Article by Eddie White. Photo credit: Chris Gebert
For some of us, ice fishing is what we wait all year to do. When the ice starts to recede, anxiety sets in as one realizes it will be many months before the hard water is back. The wait can seem like forever!
In the south eastern part of the state, we tend to luck out on early ice. Just after Thanksgiving, Tongue River Reservoir typically has enough ice on the south end that one can venture out and get into the early ice frenzy the crappie seem to go into. What an exciting time to be the first on the ice, ripping slab lips.
SAFETY: This article by no means, condones jeopardizing safety. As tempting as early ice is, it is always important to put safety first. A few items that should be utilized when stepping on first ice, or any ice for that matter are as follows: a heavy spud bar (always have one and hit the ice prior to taking a step). Ice picks (the type that simply go around your neck, so you can grab on to them and safely get out of the water). A self inflating life jacket (once it hits the water it inflates, stopping the wearer from going too far under). Be aware of quickly changing ice conditions, and always let someone know when and where you are going, having a partner is a good idea as well.
BAIT: The first thing always brought along are minnows, generally in the 2 to 3 inch size. I have come to notice that during first ice, the larger minnows catch the bigger slabs. Popping heads is also a great way to tip a jig. Simply use your thumb and pop the head off a fresh minnow, hook it through the lips, and you are ready to go. Finally, maggots are always great to have on hand, just in case they are finicky and not looking for bigger baits.
LURES: PK Flutter fish are an absolute in my arsenal. I have caught more fish on a 1/8th ounce glow, then any other jig I have dropped down a hole. I will also bring a 1/8th aspirin head jig, made by Gates Custom Jigs, for live minnows or maggots. I will run the hook through the nose of the minnow to assure its liveness. For maggots, I will use up to 5, depending on what the fish tell me they want. There are thousands of ice jigs out there, I tend to travel light, mainly using only those I am confident with, but always trying one or two new each time.
ELECTRONICS: When I first started with electronics, I had an old Lowrance boat fish finder, that had the circle flasher on it. I used it for years and absolutely loved it. For many years prior, I fished with no electronics. In those days, I always dropped to the bottom, counting on the way down to have an idea of the depth I was in. I would begin by reeling just up off the bottom, counting how many times I jigged, how long I would stop. This gave me an idea of what type of presentation the fish wanted. I would continue with one reel crank, pause and jig. This would go on till I either had my bait all the way to the top of the hole, or when I would get a bite. I would then start over. Going to the bottom, if I caught a fish five cranks up, I would begin reeling 5 cranks, and so forth.
TIME: Just before dawn we are typically set up and ready. For early ice, we are generally not fishing any deeper than 15 feet of water. At first light, the action seems to be fast and furious, and can last for a few minutes before the sun hits the horizon, the bite will again be fast and furious. This frenzy is often a lot shorter than the morning bite. But stick around, anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour into dark, the slabs will once again feed for hours. Coming in waves, we will set up a couple lanterns, as they are attracted to light, and fish till they tell us they are done for the night.
Photo Credit: Chris Gebert