The First Ice Top FiveBy Dave Duwe - December 1, 2010
(1) Know your lake!
You want to choose a shallow lake, which freezes first. In Southeastern Wisconsin, my first ice choices are; Monona Bay, Madison, Whitewater Lake, Whitewater, and Lake Como, Lake Geneva. The first two lakes have an abundance of Bluegills with an occasional Northern Pike and my third choice Lake Como is primarily a Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass lake. The key factor to all three lakes is their shallow nature. I won't usually fish over six feet during the first ice period, most often this is the first couple of weeks in December, but sometimes later. Choosing a shallow lake allows you to fish while other lakes are still open.
It's been a long time from your last ice excursion. Save yourself some real headaches and check your equipment before your first trek out. Don't let your equipment be the cause for an unsuccessful outing. I make sure all my fishing line has been changed. This year I have my poles spooled with Lindy's new 216 ice fishing line. Nothing is worse than getting to the lake with kinky line. In most cases the kinky fishing line reduces the detection of the light biting Bluegills. I will make sure my hand auger blades are sharp. Dull blades and a big man like me is a bad combination. Sweat and Anger! On your first trip out, make sure you have enough different kinds of jigs and colors. Things do change from year to year. You need enough different jigs so you are able to change and find what the fish want. As far as live bait goes, I will bring waxworms, spikes and mousies for panfish. When Northern Pike fishing, I will bring golden shiners or dead smelt stored as per WDNR regulations.
(3) Use A Fish Finder
Ever since the advent of the fish finder, designed for ice fishing, I have owned one. To me it is like a security blanket I rely on. It not only shows me if there are fish around but how they are reacting to the presentation. My choice has always been a Vexilar. I use a FL-R with a flat screen. The new locators have a low power mode. This allows an angler to fish shallow water without a lot of screen clutter. I usually will fish 6 to 10 holes at a time. The first lap around, I use the locator to find the good holes, ones without excessive weeds and with active fish. After finding some good holes, I concentrate on a smaller area of actively feeding Bluegills.
(4) Location, location, location.
Shallow water freezes first. I target weedy bays of lakes with less than six feet of water. I choose areas that have pockets of sand bottom in the weed flats. These areas have an abundance of food and cover for actively feeding fish. The weeds associated with sand pockets are ambush points for the Bluegills. With Bluegills in the shallows the Northern Pike are close-by. Northern Pike fishing this time of year is exclusively a tip-up set-up. As mentioned before, golden shiners or smelt. I prefer using 17 lb. to 20 lb. monofilament with a treble hook. You will get more strikes with mono than steel leaders. As the ice gets thicker I will venture further out in the bay.
(5) Safety is the most important.
I always use the buddy system when venturing out, just in case. Bring safety equipment; ice-picks, ice-creepers and a spud bar. Ice-picks are used if you ever happen to fall through. They will help you get out of the water. Ice is slippery. Creepers are necessary so not to need a visit the orthopedic surgeon. Use the spud bar to check the ice thickness before walking on it. Make sure you dress appropriately, because when you are cold you aren't having fun and fun is the most important thing.
Have a productive and safe first ice experience.