Most people who go fishing on the ice will agree that sonar enables them to catch more fish. Sonar will reveal fish that are down there, and it will show how the fish respond to the bait that you’re using. When I first started ice fishing forty-plus years ago, the use of sonar wasn’t popular, mostly because there weren’t a lot of sonar units available for ice fishing. When I finally got an ice unit, and when I got familiar with it, and it didn’t take long to get familiar with it, I realized that I had been missing a key component for ice fishing success. Following are some actual on-the-ice lessons that convinced me that sonar needs to be part of an ice angler’s tool kit.
One day several years ago I shared an icehouse with fishing pioneer Gary Roach. We were on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. The area that we were fishing had stained water, and our house was over about thirty feet of that stained water. Typically, walleyes prefer to hang near the bottom when the water is stained. We kept a close eye on our sonar units and caught some walleyes. It wasn’t fast, but it was okay. Every now and then, we would see a fish mark on the sonar about fifteen-feet down. Because walleyes usually hug the bottom in stained water, we ignored those marks, or at least I did. I assumed that the marks were a whitefish or something other than a walleye. Gary didn’t assume that. After seeing a couple of those high riding fish, Gary started pulling his spoon up to them. Gary likes to catch fish. Any fish. He figured that it was better to catch a whitefish than not catch a walleye. Come to find out, those marks were walleyes, and by pulling our baits up to them, we added significantly to our catch for the day. Without sonar, we would not have seen those fish, and without seeing them, we wouldn’t have caught them.
Some anglers like to tie a swivel into their line a foot or so above the bait. The swivel reduces line twist. On a sonar unit, you can see the swivel and the bait. At times, panfish will come up and nip at the swivel. We want them nipping at our bait, not the swivel. Again, I’ve seen this happen on the sonar. When we realize what’s happening, we can adjust. Maybe we need to go to another bait to get the fish’s attention, or maybe we just need to lift the bait we’re using up to the fish’s level. Again, without sonar, we wouldn’t realize what’s happening.
I’ve got a friend who spends a lot of time on the ice. He will admit that he spends too much time on the ice. However, he has become an expert at interpreting what the sonar is showing him. He genuinely believes, and I believe him, that by closely watching his sonar, he can see the waxworms, spikes, or whatever wiggling on his hook. When the wiggling slows down, it’s time to put on livelier bait.
He’s also convinced that he can see if his bait has fallen off the hook. Many times, I’ve heard him say that his bait fell off. When he reels it in, sure enough, the bait is gone.
I have another friend who started ice fishing just a couple of years ago. He was convinced that he didn’t need a sonar. Nonetheless, one day he asked to borrow mine. I had a Vexilar 12 that he took with him. This is a nice unit and does a decent job. It’s not the highest end sonar unit though. When my friend returned it at the end of the day, he wanted to know where he “could get one of those sonar things.” He quickly realized that sonar will indeed help an angler catch more fish through the ice.
Its amazing how fast liberals change their mantra pushing their agenda to the latest crisis. They went from “Russia, Russia, Russia” to “Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico” to “Gun Ban, Gun Ban, Gun Ban” in record time.
In response to the reprehensible murders in Las Vegas a few years ago, the usual suspects have become completely unhinged. As usual, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, aka the Brady Bunch, sent out no less than four fund-raising emails within a few hours. They also called for passing new gun control laws that would have had no effect at all on the Las Vegas shooting even if they had been in effect and actually enforced.
Nancy Sinatra, who used to sing better than she thinks now, tweeted that NRA members, like me and the other 5,000,000 in that civil right organization, should face a firing squad. Rejected politician Hillary Clinton showed that all she knows about guns is from movies when she condemned the effort to allow devices that somewhat lower the sound of a gun, called “silencers” by those that know nothing about guns, saying it was a dangerous idea.
One insane madman did the shooting in Las Vegas. But all gun owners are condemned for his evil actions, and an inanimate object, the gun, is blamed.
The NRA has called for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms to reexamine their approval of the “Bump Stock” device they approved under the Obama Administration. But the demand for bans on bigger magazines, semiautomatic guns and longer waiting periods, things that would have no effect, are common. The ultimate goal of those calling for “doing something” is to ban all guns.
I was surprised at a CBS News commentator defining the difference between a “semiautomatic” gun and a fully “automatic” gun. He proved that gun banners actually know the difference and have been lying all these year they have called everything from revolvers to single shot rifles “automatic” weapons.
To paraphrase a quote, “its not the gun or law-abiding gun owners, its the evil in men’s souls” that result in horrible actions like this murderous rampage.
I’m sure some law will be passed to do “something” as so many are demanding. As usual, whatever is done will affect only people like me and you, those of us that follow the law and harm no one unless threatened. That is if I am not put before a firing squad for supporting the US constitution.
As winter sets in, many Vermonters are preparing for one of the most popular cold weather pastimes in the state – ice fishing. Anglers spend more than 400,000 days each winter ice fishing in Vermont, and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department is encouraging more people to give it a try.
Department fisheries biologist Shawn Good says ice fishing is a fun, social, family-oriented activity, and that there are many great reasons for Vermonters new to the sport to try it this year.
“Ice fishing is generally more accessible than open water fishing,” says Good. “Almost anyone can walk out on a frozen lake or pond and fish through the ice. And once you’re out there, there’s lots of room to spread out.”
Ice fishing can also be more sociable than open water fishing, with friends and family gathering on the ice for cookouts and winter fun along with the fishing. With an uptick in anglers trying the sport last year as a way to get outside with friends during the pandemic, Good expects to see a lot of action on the ice this winter.
“For many, it’s not just about the fish. Kids love ice fishing because they can run around and slide on the ice or play in the snow. I’ve seen families with grills, food and hot drinks having a great time. They set their tip-ups, build snowmen, play football, and even skate in between bouts of fishing.”
Ice fishing is inexpensive and simple to get started. “An auger used for cutting holes in the ice is the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll need,” says Good. “But you can get a 4-inch or 6-inch hand auger for under $50 and share it with others, so not everyone needs one. Add a scoop for cleaning out the holes and an ice fishing rod and reel combo or a couple tip-ups with hooks, weights and bait and you’re set for a fun day on the ice.”
When you’ve had a successful outing, bringing home a meal of healthy, locally caught fresh fish is a delicious benefit. Videos from the department’s Vermont Wild Kitchen partnership are a great place to find fun recipes for fresh caught fish, like lake trout or crappie.
“I think fish taste better in the winter,” says Good. “There’s something different about pulling a tasty perch, bluegill or bass from ice cold water. They tend to be firmer and have a milder taste than in the summer.”
Good says it is normal for new anglers to worry about venturing out on frozen water, but with a few basic precautions and common sense, ice fishing is safe.
“A minimum of three to four inches of clear black ice is safe to walk on,” advised Good. “If you’re unsure about ice thickness in your area call your local bait and tackle shop. They’re always up on current conditions and can help you get started with gear and advice, too. You can also look for other people out fishing. Experienced anglers know how to read the ice, so if you’re unsure, go where others are or have been.”
Good says that with the mild winter so far this year, most anglers are finding that ice fishing opportunities have been restricted primarily to Vermont’s smaller ponds or higher elevation areas that have formed good ice. Where ice is thick enough for safe fishing, access has been broadly simplified this year with Vermont’s new 2022 Fishing Regulations.
“Many large lakes still have not developed thick, solid black ice,” noted Good. “Some haven’t frozen over at all yet. Anglers looking to get out should focus on smaller waters and make the effort to check ice thickness frequently as they venture across the ice.”
It is important to know that ice is not always uniform in thickness. Areas around pressure cracks or near stream or river inlets can be thinner and weaker than surrounding ice. Good advises anglers to carry a set of ice picks, head out with a partner, and let someone know where you will be fishing, your access point, and when you plan on returning home.
Good says dressing properly is key. “On a calm sunny day, you’ll be surprised how comfortable you feel. Even with the thermometer showing single digits, the sun will warm you right up. Make sure you dress in layers and keep your head, hands and feet covered and dry, and you’ll be quite toasty,” said Good.
No matter where you are in Vermont, an ice fishing opportunity is close by. Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in winter, offering a fun, unique winter experience.
To learn more about ice fishing for beginners, visit Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s “Ice Fishing Basics” webpage.
Way back when I was a kid there were almost no deer in Georgia. Our hunting was for small game like squirrels and rabbits and doves and quail. My dad didn’t like fishing but he loved shooting doves and following out pointers looking for quail.
There were a good many old farms near our house and the few planted fields and old abandoned ones had thick hedgerows and fence lines grown up with plumb bushes and briars. They were ideal for quail and our two dogs were good at finding coveys of quail living there.
One Christmas my best present was a set of Duckback hunting clothes. The thick jacket and pants allowed me to wade through briar patches without getting scratched. And hunting quail consisted of a lot of wading through briars!
My proudest day quail hunting was by myself. I was in high school and one afternoon after school I wanted to go quail hunting but daddy could not go. He let me go get the dogs and take them out by myself for the first time.
Even better he let me take his 12-gauge bird gun, a short barrel semiautomatic hump-back Remington loaded with #9 shot. That gun no longer hunts quail, it sits by my bed loaded with #1 buckshot. It is an ideal home protection device.
The afternoon I went out alone I managed to find five coveys of quail, a very good day, especially since I only hunted about three hours. I killed one bird from each covey on the flush. Although I tried to find singles from the scattered covey I just did not have the skill, even with the dogs.
Daddy seemed real surprised but proud when I got home with the birds. We had them for dinner then next night.
Quail season opened yesterday, as did rabbit season. But the old farms are gone and modern farms do not have hedgerows and good quail cover. And coyotes, foxes and fire ants have taken their toll on Georgia’s state game bird. Hunting them is extremely difficult now, even if you have a lot of land and try to manage it for quail.
Nowadays about the only quail hunting here is on plantations where you pay to go out with a guide and dogs to find planted birds. I won a hunt on one of them a few years ago and was extremely disappointed. I took daddy’s old gun, again loaded with #9 shot, and killed my 12-bird limit quickly. I did not miss a single shot, amazing since I had not shot at them in more than 30 years.
The pen raised birds were put out in pairs and the guide knew where they were. It was fun watching the dogs work, but the quail were slow when they flushed, so slow one of the dogs managed to grab one as it took off, snatching it from the air. That would not happen with wild birds. I was so disappointed I have no desire to do that again.
Although it doesn’t appeal to all, many anglers actually prefer fishing through the ice to open-water fishing. For one thing, anglers can get just about anywhere on the lake during ice fishing season, something they can’t do without a boat during the open water season. Virtually every fish that’s available to anglers in the summer can be caught through the ice – some are even caught more frequently in the winter.
Once you’ve spent a little time on the ice, you’ll soon see a different picture. Ice fishing is more than just a way to fill the long days of winter. It’s a chance to breathe the cold, clean winter air, to spend quiet time outdoors with family and friends, and to relax and collect one’s thoughts away from the hustle and bustle of a busy world.
Just walking on the ice can be a unique experience, especially when no snow obscures the view of the water below. However, as with any outdoor activity, safety should be your top concern. When it comes to ice safety, you should steer clear of dark spots or places where the snow looks discolored.
Some other good rules to follow include: 1. Never fish alone, 2. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, 3. Always test the ice with a spud (described later), 4. Take the appropriate emergency items, such as a lifejacket and ice picks, and 5. Take a cell phone with you in case you need to call for help. Dress in your warmest winter clothes; fill a thermos with hot coffee, chocolate or tea; and bring an empty bucket or old lawn chair to sit on.
To get started ice fishing, you’ll need the basics: something to make a hole in the ice, something to clear the hole and keep it open and ice free, and something to fish with, or equipment.
The two basic tools used to make holes in the ice are spuds and augers. A spud features a long-shank with a chisel-like end that’s used to chip a hole in the ice. A spud is a tool you use when the ice isn’t too thick. An auger is a corkscrew-like device with a cutting blade that operates like a hand drill to make a hole in the ice. For extremely thick ice, power augers that run on batteries or small gasoline engines are available and make creating holes much easier.
Once the hole is created it needs to be cleared of ice chips or slush. A skimmer (or a slush scoop) is a small cup with holes in it (to let the water run out) on a long handle. It is inexpensive and perfectly suited for the job. A skimmer is used to clear the hole right after it’s made, as well as throughout the day if it’s particularly cold and if additional ice forms.
Please note the size of the hole is important. The hole must be big enough that you can get a fish out, but not too large of a hole that it may endanger someone’s life. Anglers are recommended to keep their holes to a maximum of eight to 10 inches in diameter which would accommodate the size of most fish species. When abandoning fishing holes, anglers should mark them with a tree branch, sticks or chunks of ice to alert others of their presence.
Ice fishing equipment can be divided into three basic categories: hook-and-line, tip-ups and spears.
Most hook-and-line anglers use short, limber rods with reels or simple spring-tension spools to hold the line. Sometimes they may use something as simple as a couple of pegs on the rod handle used to wrap the line around. Limber rods allow the use of light line, which usually results in better fishing and absorbs more of the shock when fighting fish.
Hook-and-line anglers use live bait, artificial lures or sometimes both to catch many different species of fish. Anglers often use small lures, such as teardrops or flies, with live bait – such as wax worms (bee moth larva), spikes (fly larvae), wigglers (mayfly larvae) or minnows – attached to the hook for better action. The bait can be fished without movement or jigging can be used to attract the fish. Jigging is most successful if a lure of any kind is used.
Hook-and-line anglers have the choice of using a bobber on the line, just as they would while fishing in the summer. Some may also fish with a tight line and use a spring bobber, which is a small strip of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip like an additional eye on the rod. Any motion alerts anglers to the bite, a bonus for small fish or light-biters. Generally, anglers begin by fishing near the bottom and work their way up in the water column until they locate the fish, then continue to fish at that same depth. Anglers can use bobbers to set their baits at a preferred depth or fish a tight line, either fishing without movement or jigging.
For bigger fish, anglers use heavier gear with larger lures or bigger hooks which allows them to use larger baits – minnows, smelt, salmon eggs or spawn bags. Anglers generally start at the bottom and gradually move up in the water column when jigging, while those fishing with live bait, spawn bags or salmon eggs generally fish right off the bottom.
Some anglers prefer to fish with tip-ups, which are devices set on the ice above the hole that dangle the bait (most often minnows) beneath them. Tip-ups, which feature small reels submerged in the water, get their name from a flag that’s bent over and attached to the reel. When a fish takes the bait, the reel turns and releases not only line, but the flag as well. The flags’ “tip up” action alerts the angler to the fish taking out line. Tip-ups are usually spooled with heavy, braided line. Often an angler who is fishing with a rod will also set a tip-up in a different hole, giving them two ways to catch a fish and giving them an opportunity to fish for different species, or more than one fish, or at two different but close by locations.
Spearing is another form of ice fishing that is a more specialized but traditional sport. Anglers who spear cut large holes in the ice, usually with an ice saw or chain saw. They fish from tents or small shelters commonly called shanties that can be portable or more permanent (or at least as permanent as the ice is). The shanty blocks the light, allowing anglers to see down more clearly in the water in order to spear the fish. This has given rise to the term dark-house spearing. Spearing anglers generally dangle decoys or large live baits (such as suckers) in the water to attract their target fish. They utilize spears that typically have a substantial weight to them and have seven to nine tines on the end of a seven-foot handle.
The most common species hook-and-line ice fishermen are looking for are panfish: bluegill, sunfish, perch and crappie. Tip-ups are generally used for larger game fish, such as northern pike, walleye and various trout species. In Michigan, spear fishermen are allowed to target northern pike, muskellunge, lake sturgeon and many other species. There are many restrictions associated with spear fishing and anglers should read the annual Michigan Fishing Guide for more information.
A basic tip for all three ice fishing methods is that the most success is seen around dawn until mid-morning and again from late afternoon until sundown. This is especially true for panfish and walleye. Some species can be more aggressive at other times during the day, such as northern pike. It’s also important to understand that fish are more sluggish during the winter and move around less, especially during the middle of winter when ice thickness and snow cover is the heaviest. The more holes anglers cut and try, the better their chances are for locating aggressive fish.
One common piece of equipment nearly all types of anglers who ice fish utilize are electronic fish finders. These help anglers locate both aggressive and non-aggressive fish and make it easier to determine if your holes will be active and how present fish are reacting to your fishing methods.
It’s important to be prepared to face the elements when you go ice fishing by including these items: shelter and apparel.
Ice fishing can be a fairly cold activity, especially on those windy days when it doesn’t seem fit to be outdoors. On such days, a shanty is almost a requirement. Many portable shanties are available at your local sporting goods store, although some anglers, especially in northern Michigan where the ice fishing season can last for many months build elaborate but removable shanties on the ice. These may have insulated walls and many of the comforts of home. Propane heaters can keep them warm and help keep the fishing holes from freezing. But even a simple windbreak, made of plywood or particle board, can help. A sheet of plywood, cut in half and hinged, makes a simple windbreak. If skis or runners are added to one side, then it can easily be pulled across the ice.
It’s important to note that all shanties must be removed from the ice by a certain date, appropriate to the zone in which you are fishing. When removing a shanty, anglers must also remove any and all garbage affiliated with the structure, including plywood and propane tanks.
On less harsh days, many anglers can be seen on the ice on portable folding stools or overturned five-gallon plastic buckets. Buckets often double as gear carriers. Anglers can fit their rods, lures and baits into a bucket and easily carry them out on the ice with them. In many cases, anglers build gear boxes, often on sleds or skis, which they can pull behind them. The creativity of Michigan anglers can regularly be seen on the ice as many have built sophisticated devices to transport their gear and to insure their comfort.
Anglers who go out on the ice with or without shelters must dress for the weather. Anglers should dress in layers so they can add or remove them as the temperature changes. Many items of clothing – such as bib overalls, coveralls and fleece jackets – are made of modern lightweight fabrics that provide surprising warmth. Anglers should consider wearing a layer of thermal clothing against their skin that absorbs sweat and wicks moisture away from the body, thus keeping the angler warm. Anglers can break a sweat trudging across the lake, especially if they’re pulling a load behind them. One should also have on an outer layer of a wind-breaking fabric. Waterproof boots are a must and a pair of moisture-wicking socks under wool socks will help to keep anglers’ feet warm and dry.
Although the idea of going ice fishing may seem daunting, many fishing clubs and sporting goods stores hold annual ice fishing clinics where anglers can learn the basics. A number of Michigan state parks, interpretive centers and fish hatcheries also host programs during the winter months that teach basic techniques and offer hands-on experience.
Ice fishing may not be for everyone. But if you’ve ever driven by a Michigan lake in the winter and have seen the “shantytowns” out on the ice, you can tell plenty of people consider ice fishing to be a pretty cool sport.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.
On a Sunday in November a few years ago ten members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our November tournament at Lake Lanier. After eight cold, windy, rainy hours we managed to land 11 keeper bass longer than 14 inches, all spotted bass. There were no limits, the most any one fisherman had was three. Four fishermen did not have a keeper. They weighed about 26 pounds.
I managed to win with two keepers weighing 7.11 pounds and my 3.81-pound spot was big fish. Alex Gober had three weighing 5.44 pounds for second, Chuck Croft was third with three at 4.67 pounds and fourth was Don Gober with one keeper weighing 3.30 pounds.
The windy, cloudy day seemed perfect for throwing a spinnerbait on windblown rocky points and banks, usually a very good pattern this time of year.
I hit three places like that quickly that morning and on the third one, at 7:25 AM, I landed the 3.30 pound spot on one of Ryan Coleman’s Mini Me spinnerbaits. That fish jumped two feet out of the water when I hooked it, unusual for a big spot, and made my heart stop.
That got me excited that I had a good pattern going so I fished it hard until 11:30, trying spinnerbaits, jerk baits and crankbaits. All I caught was two 13-inch spots, no keepers. At 11:00 I got tired and tried some brush piles out of the wind but got no bites.
At 1:00 I went back to rocky points and fished a jig and pig, working areas out of wind since I was so tired. I caught my bigger fish within five minutes and again got excited, thinking that pattern would work. But two hours later I had not gotten another bite trying that pattern.
Those big spots at Lanier fight hard and are fun to catch but unless you fish the lake a lot they are difficult to pattern. The day of our tournament a guide there, Lanier Jim, posted pictures of the big spots he and a client caught. He knows the lake well and fishes it every day. They caught about a dozen keepers and their best five weighed about 18 pounds. And they fished the same area of the lake I fished. Knowing the lake makes a huge difference!
The Sportsman Club is fishing our November tournament there next Sunday. I’m sure it will be tough but fun if we manage to hook any of those magnum spots!
Note – I won it, too, with a limit weighing 12.65 pounds i caught off wind blown points on spinnerbaits early and had big fish with a four-pound spot that came off the same rock as the 3.71 above!!
Three anglers score “fishing first” in NW Ontario via Old Town® Predator PDL™ kayaks
from The Fishing Wire
Old Town, Maine Three anglers. Three days. 13 muskies. Countless big brown bass. Multi-species mayhem. The fishing trip of a lifetime.
There aren’t many “fishing firsts” left to achieve. Sure, species records are routinely set and broken, but most of what can be done, has been done. There are few new territories to explore.
Enter three intrepid anglers and a unique expedition to fish the remote fly-in-only waters of Northwest Ontario’s Sunset Country in pedal-driven kayaks… finding and catching fish with their feet… a legitimate fishing ‘first.’
With the help of Nestor Falls Fly-In Outposts, these fish-heads brainstormed a new, repeatable quest for other anglers, a contemporary take on the classic Canadian fly-in canoe fishing trip—but with the benefit of amazing engineering and unrivalled small watercraft boat control for hands-free fishing.
The adventurous anglers quickly discovered the Old Town Predator PDL a perfect boat to quickly reach (up to 5.5 mph) and efficiently explore every nuance of the untamed Canadian waters. From precisely positioning off rock islands, reefs, and weed beds, to trolling craggy shorelines and big-fish holding breaks along towering cliffs, the Predator PDL surpassed every criteria for fishability, including reverse pedal motion when they needed it to fight muskies away from cover.
Whether slinging Giant FlatSticks or flinging flies, the crew also spent a lot of time standing and fishing, eyes glued to the gin-clear depths for muskie follows.
“I was floored by the Predator PDL,” says Grant Prokop, muskie guide and owner of Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods in Cohasset, Minnesota. “We pedaled 8-12 miles a day but it didn’t seem like exercise at all, even crossing large open-water stretches in head wind. I didn’t miss anything from a big multi-species boat… the fishability and stability was just incredible. I could even figure-8.”
Considered by many the fish of 10,000 casts, muskies are notoriously hard to catch… but not so much on NW Ontario waters, as Prokop describes.
“I completely lost track of how many muskie follows we had. The three of us caught 13 in three days, which is just ridiculous. It’s pretty amazing what these fly-in lakes offer in terms of numbers. Although we didn’t land any toothy-critter past the mid-40-inches mark, we did see some bigger fish, which makes me want to go back soon!”
Hard to believe, but the gang found a lot more than muskies. Big smallmouth bass attacked X-Raps with pugilistic intensity—and a couple 20-plus-inchers were actually caught on muskie baits.
“It was a dream fishing trip, where everything came together perfectly,” says fishing writer Jim Edlund. “We’ve all been on enough trips that don’t necessarily go that way, so when they do they’re especially memorable. The multi-species action was incredible, from our very first cast to the last. And, to be honest, the fish were a bonus to the serenity of the place, the northern lights, loons, eagles, and Canadian shore lunches… it was all there… the stuff you read about in magazines as a kid come to life. And it’s cool to have been part of the first group of anglers to do a Canadian fly-in with pedal-driven kayaks. I can’t think of a better way to explore and fish remote waters. I think this opens up a whole new way to do fly-in trips.”
About the Predator PDL
Length: 13′ 2″
Weight: 117 lbs. (Pedal Drive: 21 lbs.)
Carrying Capacity 500 lbs
Forward and reverse for exact boat control in wind and current
Smooth, quiet and easy to pedal
Removable PDL Drive installs in seconds and tips up instantly for shallow-water docking
Fast and maneuverable, with one-hand-operated rudder steering
Specially-designed hull with generous width for stability and storage
Includes accessory mounting plates, Element Seating System and other standard Predator features
Ease of transport
Like other Predator models, the Predator PDL is infinitely customizable with rigging accessories from Cannon®, Scotty™, YakAttack®, RAM®, and more.
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I hope everyone had a good deer season and got to shoot what they wanted, either a trophy for the wall or a freezer full of meat. Or both!! But now that it is over, it is time to turn to small game. Many of us older folks grew up hunting squirrels, rabbits and game birds, and there is about six weeks left to hunt them.
Learning to hunt squirrels and rabbits is great training for hunting big game. You learn to read signs, be patient, acquire shooting skills and identify food sources that will help when hunting deer, turkey or anything else.
This time of year is both a challenge and a blessing. With leaves off the trees, you can spot a tree rat a long way off as it scurries from limb to limb. But they can see you just as far away and hide before you get near. And if you jump a rabbit you can get a decent shot.
There is no food in the trees, either. So you won’t be able to sneak up on a trembling limb where a squirrel is busy cutting pine cones or acorns and not paying enough attention for predators like you. When they are feeding in the trees you can often get in close for an easy shot. Not with bare trees!
Squirrels feed on the ground this time of year. When they see movement, they will run up a tree to a hidey hole and you may never see them again. But sometimes they just flatten against the tree on the opposite side, so you can throw a stick to that side and make them move around for a shot.
When food sources like oak trees dropping acorns are available, you can set up near one and let the squirrels come to you. Not gonna happen after Christmas. Now you have to still hunt, easing through the woods alert to seeing or hearing a squirrel before is hears or sees you.
That kind of hunting will help you still hunt for deer but multiply the squirrels ability to spot you before you spot them by about a thousand times for a deer. But it is fun, keeps you warmer than sitting still, and can be very productive.
My good friend AT had a pack of rabbit beagles, and we ran rabbits almost every Saturday after deer season when I was in high school. Deer season was limited to the month of November and one week at Christmas back then, so we stated letting the dogs out in early December.
I loved listening to the dogs run and figuring out where the bunny would circle back ahead of them so I could be in position for a shot. Rabbit hunting with dogs is easy compared to without them.
I killed my first rabbit while squirrel hunting with my .410. As I eased along a field line looking for activity in the trees, I jumped a cottontail and hit it as it bounced away. I think daddy and mama were as proud as I was that day!
Once after a light snow AT didn’t want to let his dogs out, so we hunted without them. We went to a farm where the owner had cut timber a year before, so there were brush piles all over the place between his fields. We would go up to a pile and one of us would get in position while the other climbed into the brush, shaking the pile to spook the rabbit.
That’s what my friend and fellow writer Daryl Gay calls “Rabbit Stomping,” the name of one of his humorous books.
Dove season was over by Christmas, but we still hunted quail some. Most of our quail hunting was earlier in the year, though. Daddy often said he did not like to put too much pressure on the coveys we hunted, they had a tough time just surviving in the winter without being pushed, scattered and harassed by us.
I miss those hunting days but nowadays I prefer spending time in my bass boat in the winter!
Sunday, January 9, eight members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our January tournament at Jackson Lake. After casting from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, we brought 23 keeper bass weighing about 26 pounds to the scales. There were three five-bass limits and one fisherman did not have a keeper.
Alex Gober won it all with five weighing 7.35 pounds and had a 1.80 pounder for big fish. Niles Murray came in second with five at 5.52 pounds and Doug Acree was third with five weighing 4.34. Lee Hancock came in fourth with two weighing 2.50 pounds, beating my two at 2.48 pounds by .02 pounds!
It was a tough day. Niles said he caught his five in about an hour. This time of year there is often a “bite window,” a short time when if you are in the right place at the right time you can catch fish.
New member Will McLean fished with me and we fished hard. But at 2:46 with five minutes left to fish I had gotten only one bite, a four-inch crappie that hit a spoon. I found fish in many places, some of them set up under baitfish and looked like perfect places to catch one. But it did not happen for either of us.
As time ran out Will and I were working around a rocky point. I told him I would make a couple of casts across the downstream side of the point then we had to go in, even without anything to weigh.
On three casts I landed two keepers and lost one at the boat on a DT 10 crankbait. On my Panoptix I could see baitfish all over the end of the point with fish moving around under them, like in a few other places, but they were feeding better.
I wish I could have made a few more casts but we pulled up at the ramp two minutes before being late!
Philosophies borrowed from the boat prove highly effective on the ice
Dr. Jason Halfen The Technological Angler
from The Fishing Wire
Open water anglers have long recognized the importance of a two-pronged approach to mobility. First, we burn untold gallons of gasoline motoring around the lake in search of active fish. Then, once we find evidence of our quarry, we churn the water to a fine froth with both vertical and horizontal presentations. For anglers across the Ice Belt, however, mobility must be redefined during the winter months. How does the intrepid ice angler remain mobile with respect to location and presentation?
Once ice thickness is sufficient to support travel by snow machine or vehicle, anglers can generally access the same range of locations they visited in the warm water months. Moreover, with access to a gas, propane or electric-powered auger, there is no limit to the number of holes that might be punched. Thus, aside from the thin-ice periods of early- and late-season ice fishing, mobility with respect to location does not differ significantly from the open-water period.
Let us turn our attention to eliciting strikes from our cold-blooded targets. At its heart, vertical presentations reign on the ice. Through one hole, we can target walleyes and perch close to the bottom, crappies and bluegills in intermediate depths, and marauding pike and late-season panfish mere inches beneath the ice. We make vertical adjustments by simply letting more line out, or reeling up a bit, often in response to the flicker of sonar signals.
But to break our presentations out of a vertical column requires more creativity than simply turning the reel handle.
Baits that tumble or swim well outside the column are particularly advantageous when targeting active, cold-water species like pike or trout, and for times when more sedentary targets, like walleyes and crappies, are experiencing a short-lived surge in feeding activity. Indeed, presentations that move within the horizontal plane are more visible to fish swimming nearby, and exhibit more vulnerable, realistic movements than the simple yo-yo of baits that are restricted to purely vertical motions.
Perhaps best known within this class are minnow-shaped jigging baits like the Rotating Power Minnow (RPM) from Custom Jigs and Spins and FISKAS Swimmer. Both swimming baits feature precisely-tuneds tails, which cause them to swim outside of the hole on the lift and dart erratically on the fall. Present both baits with a medium power rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28M, to aggressively work the bait through the water and drive hooks home upon a strike.
Fluttering spoons represent a broad class of baits that swim and roll outside of the hole. Their lightweight construction and variety of sizes makes such spoons a versatile option for targeting everything from bluegills and bass to walleye and trout. A classic example is the Pro Series Slender Spoon from Custom Jigs and Spins, which couples flash with a wide-wobble. Be sure to rig the Slender Spoon with the included snap to enhance its action.
A related fluttering spoon is the Demon Tongue from J & S Custom Jigs. This panfish-sized spoon features a precisely-machined hole in its body, adorned with a thin flicker blade that imparts incredible action as the bait comes to rest. The 1/16-oz Demon Tongue is best presented using a sensitive, ultralight rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28UL. If you enjoy spoon-feeding your icy quarry, Slender Spoons and Demon Tongues belong in your arsenal.
A horizontal swimmer that defies being categorized is the Fin-Wing from Keweenaw Tackle Company. This uniquely-shaped metal bait, with a patent-protected design and the versatility to be fished “as is” or dressed with a live or soft-plastic bait, is an emerging superstar on big fish waters like Lake Winnipeg and Lake Erie. The Fin-Wing swims outside of the hole on the lift, and then slowly descends toward the bottom with a unique, lifelike wobble on the fall. Sumo walleyes can’t resist the Fin-Wing’s unparalleled action in both the horizontal and vertical planes. When pursuing apex predators like walleye, pike or giant lake trout, choose a rod with power and resiliency like the St. Croix Mojo ICE MIR36MH for spinning reels or the MIRC34MH for casting gear.
Baits like the Rotating Power Minnow, Slender Spoon, Demon Tongue and Fin-Wing probe the water column in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions, allowing you to cover water more efficiently and present your baits to more fish on each trip. As the ice season continues, resolve to increase your mobility, both above the ice as well as beneath it, and watch your hardwater catch rates soar!
About the author: Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, a company dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more and bigger fish. Learn more at www.technologicalangler.com .