With an early freeze here this year stealing the open water for kayak or bank fishing, I had been confined to the house tying flies. Then my wife’s uncle offered a bucket of tip ups, and a friend invited me to ice fish. I said “yes” to both without hesitation. We went to a sporting goods store early in the week so I could purchase some ice tackle to get started. On the ride home, we discussed options for our adventure on Saturday morning. We picked a small lake about an hour away that has a variety of species.
We arrived at the lake just as the sun was rising. The air temperature was 8°F, with 25mph winds from the north. I was extremely pleased to know we had a pop-up shanty and a portable heater. We saw one other shanty already set up on a good location, and another angler who was just getting his gear ready. It looked like we would have a chance to find a spot without a lot of competition for ice space. The opportunity to fish on the ice and “escape the hustle and bustle of a long week” was exciting. As a side note, safety-first ice anglers always say “no ice is safe ice”. My friend took precautions as we moved across the lake; he used an ice spud and drilled holes to check for thickness. It takes a minimum of four inches of quality ice to safely support anglers.
We had identified a location on the lake that we thought would hold panfish. However, after drilling a couple of holes and setting up the Vexilar sonar, we discovered we were on shallow water that was not holding fish. We tried a couple of other locations with the same results. We knew this was a good lake to fish, so we looked around and noticed an area that appeared to be a good spot. We walked across the lake to that spot and realized that the area had been fished recently. We quickly drilled a hole, and the Vexilar showed 10’ of water and marked fish.
We drilled four more holes. We dropped a jig / wax-worm on a dead-stick into three of the holes, and began jigging wax worms on ice rods in the other two. Our initial plan was to catch some small bluegills and use them to re-fish for musky with tip ups. However, we were blessed with bites from big bluegills. Within thirty minutes of fishing, we had iced four bluegills, the smallest being 8” (a little bigger then we wanted to use as live bait with a tip up). The Vexilar was marking lots of fish, so we kept fishing and getting bites.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that while we were both getting bites, I was simply feeding the fish while my buddy was catching them. At least six times I had bites that I did not detect, and eventually realized my wax worm had been picked. The bluegills were biting so light that I was not skilled enough to recognize it. Each time he caught a bluegill, my fishing partner was kind enough to hold up his fish and remind me what they looked like, just in case I had forgotten.
Eventually, I landed a small largemouth bass, but continued to fail at hooking up with a panfish. My buddy continued land big bulls, along with a fish that became the catch of the day, a 14” crappie. After five hours on the ice, we were cold, wanted some hot coffee, and had enough fish to clean. We packed up our gear and trekked across the lake to the pickup. My first real ice fishing experience had been a blast. While I look forward to more of these outings in the next couple of months, I am counting down the days until I can get back in a kayak on open water!
About the Author: Longtime angler, relatively new to kayaking. Love the combination of the two. This year has brought the two greatest fishing days of my life. First, on Father's Day, our young son & I went fishing - he caught a 20" channel catfish, a couple of largemouths over 12", and about 15 bluegills. Then in September, my Dad & I took a guided trip at Gavin's Point Dam on the Missouri River. We caught 10 different species that day & shared a special time together on the water. Diverse work experience - college & high school football coach, a high school math teacher, a software developer, and a technology/operations director at a pharmacy. Enjoy family time with wife, two kids, and large extended family. If not working or with family, I like to fish, hunt upland birds, read, cook, follow sports, make artificial lures/flies/jigs, and watch NCIS and reruns of the Spanish Fly. Have a lot of interests, but am not very interesting.