had drilled.  I'm sure the last area had more than 30 holes but the Day of 63 holes doesn't have a cool a ring to it.  I'll stick with 50 holes, two bluegills, upping my catch total to 3 fish in 6 visits at Shabbona Lake, and a great day on the ice successfully locating and catching a few fish in what was a tough bite for everyone I talked to.

I think I'll soak in the sunset for a few more minutes before packing up the car.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Evening Crappie Bite

The ice has been beaten back by rain and 50 degree temperatures this week.  There is still hope that winter will want to act like winter and freeze hard for a month.  So let's all think cold thoughts and I'll post about my fun on the ice last weekend.

After helping my friend Dan (Pondboy) Byrne guide a fellow DuPage Angler member and his boys to a successful day ice fishing I was all set up to catch a few myself.  Dan and I said our goodbyes and I stayed to wait for the evening crappie bite.  

All morning fishing with the boys we were marking fish on bottom and some mid-column.  The bottom fish are usually bluegills and sometimes bass and the camera on my Vexilar and Dan's Fish TV showed crappie on the bottom too.  The mid-column fish are most always exclusively crappie.

I was set up and out of the wind in my Frabill Trekker Max shelter.  A small propane bottle powered a recent purchase, a Mr. Heater Buddy kept the air in the shelter warm and comfortable. 

My Vexilar FL-20 flasher was showing bottom and the occasional sonar return from the middle of the water column.  I set a what is known as a dead-stick rod mid-water column and began setting up my flasher to display my tungsten ice jig as a faint but noticeable green line on the circular display.

Of course I could go on and on about how to read the flasher but this video gives the basics.

On my custom made light power ice rod I tied a Fiskas Woflram Tungsten jig tipped with three or four spikes.  Opening my spinning reel's bail let the jig drop down toward the bottom.  My flasher showed the green line dropping down to a few feet from the bottom when I closed reel's bail to stop the jig's decent.

Twitch-twitch-bounce.  Twitch-twitch-twitch. 

I dropped the tip of my rod to lower the jig deeper.

Twitch-twitch-bounce.  <a sonar signal shows a fish breaking off the bottom>

Twitch-twitch-twitch. Twitch-twitch-twitch.Twitch-twitch-TAP....SET up straight and high.  Feel the wiggle and end up with a fish.

A quick photo and release later my jig was back down in the strike zone.

Twitch-twitch-TWITCH.  Twitch-twitch-TAP....SET

I am loving this flasher.  It means I can use only one rod with a float and a minnow while jiggling for other fish.  Speaking of my float isn't that it below the surface of the ice?

Why yes it was.  I quickly tightened my line and pulled lightly to set the hook into a pretty little crappie.  Come to think of it the sun was just starting to go down.  Maybe I should jig up higher for crappie.

Wait, is my float down?

Just jig.  Can't watch the flasher and the float.  Too many crappies on the way through.

I'm glad I stayed out on the ice.  I got a full day in using my flasher and camera, got to use my shelter and my new best "buddy" heater.  I know I can jig for fish on the bottom or mid-column and as long as I can see my jig and mark exactly what's below me it's amazing how much I can "see" with my flasher.

The wind picked up as the sun went down and the snow began to blow all sideways and sticky.  I got packed up and folded up the shelter, stowing gear and other items inside the shelter's sled-body.  I only had one thing to pull up onto the shore and load into my car.  

Looking back on last Saturday I hope that this week will be cold enough and stay cold enough to freeze our ponds and lakes.  I am looking forward to fishing Blackwell if it gets solid this year.

I've had such a good time already that I don't want to give it up yet.  Let us have winter.  Let us have safe ice.  Let us set up our shelters, sit in comfort and wait for that inevitable happening as dusk approaches.  Let us wait on our buckets, boat seats, and some of us on our knees all of us jigging for the evening crappie bite.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pondboy's Angling Experience -DA ProStaff: Kids and Ice Fishing What a Great Combo

My friend Pondboy asked me to come and assist on an ice fishing trip he was guiding.  Who was I to say no to safe ice and good catching!

Pondboy's Angling Experience -DA ProStaff: Kids and Ice Fishing What a Great Combo: Chunsum Choi gave me a call and wanted to take his kids Ice fishing for the first time. He had not ice fished since college and ...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

First Day of 2013 First Fish

New Years Day   9:00 AM   rrrrrRRRRRING goes my phone.
Me:  Hel, um  hello?  Dan?
Pondboy:  Ok, there's 3 inches of ice at least in the small pond I scouted and the bay of the larger pond.
Me: Um......I guess since I didn't drink my liver into submission last night and slept through the new year I suppose I should get out of bed and get my ice gear from my storage unit.
Pondboy:  You're reading my mind.

I'm going ice fishing.   I'M GOING ICE FISHING!!!  

Wait, did he say three inches?!?  I thought I heard three and a half.

Now for those who are starting to ice fish and have no experience please heed the recommendation of the states I cited in my post before last who recommend waiting until you get 4" of solid ice before venturing out to fish.  I'll cover why you should a bit farther down the page.

I meet Pondboy and we grab his auger, fish finder, my flasher and we head over to the larger of the two lakes to test out the ice.  We both climb on alright.  Ok, no problem.  Let's both stand near each other and see if it creaks.  No creak, ok, then JUMP.


Did the ice just make that noise?

Yes, yes it did.

Drill a hole, let's see how thick it is.........3 1/4"..........Ok, it's holding us and we jumped.  Out ten feet more and drill again.  Ice got thicker to a good 3 1/2".  Ok, that's better.  It's not four but it's better. 

I head back to get my car and it's contents: my Frabill Trekker Max ice shelter and all the tackle and rods I'd need to fish like a madman.  (not that I have any idea how a madman would fish mind you)

I meet Pondboy back on the ice with my shelter in tow.  He had already identified a hole with decent activity on the bottom as determined by his fish finder with ice transducer.

I set up sitting on one of my shelter's seats within ice-rod's distance from a hole.  My flasher was telling me the bottom which was moving a minute ago was no longer moving. That meant whatever fish was there in my sonar's cone angle before was gone once I had a rod with a tiny Slender Spoon down the hole.  

I adjusted my flasher's gain to illuminate the spoon on its screen.  This allowed me to let the spoon drop to inches from the bottom then shoot up a few feet on the jig stroke.  This ripping motion stimulates fishes lateral lines which help put them on auto-pilot for finding what they think is food.

It didn't work to bring fish to me but Pondboy's float went down and up came the first fish through the ice of 2013.

A bluegill!  Dan's first fish to 2013 is a tiny bluegill held out to look like the fish in the Frabill commercials.  It made the fish look more impressive but we were just happy one of us caught something.  The pressure was off for Pondboy.  Now I had to work for some bites.

Pondboy got another bluegill before he suggested we leave and head to the smaller pond with the crappie.  I pack up my shelter and slide it into my hatchback for the drive to the next pond.

While setting up on a spot we put Christmas trees on last year the ice made several cracking noises and spooked us both.  I try to ease both our fears by theorizing our weight would be distributed over a greater area when we both sat in my shelter so no more cracking should happen....riiiight?  Actually it was right.  No more cracking or creaking happened once we stopped standing and concentrating our weight in a small area.

Dan and I both catch bluegills here.  They're larger than the first pond but not much more impressive.  Still it's nice to catch something on the first day of the year.

After releasing my bluegill to the waiting ice hole I put a fresh wax worm on my jig and drop it down to the structure watching the dense tungsten Fiskas jig drop on my flasher's screen.

Down to the tree then up, and up some more. This is when I notice some sonar signal rising up from the bottom with my jig.  I tease and jig, jig, jig, lift an inch, jig jig jig, puuuuulllllll.....*wiggle, wiggle, wiggle*

My custom light power 42" ice rod bent with the weight of a fish.  The ultra-light reel gave up drag once then again.

The neatest part other than being able to see the bass through the ice was the way it all happened on my flasher's dial.  Just the same way I've watched others use flashers to catch any number of species.

Pretty soon it was time to call it a day.  We'd been out on the ice for the first time on the first day of January, 2013.  While I'm happy to wait for a good four to fish on I was only a bit nervous standing on the ice.  Once in my shelter my mind was eased by the lack of cracking and the catching that followed.

I'm looking forward to what I hope is a long ice season.  I'm geared up and ready and I've proven on its maiden voyage everything works and that means I'm going to enjoy ice fishing that much more.