Survival Fishing

By Ted Peck - December 1, 2009
The hardwater season is coming late to the upper Midwest this year. Will 2010 be a year where we're back in boats by mid-February or will we still view tip-ups as the gamefish weapon of choice when turkey season is part of the agenda?

A bucket will be the primary boat seat for 6-14 weeks for most Lake-Linkers no matter how winter shakes out. Might as well make the best of it. Panfish get the lion's share of attention from the bucket crowd. In some lakes a large portion of the panfish biomass goes deep to hover just off the bottom in the mid-lake basin during the heart of the cold water period, becoming active only for brief periods at dawn, dusk and when a snowstorm is blowing through.

In other lakes the bucketeers locate a healthy population of panfish cruising the weed pockets in water less than six feet deep where they will beat the daylights out of them all winter long.

Studies by the DNR in several states indicate limited migration of panfish once water temperatures drop into the low 30's. It doesn't take long for serious ice hooks to figure out what trips the trigger on these fish and remove the most gullible 'gills, clueless crappies and perky perch from the system.

A month from now the minimum "keeper" standard will be liberalized by some who would rather eat potato chip sized fillets than hone their presentations. But those few who ramp up their game can still take home pensive perch, saavy slabs and bluegills with bachelor's degrees in survival.

Those of us who are really intense don't spend much time in tents when we are pursuing these persnickety piscators in shallow water, especially if there is no snow cover on the ice.

Fish which remain in the gene pool for awhile know that a shadow appearing overhead at mid day is a serious threat to survival. A portable shanty may provide creature comfort, but it may stand in the way of a serious sack of fish.

Have you ever sprawled on the ice and peered down the hole in frustration as a great big bluegill ignored every fly and jig in your tackle box? If you can see the fish they can see you too! Would you grab a warm chocolate chip cookie sitting on a chopping block if some shirtless guy with a hood over his head and a sharp axe was standing nearby chuckling to himself?

That ultralight spinning outfit which works so well on panfish during summer's heat is a good weapon in winter, too-with a little modification. No need to strip off all that 4 lb. test mono on the reel, just use a barrel knot to add about 10 ft. of one pound test leader material-enough line to get a hook in front of fish five feet below the ice with a couple turns remaining on the reel spool.

Strike indicators are a major component for consistent success when fish take the term "biting light" to the extreme. One of those little coiled spring bobbers which look like they came out of a ballpoint pen will work. A neutrally waited float like the Thill Stealth or mini shy-bite will work even better.

Bring floats in several sizes to the ice. You can change floats quickly with a little rubber tube as a bobber stop. Ice jigs come in different weights. The key is having just a raisin-sized portion of the float above the water line.

A long pole is not the only way you can keep fish from seeing you. Don't be afraid to kick a little slush in the hole. All you really need is a two inch diameter of open water to effective work your lure.

Downsizing the lure can also spell a world of difference. Go with the smallest flies in your box. Stick with natural colors too-black or gold.

If you like using bait, try a single spike or mousie. Presentation can be critical with livebait. If it doesn't hang there naturally, the fish won't want to eat it.

Trying to trigger wary fish into striking is almost always more effective than trying to get them to eat. Ice fishing plastics are deadly weapons, especially in black, purple or red. A horizontal bait presentation is also generally more effective than a vertical one. Some baits like the Marmooska, Fat Boy and Genz worm will naturally fall in a horizontal orientation. Baits like the Demon and Rat Finkee can be rigged for a horizontal presentation, but the first fish you fool will pull the knot around so the bait hangs vertically. Check the lure angle every time you drop it down the hole!

Sound travels 240 times faster through water than it does through the air. Be stealthy. When you arrive at the place you want to fish quickly tap 6-8 holes, then tiptoe between them, gingerly lowering the lure to tempt your quarry.

Voices carry across the ice. If you use these tricks don't be surprised if you hear "Look! He's got another one!" -30-

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.