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First Ice, Shallow Water, and the Wily Pike

By Dave Duwe - December 1, 2012
After a big Turkey dinner many guys take their post- Thanksgiving naps, if you ice fish, you are likely dreaming of the first ice fishing trip of the year. In most years, it is only a couple of weeks away, and on special years, only a couple of days away. My family's two favorite species to fish for during the first ice season are northern pike or bluegills. For my son, Nate , it's all about the toothy pike. At 10, he has yet to acquire the patience to sit and watch a spring bobber. Waiting for a tip up to go up is a bit more acceptable. Plus with tip up fishing, we have ample time to work on tearing dad's rotator cuff throwing the football around. During early ice, the weeds in shallow bays will still be alive which provides food, shelter, and oxygen for small fish. These small fish are a food source for hungry northern pike. The shallow bays also allow the first opportunity to ice fish because the shallow water of the lake will freeze first. Choose weed flats that vary in depth from 4-10 feet of water, making sure the ice is thick enough to hold your party and your gear.

The basic presentation is simple; for tip-ups, I use the Arctic Fisherman (Beaver Dam) spooled with 30-50 lb Dacron fishing line. With the clarity and chance of catching a different species, I always use a monofilament leader. The mono leader is less visible in the water than the standard steel leader used for pike. I like Silver Thread or Trilene 17 lb or 20 lb clear fishing line. I will have the leader 18 inches to 2 feet long attached to the Dacron line with a snap swivel. The hook I prefer is a #6 of #8 Excalibur treble hook. I put one split-shot on the line; the size will depend on the bait size. I want the sinker to pull the bait down to position without hindering its swimming ability. Place the bait 1 foot above the weed growth. On occasion, I will add a little flash, adding a small clevis and small Indiana blade. I use a #3 in yellow perch or blaze orange pattern from Bait Rigs. The action of the minnow adds movement to the blade. For bait, suckers, golden shiners or red tail chubs work well. Dead bait, like smelt, can also be productive, but it requires a different leader set up. My personal preference is to use golden shiners. I hook the shiner by the dorsal fin, since it seems to make them swim harder and attract more fish.

I have caught Northern pike at all times of day with good results. They don't seem to be as particular about the time of day as a Walleye is.

Now comes the catching of the fish. When you arrive at the tip-up, hopefully, the top spindle of the tip-up will be spinning, if not, you may not have a fish. I will wait until the spinning stops before gently lifting the tip up. I will feel for the fish and gently set the hook. Remember, we are using mono and don't want to break the line. When pulling up a large fish, be careful when you get it near the hole. The fish will likely make several runs and high pressure might break the line. If you plan to keep and Northern Pike, make sure you know the regulations for the particular lake that you are on.

And above all, keep in mind, first ice can be dangerous! I have fallen through the ice several times (I am not that bright). I will tell you it is not fun, and thankfully, I've never been pulled over by the Police while driving home in my underwear with the heat on full blast. Always be sure of the ice conditions and wear ice creepers for the glare ice. Remember, It will be hard to fish the rest of the season with a broken arm.

Author Dave Duwe
Dave Duwe
Full-time guide Dave Duwe owns and operates Dave Duwe's Guide Service, featuring the lakes of Walworth County, WI. Dave has been guiding for over 20 years and is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's best multi-species anglers. Dave is an accomplished outdoor writer and seminar speaker. He is a member of the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association and Walworth County Visitor Bureau. Sponsors include: Lund Boats(Jerry's Sport Service Inc.), Mercury Marine, Arkie Jigs, and Vexilar Marine Electronics, a pro-staff member of Minn-Kota trolling motors,Hummingbird graphs, Cannon downriggers, Lindy, Pure Fishing and All Terrain Tackle. For more information, please check out Dave's website .
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