Saturday, December 28, 2013

Silent Night, Holy Night

December 24th I only had to work a half-day.  I hurried home from work and headed to a lake that is new to those of us in DuPage Angler's ice fishing circles.  I was told to expect decent bluegill there.  I love catching bluegill.  Some fight with way more moxie than they have size.

I had a tip where to fish from my friend Pondboy.  I parked, dragged my gear down to the surface of the ice.  Drilled three test holes and dropped my flasher's transducer in the first. WOW!  The bottom activity was impressive.  I checked the other two holes and they were almost as good as the first.  I quickly set up my shelter and prepared to warm up from the eight degree temperature outside.  

First drop, jig, jig, jig the orange Custom Jigs and Spins Ratfinkee.  One mark followed the jig up the water column.  

A decent gill.  That's a nice start to an nice fishing outing.  I rethought my jig at this point.  It was dark, the water was murky with maybe three feet of visibility.  The fish had to see or more importantly feel what I was offering.  I clipped on a small Salmo Chubby Darter and dropped it down the hole.  I ripped it up in the water column then let it drop to almost the bottom, wobbling seductively as it fell.

The minnow shaped Chubby Darter is good but not magic. It isn't always a "drop the darter down the hole and bring up a bass" lure.  The darter wobbles down then gets followed back up. Sometimes nipped at, sometimes just followed.  Eventually the darter started being ignored.  I took that as a clue to change up jigs to work the bluegills that were obviously the marks that weren't bass.

I tied on a new jig I had purchased this season; a Clam epoxy/tungsten jig in glow-white color with red eyes.  I hooked on three waxies to act as a enticing, twitching tail.  A quick drop down the hole and I had a mark follow me up, up, and I felt a thump signaling a bite.  Hook-set!....into nothing. Reel up to check the jig and I find out one waxie was gone. That makes sense, well two waxies will still entice fish to bite. Well, two would if another didn't just get grabbed.  Another drop and another waxie became food.

Fortunately I had spikes! Spikes are smaller larvae than wax worms. They'd be harder to grab onto and pull off my hook. I put on four spikes that had been died red and dropped the big glowing jig down the hole.  A big mark moved in from the side. It rose up with my jig and just nailed it when I paused it in place...

...BULL!!!   WOW what a GILL!!!  Definitely my biggest to date.  Now where's my tape measure? Drat!!!  No tape.  Ok, I'll hold him up to my medium power darter/spoon rod's butt section and see how long he is then measure at home.  (at home measure 8.75")  Nice, thick bluegill. Any bluegill you can lip is a good bluegill!  Time to release the fish and drop the glowing jig and spikes down to the bottom and jig, jig, jig....Bluegill.

Not as large a gill as the last but it ate the glowing white jig and got hooked.  Eventually the big jig started to repel fish so I made the switch to a smaller Fiskas Marmooska in glow white color.  A smaller jig might get the fish biting again.  Another nice gill.  Maybe the smaller jig was the ticket.

A big mark bit and pulled drag.  The Fiskas dug in the tough upper lip of a largemouth.  Hooray for the small jig.

Looking at my flasher as I released the bass I saw a nice mark moving in on the center of my flasher cone.  Drop the small tungsten jig down and twitch, twitch, WHAP!  This fish pulled drag and I thought it was another bass. 

This gill was even bigger than the first!!!  I lipped it easily and in my excitement I forgot to measure it against the same rod.  I took photos from all angles and the scale pattern on its back was beautiful.  

I'm bummed I forgot to measure it.  I'm pretty sure it passed nine inches but I can't prove it.  Still it was really fun to see it come up and out of the hole.  Oh, see the flasher dial in the picture above?  The thick red mark at 7-o'clock is the bottom. The thick green line counter clockwise around the dial is a fish swimming toward my transducer position.  If I wasn't busy taking pictures of this fish I could have tried to catch the one on the screen that was six inches off the bottom.  It's nice to have that kind of problem.  :-)

One more bluegill would make around 40 total for the day, or the rather for the night.  I looked at my phone after I snapped this picture.  It was 1:30 AM.  Wow!  I just stayed parked in one productive spot on a lake I had never fished and had a fantastic night.  

I did everything I could do inside the shelter with the heater on high before I had to lift open the tent exposing me to the cold winds on this silent night.  It was silent on the ice.  The only sounds were made by my micro-spikes or the gear I was quickly loading into the sled.  All was dragged off the ice and up to my waiting car. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Time at Harrier This Season

Those of us who ice fish have been blessed with an early start to our favorite season.  The ice started, almost got thick enough, we had a few warm days with rain, then the deep freeze kicked in.  

I walked out onto six solid inches of ice pulling my Frabill Trekker Max ice shelter behind me.  I was interested in the great mixed bag of species Harrier holds.  I've been itching to catch a decent size perch and I knew I could do it at Harrier.

I drilled holes, dropped in my flasher, and took a "look" around for fish.  I was over 12-15 feet of water and marked fish in several holes.  I dropped a quick line down and tried to jig some fish up from the bottom.  The fish would come up and follow the jig but I could adjust my cadence, twitch, hold still, stand on my head, nothing seemed to make the fish want to bite.  I picked a hole with the most interesting marks on the bottom and set up my shelter.

I was having as much luck in the shelter as I was outside.  I decided to switch gears and rods to jig with a bait I'm really starting to appreciate; the Salmo Chubby Darter.  I dropped a small perch colored darter down to just above the fish I marked on my Vexilar.  As the Chubby Darter shimmied down a red mark moved up on my flasher.  I set the hook and enjoyed the wiggle of some of the first fish I've had the pleasure of pulling through the ice this year.  

A bluegill whacked my Chubby Darter.  It wasn't much of a fight but it was nice to use a different lure and jigging method than I'm used to.  Speaking of the usual lure and jigging method I'm used to I had to go back to it.  The darter stopped attracting fish, it actually seemed to be scaring away marks on the sonar.  I switched to my ultra-light custom with a Fiskas Marmooska teardrop shaped jig tipped with a waxworm.

I jigged and jigged and jigged some more.  The marks just didn't seem interested.  I decided to drop my camera down and watch the bottom activity for awhile.  I saw half a dozen bluegill, several perch, some small largemouth bass, and then everything scattered.  What was going on?   OH...a big walleye slow-rolled past my camera.  That explains it.  In short order there were all the gills and perch and bass back.  All ignoring my jig.  All except intrepid bluegill.  

At least he ate it well.  This fish felt like it fought better than the other but the rod was much lighter so that made sense.  This would be the final fish of the day.  I changed spots, drilled holes, checked for fish, wiggled my jig at them and ultimately loaded up the car slightly frustrated by the lack of catching but completely invigorated by the whole ice experience.  

Walking on water is a pretty cool experience. (get it!) Seriously though I don't dislike walking ponds, wading rivers and creeks, kayak fishing, or taking my jon boat out.  I'm just glad I tried and enjoy ice fishing.  It opens up the fourth season to me.  I get to do something I enjoy alone or with others.  

I can't wait to see what else this ice season has to offer.  We have at least seven inches on some lakes and generally four to five inches on some smaller bodies of water.  I hope to find out soon about a possible new ice adventure for me; perch fishing the Chicago harbors.  If they're frozen and safe I'll go!  Lake Michigan Perch could be the first fish I keep to eat.