Sunday, February 24, 2013

Harrier Lake Last Day on Ice?

If we have to lose ice fishing until next year I'd hang it up happily after my day out on Harrier Lake this past Saturday.

Harrier Lake is part of the Pratt's Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.  Harrier is unique in the system as a catch and release only lake.  This allows fish go grow and reproduce and sustain their own balance while giving the sport fisherman a great place to go catch a variety of species.

I met Pondboy, JC1Crappies, and Rocknfish from the DuPage Angler forums in the parking lot as soon as the gates were opened.  We parked, said our hellos and unloaded gear.

We were working off of a report given to Pondboy from a friend of his.  His friend had a great day catching walleye at Harrier last Sunday night.  Another DuPage Angler member JTC24 caught a fantastic 18" walleye a week or two ago at Harrier.  We went to a spot off a point on the lake and started drilling holes.

It was slow going.  I decided to turn on my Vexilar Double Vision underwater camera to see what was happening in holes we deemed interesting.  

I saw a perch.  Neat!  A perch.  I haven't caught one of those yet.  I hope I'll get one to bite today.

Nothing looked good and that was causing us to worry.  Pondboy walked around and talked up the other anglers.  We would tip them off if we found a bite and several said they'd do the same.  We got our first spot by way of one of these tips.

Quick holes were drilled and bait was deadsticked and jigged near bottom.  JC1Crappies scored first with walleye.

I got my Vexilar camera in line with my holes quickly by using the compass heading generated by the camera.  That enabled me to see my minnow and my jig on the video screen.  I switched jig colors to a more beige tungsten Fiskas jig.  Dropping it to the bottom I saw walleye ZIP across the screen and slam the wax worm and jig.  Camera fishing is cool!

More walleye came up for a picture.  I think the group caught over ten in total.

Mid-jig I heard a voice asking us to emerge from our shelters and bring our fishing licences. This wasn't the first county parks officer we would see today.  All of us were fishing legally and never mind proving it.  A quick chat and we said our goodbyes to the officer and got back to fishing.

Around 11:30 AM the light switch was flipped and magically the walleye vanished.  We were off to scout for a new spot.

If we were lucky we could follow the walleye.  We guessed going shallow near an underwater island would either find the walleye or find panfish to catch.  In five feet of water we found green weeds, decent light penetration, and schools of bluegill that came around every minute to three minutes almost like clockwork.

I shot this short video to show what it was like.  If I would have had a jig in the water it would have been in line with the bluegill in the background.  It would have been a safe bet that I would have caught that fish but I was using both hands to keep the cell phone steady for the video.

And now the bluegill pictures.

We were slamming bluegills in all sizes.  Some nicer sized gills came though and Pondboy or I would announce their presence on screen and on sonar.  predictably thirty to forty five seconds later the other shelter would see bluegills show up under their hole.  

Pondboy and Rocknfish had to leave to go to a family function.  As we were talking about it being time for them to go I got a text from JC1Crappies that he was on his way back with his son Brendon.

Two left, two more arrived and we kept catching bluegills.  Brendon bounced between my shelter and JC1's.  Catch a fish in one shelter, leave to go catch in the other.

Brendon had caught the bluegill in the picture above when we both saw a perch on the video screen  eyeing the jig I had left dangling.  Would I catch my first perch?  Yes, yes I would.

It was cute and pretty tiny.  Not a keeper even if we could have kept it.  It had the cool orange fins on the bottom and the stripes, add that to my list of species caught.

The sky was taking on a rosy hue in the west.  JC and I decided we should move closer to the parking lot to our morning spot.  Walleye like all fish follow their forage.  Our bet was that the conditions in the evening were similar to the conditions in the morning.  That would bring the walleye back to that area.  It did.

It was now almost dark.  We packed up our gear and dragged it to our cars where we found the Forest Preserve truck waiting for us to get off the lake.  

I fished from park open to close, dawn to dusk, all on 6-8 inches of ice.  Personal totals for the day were around 15 walleye, over 30 bluegill, and a perch.  Like I said, if that had to be my last day ice fishing for Winter 2013 I would pack up my gear happily!

Secretly, I'm hoping ice stays safe for one more trip out...but don't tell that to the open water guys.