As fall turns into winter, a lot of folks dread the winter season. I on the other hand get excited, with all the cold and snow the lakes freeze and ice fishing season begins!!!! Yes, some think we are crazy to sit on a bucket on a frozen lake. But ice fishing can be very productive and a lot of fun!!! Over the years my ice fishing addiction has grown as I've added nicer equipment with flashers, tents and Skandia Tungsten jigs. But it really doesn't take a lot to get started ice fishing and we have some great opportunities for fishing right here in the Cedar Valley. This week I'll take you through getting started in a sport I've become so addicted to.
As with any sport, it's best to get started by talking with sportsman that are already skilled in the sport. Friends, co-workers or family that can get you started in the right direction. Also the internet becomes a useful tool in getting started, there's literally thousands of YouTube videos on ice fishing. Another great place to start is our local outdoor stores in the Cedar Valley, Cooks Outdoors and Hanks Bait and Tackle specialize in fishing and paying them a visit can get you an endless supply of knowledge on the sport and up to the minute fishing reports. You also may meet other fisherman at these stores that would love to show you the ropes.
Once you decide you want to try ice fishing, you will need the basics to get started. A rod is a great first purchase, the choices are endless on rods. You can spend as little as $10 to a couple hundred dollars. With just starting out I would suggest a nice modestly price spinning rod such as a K&E Tackle Whippr rod or even a schooley brand rod with the plastic reel. Next on the list would be a decent ice auger, again, there's a lot of choices out there. But with starting out I would go with a hand auger that can be purchased for $30-$50 dollars brand new. Also you will need a five gallon bucket, not only can you carry your gear with you, but it makes a nice seat too! Also watch Craigslist or other classifieds for deals on used equipment, a lot of times you can get a bundled deal on everything you need. Next comes the jigs, a lot of this will depend on what types of fish you will target. I'm mostly a panfisherman in the winter targeting bluegills and crappies. I prefer Skandia Tungsten jigs, moon jigs, and Arnold jigs. Theses are all great jigs that won't break the bank. I've really started using the Tungsten over the last five years or so. The Tungsten is heavier than lead and shows up on sonar better. The denser material gives you more weight in a small jig to get back in the strike zone quicker and is more sensitive to feel those sluggish bites. You may also want to add an ice tent to your arsenal depending on your cold tolerance. Again, there's lots of options when it comes to them and I suggest talking to your local outdoor store and seeing a lot of tents and choosing what best suits your needs and budget.
The biggest thing with ice fishing, and I can't stress this enough is SAFETY!! Ice can be a tricky animal that is always changing with temperature fluctuations. Some of your most important gear to own is your safety gear. I suggest especially early and late in the season carrying a Spud bar with you. You can use the Spud bar to check the ice ahead of you. I usually do not venture onto the ice each year until there's a good four inches of solid clear ice on the ponds. It's important to have a fifty foot throw rope and some ice spikes you can wear around your neck, should the unthinkable happen. I suggest never fishing alone and it doesn't hurt to wear a life jacket or purchase a striker ice suit that floats you should the ice break.
There's a lot of ice fishing opportunities right here in the Cedar Valley. Lakes like Big Woods, George Wyth, Brinker lake, and South Prairie are lakes that have healthy fish populations and are great places to start. Look for areas that the water falls off of flats into deeper water. Those drop offs are great fish holders, and in lakes like Big Woods they've added lots of structure for the fish, such as brush piles and pallet structures. The structure was placed to attract fish. Find some of these areas and you will be on the fish. Also always be on the lookout for small out of the way ponds and backwaters in the Cedar Valley. Sometimes those small waters can yield big results! And if you're lucky enough to access a farm pond you can get into some phenomenal fishing!
So as the weather man starts to show those freezing temps heading our way, it's time to get that ice gear ready and enjoy a sport that gets you through those long winter months! Be Safe and until next time Get Outdoors!my last tournament of the 2017 season. Most of that early fall tournament centered around one pattern, BAITFISH. What I mean by baitfish, is minnows and shad that school up and head shallow as the water temperature drops. In my last tournament we knew going into practice we would need to be following baitfish to find quality bass.
Our first morning of practice dawned chilly and foggy for a mid September day. The first couple areas we stopped on we managed a few bites, but we weren't seeing the baitfish we knew we needed. As we moved around through the day we found a wingdam at the top of a point near the main channel with a creek mouth that fed into the river. There were baitfish everywhere we looked in this area. We didn't even make a cast in this area, we could see bass chasing the bait all over. As we often do in Tournament practice, we left the fish alone to not educate or sore mouth them by catching them before the tournament.
Throughout the day we found a few more productive areas that we felt like we could catch a good bag of bass. One pattern throughout this tournament was the key ingredient in every area - baitfish. As we started the tournament we were very confident that we had quality areas and were hoping for a couple big fish in our five fish limit. The first spot we stopped on was the wingdam point we found in practice. I cast my rattle trap towards the top of the wingdam and immediately hooked up with a Smallmouth bass. As I battled him, the fish jumped and spit the hook. I cast right back out and another one loaded up with the same result. Adam cast in there and lost a couple as well. For whatever reason we couldn't keep the big fish pinned that day. We ended the tournament with a fourth place finish and a feeling of a missed opportunity for a win.
This baitfish pattern is the deal in the fall for all species of fish. What happens is when the water temperature starts to drop off of its summer time temp, the baitfish will school up and move shallow. A general rule temperature wise to put them into a fall pattern usually occurs in September and a drop of ten degrees from summer temps. The fish will use this feeding pattern right up to freeze up as they bulk up for the long winter months when they move into deep wintering holes. It always amazes me how shallow fish can get in the fall. In that last tournament Adam and I caught thirty fish off of one log that was in a foot of water! So don't be afraid to get shallow when looking for the schools of baitfish.
As far as baits to use, I like to mimic the bait size as best as I can. I love using a spinnerbait this time of year. With that I will select a blade size that is roughly the size of the shad I'm seeing in the water. Also it's tough to beat small shallow running crankbaits in the fall such as a Rapala dt 4 or lipless crankbaits such as rattletraps.
Another tactic that is great for bass in the fall is topwater, I love to throw a pop-r or a Zara spook. The bass will absolutely blast it on top and it's such an exciting way to fish in the fall. As far as colors go, you also want to mimic the color of the bait in the water. Flashy colors and one of my favorites is gold. These same tactics also work for walleyes and crappies, you try your best to mimic the bait. Walleyes will be all over your crankbaits and rattletraps in the fall. Also a twister tail or flashy colored ringworm will work well for walleyes in the fall. You can get after the crappies the same way by throwing inline spinners or a minnow colored twistertails.
There are many areas along the Cedar River right here in the Cedar Valley where you can use this tactic to catch some quality fish. Check out Blackhawk counties conservation webpage to find great accesses and Parks along the Cedar that have fantastic fishing opportunities. You just might have some of your best fishing of the year! Until next time, Get Outdoors!