Two Minds Are Better Than One
The men’s fishing Bible study group I meet with was deliberating on an ice fishing destination within an hour drive of our meeting place in Hudson, Wisconsin, when Jeff, one of the group members spoke up and said, ” You are all welcome at my lake.” He went on “I have a cabin there we can have lunch and warm up, it’s on a small bowl shaped clear lake with sandy shores and little pressure. We do very well for crappies and blue gills in the spring, but the panfish seem to disappear during hard water…but they got to be somewhere.” Those in attendance at the cozy coffee house that night decided to take Jeff up on the offer despite past ice angling results.
At sun up, on an overcast windless December morning, between Christmas and New Years, four from the group and my youngest son arrived at Jeff’s lake. It was the coldest morning in two weeks, and the only noise heard at this peaceful destination was the crunching of snow under the boots. The lake had modest cabins and small houses circumventing it with their inhabitants gone for the winter. With a collection of three blue colored portable fish houses and a single ATV we set out.
After a group prayer, our host explained that immediately in front of his cabin lays the largest structure on the lake, a shallow weed flat with an underwater point. Jeff explained, “Anytime anyone fishes the lake they come from the public access and drive straight here, right in front of my cabin. When I have caught fish ice fishing it has been here.” Jeff also reminded us, ” The lake is a big bowl nearly 60 feet deep, but there is no structure out there.”
In attendance was John our Bible study group’s resident panfish and ice angling expert. He enjoys generous doses of tongue in check ribbing from the walleye crowd for targeting, “fish that kids go after.” He was in his glory a top his ATV decked out perfectly with battery-powered K-Drill auger riding on the front rack and two 5 gallon buckets strapped on the back rack organizing gear and bait. Prior to arriving John “pinned” his Navionics lake map app on his phone with fishing locations.
The first spot I heard John talk about was an inside turn half way on the other side of the lake. Interestingly what he called an inside turn was little more than a steep drop off following a modest curved breakline. This spot would later prove to be a hot spot.
To start, the traditional fishing spot, the weed point and flat, became blanketed with northern pike tip ups while we targeting blue gills in 7 to 12 feet of water. As there was only 5” to 6” of ice, “Fish the green weeds” was our initial chapter and verse, so this shallow water approach was logical.
Drew quickly had a flag pop on a large fathead and with an enormous grin landed a largemouth bass. John then caught a keeper-sized sunfish after watching it sniff the bait on his sonar for a few minutes. My 12 year-old son and I were cozy fishing in the heated three-man shelter, but after twenty minutes of no signs of life, I moved the shelter to slightly deeper water, nothing. Then I moved along the same depth of 12 feet to the north. Finding little the other guys were popping and hole hoping. Ending in 21 feet I started getting a few keeper sunnies. Right at this time John and Drew decided to find greener pastures, off to the inside turn.
What ended up happening for John and Drew was more of the same. They fished the green weeds producing little, then worked deeper and caught a nice sunnie in 28 fow. They then popped a few more holes in the area and with 2 to 4 pound test line, small tungsten jigheads baited with wax worms just off of the bottom they
started catching bluegills and crappies too. Upon the second crappie hitting the ice Drew noticed the fish spitting out small clear maggot like worms. The worms were Chironomids more on them later. John and Drew continued to put nice panfish on the ice; the guys found a hot spot with over 30 keepers to their credit. John was really living up to the billing!
The inside turn they were working actually leveled off to a shelf 28ish feet deep thus forming a cup. The flat shelf bottom then dropped slowly. These two fishermen clearly found a school actively feeding, as other fish had evidence of immediate consumption of these “worms.”
Chironomids are commonly called “non biting midges” and in adult stage look like mosquitos. In their larval stage they feed on detritus, decaying organic material such as leaves that fall into the lake, or dead underwater vegetation. These maggot or worm like larvae are a large source of forage for panfish. This deep shelf area of the inside turn might be a settling area for fallen decaying vegetation, speculating here it could be an area of higher decaying plant material and then more Chironomids.
At the same time back at the other end of the lake a flag tripped. Jeff walked my son through the steps of handling the tip up line and setting the hook into what turned out to be a six-pound pike. The day was a success! We had great fellowship, and the ice fishing mystery of the lake was for that day solved. Jeff later hit the ice the next day and “Hammered the fish”.
Talking to Jeff, who I know to be a very good angler, said in hindsight, “I didn’t really explore the lake enough or think outside the box and fish deeper. I just repeated my past efforts.”
In conclusion the old saying “that two minds are better than one,” held true. Sometimes in fishing we just need a different angle of approach. Of equal importance was finding the soft bottom with Chironomid presence. As shown the food source that the worms feed on, in turn bring in the fish. So in this case find the forage’s food and you find the fish.
Summer is here and summer is gone. Fall is here and the fall is gone
Now it is time for my guide service to look to the Mississippi River from Prescott, WI all the way down south to the Iowa border where it is open year round for walleye and sauger fishing. In other words the season for walleye never ends here on the mighty Miss! Once the weather breaks and gets in the high 20′s, 30′s, I conduct guide trips down on the Mississippi.
Generally speaking there are windows to do this in January and February. The fishing can be fantastic, we fish light lines on Limit Creek medium and medium light rods mainly employing jigs and plastics and/or minnows. The fish are delicious from the frigid waters, and consumption advisory differ little from the rest of the Minnesota inland waters.
This open water bite for good numbers of 1 to 3 pound walleye and sauger during the height of winter is a fun adventure for those never experiencing it, and treat to return to for those that have.
My guide service uses these highly specialized river rigs for walleye on the Mississippi:
Vertical jig with bait
Vertical jig with plastics (
such as ringworms, paddle tails, fork tail, etc.
Dubuque rig vertical jigged
This rig is a walleye slayer with both a jig and a long leader to a plain hook, here we use a combo of plastics and bait or both bait or both plastics.
Drag the above three presentations upstream or downstream
Dragging is absolutely deadly and it is one of my best presentations I employ in my guide boat to put customers on fish
Troll floating Rapalas on a 3-way rig
This set up is normally later in late winter early spring such as March. This trolling is best when the current starts to flow fast again and water tmps rise. The fish fight like whales against the flow here and it is a blast to get them the net.
Pitch (cast) Jigs with plastics
Lunker sized fish tactic. 8, 9, and 10+ pound fish are caught this way
Pitch blade baits
Lunker sized fish tactic. 8, 9, and 10+ pound fish are caught this way
Heavy nets to all!!
‘Charlie “Turk” Gierke