In a year full of worldly disruption and confusion, it is nice that we will still have ice fishing to enjoy. The sun will rise in the morning and iced-over waters will still provide angling opportunities, thank goodness. As of this report, my small crew and I have been out a dozen times. True to the nature of ice fishing, not every day is the same, but the bite has been productive, nonetheless. So far into December, our ice conditions have varied from 4” to 7” depending on what waters are targeted. We ultimately are a little behind schedule, but I have full confidence things will be in full swing in the next couple of weeks. So far our ice trips have consisted of a mixture of Pike, Walleye, Blue Gills, Crappies, and Perch. Let’s dive into what has been what thus far, this season.
The first ice trip out was very productive on both jig fishing and setting up tip-ups. The waters targeted were in the 6’ to 12 ‘ depths. Further meaning, it was important to set up well in advance of anticipated “business hours” or what most of us anglers call “primetime”. Morning bites have been alright, but later afternoon bites have certainly been best. We will talk about what have been the best baits used so far. But first I want to chat about a couple (five) things to think about when chasing early-season shallow water fish:
#1. Noise pollution. I find it much better to not wear any sort of cleats on my boots when walking around. I also am more confident when drilling out my holes with an electric type auger like a teamed-up K-drill/Milwaukee. This time of year, it is nice for the obvious reason of ice not being too thick to handle. Also, it should go without saying that talking loud or playing some tunes on the radio is a big no-no.
#2. Light pollution. Similar to the noise factor, I have always found it best to not walk around with a headlamp beaming. Nor do I ever turn on the built-in light bar in my shack unless needed. If I do, I have it on the lowest setting, not to mention I have blue tape covering the LED lights. Light pollution indeed spooks fish. Best to try and keep things more natural and organic. As far as charging up lures, I usually will utilize the Vexilar Glow Ring, or face the corner of the shack and beam up a lure. Or best yet, utilize a Northland Fishing Tackle Glo-Shot presentation. I never, I repeat never point light into the water.
#3. Lure selection should be on standby. What I usually do is have a minimum of 3 rods rigged up with different types of presentations. The last thing I want to be doing is searching around my tackle boxes for a lure I think might work. Sometimes this is inevitable, but I try in all my power to avoid such a waste of time. Many days we all fish the “primetime” hours. Any avid angler will agree, sometimes this bite can be as little as 15-30 minutes. So, it is important not to waste time.
#4. Utilize the legal amount of lines. In WI, we can have 3 lines per person. So my WI set-up usually consists of a jig stick with my favorite Buck-Shot rattling spoon, a dead stick close by (within arm’s reach), and a tip-up about 25 feet from the ice shack. In MN, it’s mostly a dead stick/jig stick combination. However, sometimes I opt to utilize a tip-up.
#5. Space out. I often find that I have the most success when I am not amongst a crowd. Setting up my lines away from people keeps me from worrying about a latecomer angler that makes noise during the “primetime” bite. The best way to avoid this of course is fish waters that are not popular. Not popular fishing spots are the best!
Okay, lure selections. First off, although the dead sticks and/or set lines have been good, make no mistake, the jigging stick has been best. Let’s dive into a few (again; 5) of the best jigging presentations so far this early ice season:
#1. Forage Minnow Jig. It has been a staple for early ice bites for a long time. What I love most about the Forage Minnow Jig is does not seem to discriminate against fish species bites. I like to tip my jig with a giant wad of wax worms. I often only slightly jig it in very slow-moving motions as this time of year, fish are usually on it right away. I should note, that this lure stays on one of my rods all ice fishing season long!
#2. Forage Minnow Fry. Similar to the big sister Forage Minnow Jig, I utilize this presentation in a very similar fashion. This tactic is usually on account of a less aggressive bite.
#3. Forage Minnow Spoon. Arguably my absolute favorite early season spoon on account of its smaller size. This has been so far easily the most productive lure in the box for all fishing species mentioned earlier. More often than not, I tip this lure with a minnow head. However, sometimes I elect to utilize wax worms. My jigging cadence is different with this spoon as I try to be a little more aggressive.
#4. Buck-Shot Spoon. More precisely the UV Buck-Shot Spoon. Again, this one usually entails a minnow head jigged aggressively.
#5. Macho Minnow Spoon. Once again, another spoon gets tipped with a minnow head and jigged aggressively. What I love about the Macho Minnow is the loose swinging fin that adds a little “bling bling” attraction.
We could go on about sizes and color selection, but ultimately, I like to keep things on the smaller side for early ice bites. Not always the case, but usually.
Captain, Jarrid Houston
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