Ice Fishing In The Rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin
by Jim Bennett
I’m not sure which I like better catching them or eating them. Fish taken from frozen waters this time of year can’t be beat. Cold water and cold air keeps them fresh and frozen. That’s why so many people fish the ice. They hope to take a few for the table and for fun. But today’s ice fishing is not your fathers ice fishing. It’s all changed and most of it has been for the better.
I hit the backwaters of the St. Croix River my first time out last week. A small land locked body of water that gets flooded every year and locks in what ever happens to get washed in during the floods of spring and summer. It’s shallow too. Most places I fish in my “secret backwater” are only 3 or 4 feet deep. You have to be careful when you set the hook in that shallow of water because you might send the fish into orbit.
I found the usual cast of characters in my secret spot. The local yokels and a new guy who wandered in because he had heard good reports. Checking around you usually see both sides of the coin as far as ice anglers go. You have your old traditionals and the high tech crowd. And then there are your in-betweeners. These are the guys who use both, old vintage gear that works great and modern too!
By modern I mean the underwater cameras and those tiny ultra light mini open face reels. These guys come dressed in high tech breathable, waterproof, windproof advanced hydrophilic technological fabric clothing. This modern day clothing is based on a chemical chain reaction between molecules and non-porous film that absorbs and then transports perspiration to the outside of the laminate while the film keeps moisture out. That went over my head too!
If you understand how all that works and wear it great. I just slap on some wool pants and a down jacket when it is really cold and stay warm that way. I’ll pull out an old sled with a couple of plastic buckets and some waxies in my shirt pocket so they won’t freeze. I’ll use a lead weight to check the depth. I don’t try to get much more technical and high tech than that.
You never know what you’re going to pull up through your hole when you are out ice fishing! Here Rod Vega shows off a really nice bass that took a minnow set on a tip-up meant to catch big northern pike! Jim Bennett photo.
Then here comes a guy pulling a little pop-up shack. Inside he has rod holders and waxies, spikes, Euro-larva and minnows inside a heated storage compartment of this portable shack. It is up in 2 seconds. He pushes a button that lights his tiny little heater as he sits inside a dark shack. His fish locator is running on 600 watts RMS power for reading depths of up to 2,500 feet. A built in fuel computer software program & a backlit LCD screen accepts single data cards for optional maps that will focus on his exact location with the built in GPS ( Global Positioning Satellite ) that will bring him back to a few inches from where he caught them last year!
I’ll just walk around and talk to the local yokels and see what they are catching and maybe make a few friends along the way. Green teardrops I’m told fished a foot off the bottom and something about “You should have been here yesterday!” Now where have I heard that one before? I grab the black Mora hand auger and punch a couple holes. But with all of the warm weather there are plenty of holes open. The ice is 10 inches thick today!
I hunt for fish. I don’t like hauling a lot of gear when the weather is nice. That would be 25 degrees and warmer. On days like that I’ll sit at a hole for maybe 5 minutes before I head off in search of a hot hole. Out of the side of my eye I spot Old Jack walking on the ice. He’s retired and he is out here everyday. He heads for his old buddy John and they swap stories. I work my way over there and get close enough to hear the stories and secrets.
Orange tear drop he says. Fished a foot off the bottom with 3 spikes for bait. I don’t have any spikes but I have a second pole for sunnies with an orange tear drop on it. It glows in the dark so I let it get a full charge of light before I drop it down the third hole of the day. It hits the magic depth and the little spring bobber on the end of my rod twitches and I set the hook. Almost a hand sized sunnie hits the ice. This fish will be my barometer. If they are smaller than that one they go back. That size and slightly larger will go home for lunch. The hole seems hot. Four fish in 4 minutes. Then they just stop cold.
It’s going to be one of those days. It’s midday and I have only a couple ours to fish before I have to go home and get ready for company. It’s that time of season you know. Presents to wrap and relatives coming. But when it’s all said and done I have a mixed bag of mostly all sunnies with an average crappie and one JUMBO PERCH over a foot long!
Corn meal and butter should work for a meal. That’s the way I love to eat that first meal of fresh fish. I’ll get out again real soon because this time of year is the best time of year to ice fish until we get into late winter. January and February can get cold and fish are tougher to catch when your rods eyes freeze shut and your fingers won’t bend because they are frozen. Like they say … Make hay when the sun shine’s. I’ll be back on the frozen waters again after we open a few presents for sure!!!!
WILDLIFE QUIZ – An aspen is a member of what tree family?
Answer: The poplar family.