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Ice Fishing Minnesota


Ready, Set, Go Ice Fishing!!!!!!
by Ron Anlauf
Are you ready? Are you really ready? Getting on the ice for the first time of the season takes a little preparation, and can help ensure that a good time is had by all. Being prepared means making sure that your equipment is up to speed, and not forgetting any of the little things that may prove to be rather huge, if theyíve been left behind.

A good plan of attack would include going through a mental run down of a full day on the ice. Try to think about every move that you might make, and every piece of equipment you would need. As you do so, itíd be a good idea to write it all down, and then check it off, as you physically inventory all your gear.

If youíre venturing out on early ice, youíll probably be doing so on foot. Chances are youíll also be pulling a sled, or portable ice fishing shelter. If you have far to go, larger shelters become cumbersome rather quickly, and may keep you from fishing where and when you desire. Portable shelters, like the Otter Den, from Otter Outdoors, are small enough to be easily pulled on foot, provide plenty of room, and are quite comfortable. The sled has adequate room for accommodating all of your extra gear, including an auger, depth finder, heater, as well as rods and reels, etc.

It would be a good idea to load all of your gear in your sled, and make sure it all fits. And even if you get it all in, think about what might happen if you pull it across some rough ice, or down a hill. Does it look like it will stay put? If not, you may decide to tie it in. With a couple of eye bolts, and a rubber snubber or two, you can eliminate the risk of leaving your valuable equipment on the ice, only to find out itís gone, after youíve reached your destination.

Ice Grippers Another consideration for venturing out on foot, is traction. You might be able to get yourself across the ice just fine, with a good pair of boots, but itís a completely different story when youíre trying to pull a load, even if itís light one. With out a good pair of grippers, youíll be just spinning your wheels. The Ice Grips, are a pair of high quality ice grippers, designed for, and used by, loggers. They are of the highest quality, and easily snap on over your boots. They provide traction at both the heel and ball of the foot, and will help to keep you moving, and upright, under the slipperiest conditions.

Although early ice may mean moderate temperatures, a good heater is still a must. Even if it worked last year before you put it away for the season, it wouldnít hurt to fire it up now, just to be sure. Getting the heater lit, is another component to your fist ice checklist. Matches can get the job done, but must be kept dry. A waterproof container, like the ones designed for camping, are the ticket, and well worth a couple dollar investment. Another option is using a butane lighter, used for starting charcoal. These lighters are slick, and help to keep your hands away from the flame, and eliminate the smell of burnt hair.

As you run the first trip through your mind, youíll get to the point where you have to drill some holes. You can get by with a hand auger or even better the lightweight ice saw at first ice, as you will have little to drill through. Even so, if you drag the auger with youíll want to be sure the blades are sharp. Try dragging your thumbnail against the blade, and see if it starts to shave a little off. If it wonít, or doesnít dig in, you better have them sharpened, or replaced. If you plan on using a gas auger, check the blades, and try firing it up to make sure itís in good running order. Just remember, lighter is better and the ice saw fills this bill nicely.

You might think that having a good auger would negate the need for an ice saw or ice chisel, and maybe so. But if youíre on questionable ice, a saw or chisel may be the only good way to test ice, before proceeding on. Another use for the saw or chisel comes after youíve set up and fished for a while, and when the time to leave arrives, you find that your house is frozen down tight to the ice. The only way to get it lose is to chip it free, and you canít do that with an auger.

If youíll be using an electronic depth finder, it would be advisable to make sure the batteries are fully charged. After charging, fire it up and make sure itís operational. My Vexilar FL-8 can be read out of the water, and by simply holding the transducer a few feet off the floor, I can turn up the gain until it shows the depth, ( or height), and know that itís working properly. Donít worry that the depth doesnít correspond with the height, as sound travels at a different speed through water, than through air.

As you think about getting on the ice, consider just how bright it might be, and the fact that you better bring along a pair of sunglasses. Normark makes a high quality pair, that are inexpensive, and extremely comfortable. Between direct and reflected sunlight, you can easily burn your eyes, which can lead to long term problems.

In regards to all that sun, it would also be a good idea to bring a long some sunscreen. You might think it unnecessary, but donít be fooled. Iíve personally been burnt to a crisp, after a day on the ice, and paid the price for not screening up.

Most trips are going to include some type of live bait, heavy on the minnows. Getting bait to your intended destination alive, can be very important. Bait containers, like the cheap Styrofoam jobs, are prone to tipping over and are not very durable. A better option would be the use of a small plastic, insulated cooler, with a lid that locks securely in place. Another option would be using a water type jug, with a lid that actually screws on. They can be laid on their sides without losing any water, and can hold quite a few minnows. They also come in handy when you need to poor a little water on the ice, to read a depth finder.

To get your minnows out of the bucket, donít forget a net. Dipping your hands into ice cold water, to grab a fresh minnow, gets old fast.

Another handy item is a dry towel. When your handling a lot of fish, youíre hands can get cold and wet quickly. A simple towel can keep you dry, and keep you fishing, when frozen hands might have sent you home early.

Surely thereís more to think about, and everything hasnít been covered here, but this should help get you started. And if thereís something here that may have otherwise been forgotten, all the better.
See you on the ice.

Scouting & Ice Fishing For Wintertime Slabs
By Cory Schmidt
By now, most angling fact of previous insider status is taken for granted by the masses of wintertime panfishermen. Most astute anglers realize, for instance, the importance of mobility within a body of water, and then location given, educated use of some sort of sonar for pinpointing fish.

We've learned about scaling down presentation to the point of no return; 1 or 2-pound test, microjigs and ultrasensitive bite-indication systems. Today, all fine panfish anglers have this knowledge and put it to practice.

But the game has changed. The thing now has become to scout out fresh spots within a large body of water, or better yet, uncover new lakes off the beaten path.

With a snowmobile, ATV, snowshoes or even a dog-sled team we can reach lakes in winter which remain out of the question with a boat.

And icing panfish is simple! Small box of jigs, a tin of larva and a tiny rod or two all stashed in a backpack; then an auger or spud, a bucket for your butt and fish storage, and a sonar unit.

So time now for a bit of scouting. Break out a map of your area and take a look once-I mean a good detailed recreation or forest service map. The Minnesota landscape is literally peppered with water=untapped slabs!

A fun goal friends and I set every winter is to scout out at least five new off-the-path lakes. But the thing is to make educated guesses as to which lakes might be best, based on a host of available information.

Not to say we won't on a hunch jaunt back through the sticks into some obscure duck pond, we often do. Especially because, if deep enough, even these potholes can harbor some dinnerplate-sized panfish. Which is really the point of what we're getting at here-finding undisturbed slabs.

When I mentioned making "educated guesses" about good lakes based on available information I didn't mean insider info given to you in confidence. Those tips are great, cherish them. But even the finest wintertime anglers still need to scout at some point.

If you haven't yet visited the DNR's website and "Lakefinder" section, do so. These 'Lake Information Reports' detail fish population and size, lake characteristics and access. Based on many of these reports, astute anglers can go so far as to make relatively sound assumptions on a lake's potential for big panfish, as well as possible patterns for catching these fish.

As far as accessibility, seek out smaller lakes that lack boat ramps. Some of these lakes lack access points completely, so it sometimes becomes necessary to get permission from lakeshore owners.

Tell you a little more about the best fisheries we've found for big beautiful bluegills and crappies. Look for lakes lined with shoreline bulrushes, cattails and otherwise natural or undisturbed shoreline vegetation (in other words, uninterrupted by development).

The best lakes are often less than 300 acres in size. Key on fertile bodies of water-plenty of shallow mucky flats with or without weeds, yet deep enough, say 20-30 feet max depth, to avert winterkills. Underwater springs or inflowing creeks help, too (use caution in these areas).

Fertile lakes house lots of the food items needed to grow big panfish quickly. Shallow flats mean ample spawning territory for fish recruitment.

Remote location and limited shoreline development, these types of lakes can be hot. Remember, you can usually get to these inaccessible lakes in winter. Sometimes the only way to know about a lake for sure is to fish it.

Final point. Don't tell the wrong people about your newfound panfish lake! To close, I'll tell you a story that explains that last comment. Four of us, for the past five or so winters had been keying on a certain tiny lake that contained several mega schools of crappies averaging 1.5 pounds. Many fish pushed the 3 pound mark. On a good evening we literally could've taken home limits of crappies over 2 pounds. Non-stop action.

Plus, the bluegills-- fish only guessed at in reality-- swam here too, though fewer in numbers than the crappies. But when you got one, it was the type that spilled over your hands as you held it like you might an overflowing heap of rice.

For several winters we enjoyed this lake, returning the vast majority of its finy prizes to their watery homes. I might also add that although this lake lied right alongside a county road, no one ever bothered to fish it. And we always set our little ice shacks on the backside of a hill-out of the way of potentially prying eyes.

But then, and I pause to let the gravity of the event build, it happened. Someone in our small group of confidants spilled the beans; told the wrong person. And from then on, the onslaught of anglers on that tiny panfish lake simply overwhelmed the fish population.

That first week alone there must have been five-hundred big crappies and a fourth as many one pound bluegills permanently extracted. By last ice, the bite was no longer happening, as in, could no longer be happening. Simply no fish left.

A friend who's a resident on the lake talked this spring of a total absence of crappies and bluegills in spawning areas. Could they simply be spawning elsewhere, I wondered aloud? But of course, I immediately realized, on a lake that small, only a few spawning sites exist. Now, nearly a year later . . . and still not a crappie to be seen, period.

And yet, nature, always the magician, is fairly likely to grant this little lake a rebirth. At least, given half a chance (once it's again forgotten and ignored) it will one day soon offer a glimpse of what once had been. 'Till then, there's always another lake. Another little gem out there in the rough, thick with naive 2-pound crappies.

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Ice Fishing with Sticklebacks
The January day started out as usual, just a quick load up with the ice fishing equipment that I keep indoors, and a drive out to the lake, but little did I know that future events would contradict a fishing ďcanít doĒ. After hand augering two holes through 12 inches of ice fishing, I set up the spot for ice fishing and hooked one crappie minnow on the bobber rig, then lowered my tiny plastic jig to tempt those panfish.

Before I could open the thermos to pour some hot coffee, my bobber rig circled in the hole then went down. I dropped the pole tip toward the hole then reeled in the slack and set the hook into decent weight. The fight didnít last long as I saw the crappie come to the hole, then roll, throw the hook and swim away.

I thought the quick loss wasnít a problem because more are sure to follow, and the sonar showed plenty of fish down below, so I eagerly awaited the bites. After a long twenty minutes of no bites on either pole I started wondering what those fish are up to.

So I changed out minnows on the bobber rig and put on a new crappie minnow. The next twenty minutes consisted of playing cat and mouse with fish on both lines, and it became a bit frustrating. Frustration turned to curiosity, a little light bulb in my head started glowing. Swimming in the minnow bucket was a fairly unusual number of minnows that are commonly called the stickleback.

Sticklebacks have four spiky dorsal fins that stand straight up, and two side spikes or fins on both sides of these little torpedo shaped minnows. Sticklebacks also have a pronounced lower lip the gives them an overbite, nothing else looks like them and they really canít be identified as any other minnow but a stickleback. These odd looking minnows are also scorned by fisherman, and seen by most anglers as a complete waste of bait, a minnow to be ignored, killed, or let go.

There I sat on the ice fishing, and thought well I canít do any worse by trying a stickleback as bait. I know fellow fishermen say they are worthless, but what do I have to lose? At least nobody will see me try one, as Iím alone on this part of the lake.

I lightly nicked the top of the stickleback minnow and hooked it between the first and second spine or fin. Within one minute after lowering that bait the bobber went down. Fish on and ice fishingd - a 12Ē crappie. Sweet stickleback! I thought and put on another one- boom bobber down - nice perch. Then I caught another nice perch on the plastic jig. Then another nicer perch on the same stickleback that tempted the last fish.

Before I came to any conclusions as maybe the bite is just turning on and those sticklebacks have nothing to do with these catches I put on a crappie minnow, and four minutes went by without a hit. Reeled up, then put on a stickleback and within one minute another nice perch was ice fishingd.

I ran out of sticklebacks after about a half hour of good fishing, and was soon singing the praises of this much-maligned minnow. I got a real kick out of trying to determine if during the bites the fish would hit a crappie minnow, and that experiment showed, no, they wanted those little spiky minnows. The morning turned from a dud to a good perch fry, as the list of fishing do notís shortens, all thanks to the revenge of the stickleback. Keep catchiní.

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