Friday, January 27, 2012

On the Hardwater - Jigging Soft Plastics for Panfish

I started out typing up the second post in this series with the intention creating a follow up to the last one, "On the Hardwater - Ice Fishing Basics I".  It's currently a work in progress and I'll post it in a few days, but I decided instead to post something more detailed, a subject that is truly my passion when fishing for panfish, and that is fishing with artificials, specifically soft plastics.
This yellow perch fell for a Bass Pro Shops one inch pumpkinseed Squirmin' Grub.  Soft plastics can catch a lot of fish in a hurry, especially in early and late season. 
Years ago, my go to rig included a 1/80 ounce jighead, either chartreuse or orange, rigged with a one inch Bass Pro Shops pumpkinseed Squirmin Grub, fished on four pound monofilament line on an ultralight 24" fiberglass cheap fishing rod.  In fact, my first fish on the ice came on that jig.  I tore them up that day on them, and became hooked on ice fishing at the same time.  Since then, that jig has caught many a crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, trout and bass amongst other species through the ice.  Over the years, my soft plastic arsenal has grown, mostly as a carryover from fishing for panfish during open water season, then taken to the ice.

Why fish soft plastics?  There are times when fish of all species can't stop hitting them.  And, you don't have to worry about changing old bait, or replacing bait stolen by fish, and you can quickly get your lure back down to them.  And, there are even times when they won't hit anything else, for reasons I have yet to understand.  During a hot bite, I can catch an extra fish while my buddy is baiting a hook.

So, what kind of soft plastics work well on panfish?  In general, I think small and light, although there are times when bigger is actually better.  When it comes to color, I mostly use either natural colors when the water is gin clear and there is a lot of light penetration below, or bright or glow colors when it's dark or dingy down there.  But, there are times when they need to see something different, and a glow or bright color may work when the water is clear.  I'm also a fan of red and black, red when the water is clear, black any time but especially in dingy water.  As you might expect, glow colors work great at night.  Basically, try different combinations and let the fish tell you.  One way to do that is to fish two jigs in tandem, with different soft plastics on each one, and let the fish choose.
This rod is rigged with two Ratsos, about nine inches apart.  The color choice here includes glow pink and glow blue, both hot colors for crappie and bluegills on the lakes that I fish.  If they both work, I leave them both on.  If one works better than the other, then I try two of the hot color or try something different altogether.  These Ratso jigheads are glow color too.
One of my favorite rigs has two Custom Jigs and Spins size eight Ratsos rigged about eight to ten inches apart.  Preparing this rig involves a small swivel with a three foot leader.  Using your favorite fishing knot, tie a jig about ten inches from the end of the line, but do not cut the tag end.  Then, at the end of the line, tie on the second jig.  Then, add two different soft plastics and see which ones work the best.  Once you determine that, double up on that color, size, or style because you might hook up two fish at a time!  The swivel prevents line twist.  You can tie this rig without a swivel.  I'll go into the advantages and disadvantages of using a swivel later.
This is the rod tip of my broken South Bend fiberglass cheap jigging rod.  When it broke (slammed in the lid of my box), rather than tossing it in the trash, I made a spring bobber out of light spinner wire and a plastic bead, and used fishing line and shrink wrap to attach it to the end of the rod.  The spring helps me detect the lightest bites.  Notice the swivel that attaches to the leader and main line.
My plastics selection can be divided into two categories, scented and non-scented.  The non-scented plastics are the traditional types that you find that are effective when fishing open water for panfish.  The scented types are soft plastics that are biodegradable or have some sort of scent mixed in with the plastic that have really gained in popularity over the past several years.
These non-scented soft plastic baits are among my favorites and have iced many a crappie, bluegill, or yellow perch.  The left column includes external tube jigs and insider head tubes.  The middle column includes twister tails or grubs, and Ratsos.  To the right are various colors and styles of jigheads used to rig these hot baits.
This lure is called the Shrimpo, basically,
it's a verticle version of the Ratso.
Make sure when rigging this lure that
you keep the tail rigged as shown, you'll
get more bites that way.
I usually carry tube jigs, grubs and Ratsos as my staple go to baits for non-scented plastics.  In addition to the Ratso, I carry Kalin's two inch grubs, Bass Pro Shops one inch Squirmin' Grubs and 1.5" Squirmin' Tubes.  These are very effective on the hardwater and in the soft water for virtually any panfish.

I also carry a box of various soft plastics designed for ice fishing that include such interesting critters as the Little Atom Wedgies, Nuggies, Duppies, Skimpies and Micro Noodles.  While you're ice fishing, if someone approaches you with the intent of giving you a Wedgie, don't run away, it may help you catch fish!  Another new group of soft plastics from the Reel Good Guide Store broke onto the scene and promise to fill ice anglers boxes with plastics and most likely their buckets with a limit of panfish.  These lures hail in the names of the Ice Mite, Paddle Bug, and GoJo.

These plastics are carried in my "other" plastics box.  These are designed specifically for ice fishing, but can be used in open water with good success.  The top left and middle columns are soft plastics from the Little Atom company, while the column to the right are from Reel Good Guides.  The chartreuse jig to the left is made by a friend of mine, and the one below that is from Custom Jigs and Spins called the Purist.  The Purist is great in shallow water less than six feet.
There are other soft plastics out there designed for ice fishing or for open water panfishing, and the only thing that they need for them to work is for you to try them.  My advice is, that if you have confidence in a particular soft plastic when fishing for panfish during open water, chances are that they'd work under the ice as well.  I'm not loyal or biased toward any particular brand.  Rather, if I see something that I think will work, I'll try them.

So, what's another way to add some oomph to your non-scented soft plastic jig to further tempt finicky fish into biting?  Add scent.  There are many commercial brands of scent, including Fish Formula, Smelly Jelly, Bang and Berkeley Gulp juice to mention a few, and I'm sure that there are others.  Some people make their own using anise oil or cod liver oil as a base, then adding other flavors like garlic or other fish oils.  What works best?  I really don't know, but I use scent all of the time.  Scent, if anything, covers human scent and other things that might not appeal to the finicky taste buds of fish.  It's quite possible that fish might bite these scented lures because of the scent, but at a minimum seems to result in fish holding onto the bait longer.  That added time might be the difference between hooking up on a bite or the fish spitting the lure out.

Scented Lures, which include biodegradable lures, are claimed by their makers to outfish live bait.  I can sometimes say that about any soft plastic, but there are times that these scented ones out perform anything else.  Probably the most popular ones are made by Berkley, but also Yum and Mr. Twister make versions that are very tempting to panfish.  I carry a good supply of Gulp and Powerbait products.
The column to the left are Berkley Powerbait products, and to the right are Gulp products.  The Powerbait products are as follows, Power Grub, Power Wiggler, Power Spikes, and Power Trout Worms.  The Gulp products are, top to bottom, Gulp Minnow, Gulp Grub, and Gulp Maggot.  These are awesome for finicky panfish.

Can you tell that I like Berkley scented products?  I carry these on every ice trip, and use them!
When fishing soft plastics, sometimes the bite can be easily detected, but most of the time the bites will be light.  Using a spring bobber or a very sensitive ultralight rod really helps to detect the bites.  The best way to detect bites is to see them.  During the daytime, in clear water, I use an Aqua-vu underwater camera when I'm over a good number of fish that I've marked with my sonar.  I can see them inhale the plastic lure and set the hook before they can spit it out.  Sometimes these fish bite so light that you can't detect movement on your rod tip or from your line, but with a camera, you can nail them. 
Bluegills like this one often bite so light that you can't see the bite on even a spring.  That's when a camera comes in handy, set the hook when you see the bite.  Some anglers when fishing shallow water, will "sight" fish by laying on the ice and peering down the hole.  This is the same principle as when using the camera.
Night Time Crappie
One of my favorite patterns of the Ratso tandem rig is the night time crappie bite.  The camera isn't much use at night, I've found, because there's so much zooplankton activity at night that are attracted to your camera light that it blocks out most of your visibility.  So, two things are key, your sonar and the spring bobber (or a very sensitive rod tip).

Before I go on, in my last post I gave a lot of credit to my buddy Jeff Redinger.  I have to give him credit here too, for turning me on to the Ratsos.  Since he pointed them out to me, I've caught a ton of fish on them.

OK, back to crappie.  The first thing to know is that, at least from my experience, crappie feed up.  What I mean by that is that they seem to respond to lures that are worked above them rather than on the bottom or below them.  That's not to say that they won't chase a lure down or hit them off the bottom, rather, they seem to be much more aggressive to lures presented above them.

Another trait of crappie, especially at night, is they almost always suspend.  If you're lure isn't where they can find it, then you won't get bites.  This is where a good sonar unit comes in handy.  As discussed in my last post, "On the Hardwater - Ice Fishing Basics I", you can see your jig or, in this case, both Ratsos, and you can see the fish.  With suspended fish, you know exactly what depth they are holding at because you can see them, so you can effectively drop that lure into your hole and jig it just above them.  Without sonar, you might drop the lure below them or fish too high, and the fish won't see it.

Crappie that bite "up" often push the lure up on their attack, creating slack in your line, resulting in your spring straightening out or moving up.  If you don't have a spring bobber, you need to really watch your line and make sure that any weird slack that all of a sudden appears is followed by a hook set, because that could be a fish!

When working the tandem Ratsos, most of the time the fish are focused on the bottom one.  When there's a thick school, you may see them surround both of them.  If you hook one, let it thrash a second or two and you'll often get a second bite, and you can catch two at a time that way.

 Using sonar, or a flasher, along with my tandem Ratso rig, allowed me to catch panfish for three hours non-stop on this trip.  I kept a few of them for a nice panfish dinner, the rest were released to catch another day.  My Ratsos have done this for me time and again.
How do I tempt them into striking?  First, the fish need to see the lures.  You've presented them because you're using sonar and you're keeping your lure slightly above them.  I also like glow colors at night, so I'm always using a light source to keep them "charged".  What I like to do is keep the jigs just above them, then lightly jig the lure and barely move it so that the Ratso tail is barely quivering.  As you do that, slowly raise, then stop, then raise, then stop and draw the fish up higher in the water column.  Eventually, they can't stand it and will hit before the lure escapes.  There are times when they may chase it all the way to the hole!  You really have to pay close attention to your sonar and watch their behavior.  When the fish finally are tempted to your lure and appear to be one with your lure on the sonar, take your eyes off the sonar and closely watch your rod tip for the bite.

Another thing to watch is when there's a thick school, after catching a fish, you may be in a hurry to get that lure back down.  So, you drop your jig in the hole and it's sinking then all of a sudden stops, and you may not see anything on your sonar.  That's usually due to one of two things.  Either it's hung on some ice frozen at your hole, or it's a fish swallowing your jig on the fall.  Set the hook.  Crappie are notorious for doing this.

What happens when the suspended school of crappie disappears?  They probably haven't gone far away.  The school is most likely nearby enough to see your jig but just outside of the cone of your sonar.  So, to get them back, jig your lure aggressively until they appear on your sonar, then go back to what you did earlier to get bites.

One more thing about using a spring with this Ratso rig, it really helps when it's windy to find shelter to fish.  For me, it's my flip over style Fish Trap, that allows me to fish out of the wind so I can easily see and detect the lightest of bites.

So, why do predators like crappie bite these micro sized plastics, especially at night when they feed so much on minnows?  These soft plastics, along with other ice jigs, are great for imitating small crustaceans.  Remember why I don't like the camera at night, because the zooplankton are attracted to the light?  Those are the critters that the crappie are feeding on at night.  Zooplankton become much more active at night, rising in the water column, and the crappie are right there with them.  See why crappie suspend now?  You can imitate them in your jigging technique, and it could trigger strikes.  What do they look like if you don't drop a camera down there, you might ask?  Well, just look into your hole.  The light from your lantern attracts them to your hole, and you can see copepods, amphipods, and daphnia flitting about in your hole.

One final piece of important equipment needed for a good night crappie bite is a lantern.  I bring out a propane fueled Coleman lantern.  In my shanty, it not only provides a great light source, but helps keep it warm in there.  It could be in the teens outside and windy, but in my shanty I could strip down to a flannel shirt and be toasty as can be.  Lanterns are great also for charging up your glow lures.  I really believe that the light generated by your lantern attracts zooplankton, and the crappie are drawn there as well.  Just don't let your line get too close to the lantern, or you'll be retying a new rig (speaking from experience there).  Also, don't let it near the canvas on your flip over shanty or you'll be patching a hole prior to your next trip.

Before I forget, let me mention the advantages and disadvantages of using a swivel, as promised earlier in this post.  The swivel prevents line twist, and also adds a slight bit of weight which helps to load your rod tip when using light lures.  Line twist causes lures to spin.  Huh?  Well, when watching your lure with an underwater camera, if you jig any lure with spinning tackle, you will twist your line.  When you stop jigging, the line unwinds, and your lure twirls or spins under the water.  Fish will approach the lure and look at it, but most of the time won't bite a spinning lure and will eventually swim off.  Sometimes, but rarely, they'll wait for it to stop spinning and then bite.  You can reduce this twist by using a swivel, or, keep jigging the lure.  The lure won't spin as much if you keep it moving.  But if you have fish that will only hit whne you dead stick your lure, if it spins, you'll lose a chance at that type of bite.

The disadvantage of using a swivel is that it's another thing to see on your sonar, and sometimes the fish will actually bite it.  I've been tempted to put a small jig on it, but have never done that.  I wonder if it will work?  Hmmm...  Another disadvantage is that you have to keep changing your leader as you retie your jigs or change lures.  That's not a problem at home, but on the ice in the elements it's kind of tricky, especially with my old age and poor eyesight.  Oh, you're laughing eh?  Well, just wait until your my age and have to tie up a new rig with one or two pound test in a shanty in icy weather!  Obviously, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Another thing that you can do with plastics is to use them to tip any of your ice jigs or spoons.  I really like doing that with the Berkley Gulp products, adding a Gulp Minnow Head or Minnow to a spoon can tempt bigger panfish or even bass, pickerel or walleye!
This Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon tipped with a Gulp Minnow Head will not only tempt jumbo perch, but may put a nice walleye or bass on the ice for you.
Which leads me to my next topic, bigger plastics.  Bigger baits catch bigger fish, right?  Well, that's sometimes true with panfish.  If the common forage of a lake is larger, and fish are feeding often on minnows or crayfish, bigger soft plastics might work even better than the micro ones mentioned above.  You can really clean up on slob bluegills, slab crappie, and jumbo yellow perch by giving them something a bit bigger and more tempting.  I've caught jumbo perch and crappie while jigging three inch soft plastics.  When the fish are aggressive, sometimes your best catches can result from going big.

Bigger can be better.  These jumbo perch and a bonus pickerel fell for three inch Gulp minnows on a 1/16 ounce jighead.
So, next time you go out on the hardwater, have a rod rigged with your favorite soft plastic lure for panfish, and give it a try.  You may find that you may catch more than you ever imagined.  This isn't the only or always the best way to catch panfish, so make sure to bring what you're comfortable with out on the ice, but give these a try, you may be pleasantly surprised.  Think of soft plastics like you would any other time of year, as another tool to catch more fish, a tool that I never leave behind.

For more ice fishing tips, techniques, talk and fishing reports, please visit

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the Hardwater - Ice Fishing Basics Part I

Throughout the country in regions where favorite angling waters ice up to the point that people can no longer cast a lure from shore or a boat, many anglers pack up their fishing gear until next season and suffer what's known as cabin fever.  Other anglers welcome the ice, and look at it as an opportunity to catch fish in places that they can't reach from shore during open water.  In truth, ice fishing is almost cult like in it's following.  Many anglers prefer ice fishing to any other, often turning to other activities after ice out and not fishing the open water!  For most, it's a way to extend your fishing throughout the year, and for many of those, ice fishing becomes a favorite activity.

In this post, I'll discuss basic ice fishing equipment and some tactics.  In my next post, I'll go into more detail about the types of tackle used to catch various types of fish.

All you need to get started fishing the hardwater are a few basic items.  Once addicted though, like most fishing, the passion turns to an obscession, causing you to procure electronics and other gear to increase your catch or improve dealing with the elements, even more feeding the addiction.
Before I go on, if you're interested in giving ice fishing a try, or already are addicted to this awesome sport, make sure that you join and spend some time on  There's a wealth of information on this website.  Make sure that you use the search feature to find what you need.  Not only will you find tons of tips, but after your third post, you'll have access to fishing reports for just about everywhere in the US and Canada.  And, on top of that, you may wind up meeting some people to fish with.  I met a bunch of my fishing friends as a result of this website.  Join, learn, and contribute.

So, what do you need to get started? 
First and foremost, you have to protect yourself from the elements, because without them, you wouldn't have ice to fish on to begin with.  So, if you're going to be out there, it's important to not only be comfortable, but to be safe.  I'm not going to go into much depth on dressing for ice fishing other than to say that it's best to dress in layers with material warm enough to handle extreme temperatures, to keep your head and hands warm, and to have a good warm pair of boots.  Click on this link for more information on how to dress for ice fishing, and browse through the topics to read how ice anglers dress to deal with the elements: Dressing for Ice Fishing Forum.

A simple sled will haul your gear, or you can modify it to
carry just about anything that you want.  It's all up to your
own imagination.
Next, you'll need some equipment.  The founder of posted a quick list of equipment that I've found useful to newbies, you can find the list here: Recommended Equipment List.  Again, I won't go into great detail here, but basically, in addition to dressing for the occasion, you'll need something to cut through the ice (most people use an ice auger), something to scoop out the ice chips from the hole made by your auger, one or more ice fishing rods and reels, light fishing line suitable for cold water, ice cleats to keep you from falling and injuring yourself, something to sit on (a bucket works great and doubles as something to haul your gear or catch), some small ice fishing lures or jigs, and some bait to sweeten your jigs.  Once you accumulate more gear, a sled of some sort to haul your stuff a round will make things even easier for you.

Cutting through the ice:
Leaning against my sled is a hand auger.  Other equipment
shown here include my sled, sonar, fishing rod, a tool
to scoop out ice chips, and my catch.
The most basic piece of equipment is the ice auger.  It's basically like a drill to cut holes in the ice which allow you to present lures or bait to the fish under your feet.  There are gas and electric powered augers that are great when cutting through thick ice, and hand augers for not so thick ice.  In my neck of the woods, the ice doesn't really get all that thick, so a hand auger will suffice most of the time.  Gas powered augers are great for cutting a lot of holes in a hurry, and will save time and energy over a hand auger when the ice is at it's thickest.  In more Northern regions, sometimes you need an extension to be able to cut holes through several feet of ice.  In my region, I rarely see more than fifteen inches of ice.

When the weather is nice, you may opt to go light and bring less equipment.  But, when dealing with harsh weather, additional equipment will keep you comfortable.  And, when you're comfortable, you'll catch more fish.  It's really difficult to concentrate on catching fish when you're cold, shivering and on the brink of hypothermia.  There are times when simply dressing warmly isn't enough.  So, what do ice anglers do?  Fish inside.  The ice shanty is the means to comfort, a shelter to protect you from the elements while still having the ability to catch fish. 

The Permanent Shanty:
In regions where it's legal to leave a protective shelter on the ice, some anglers build their own, often elaborate and innovative contraptions and haul them out on the ice.  They are often left in a favorite area of their favorite lake where they can fish each day within their structure, or use it as a base camp to spread out and find fish, then return to socialize, eat food, and/or fish.  Permanent shanties are used in colder regions where the ice is thick enough to drive on and support a lot of weight.

Permanent shanties, or shacks, offer all the comforts of home.  Not only do they offer comfort inside to fish from, but often serve as base camps for social gatherings on the ice in between fishing time.  Here, my buddies share a meal after a long cold morning on the ice.
The Portable Shanty:
When the ice isn't thick enough to drive on the ice, or, if it's not legal to drive on the ice, ice anglers are not out of luck when it comes to comfort.  There are many products available to the angler to protect them from the elements.  It's not essential to own one of these, but man they sure help.  I personally fish out of a Fish Trap, a portable "flip-over" shelter that serves as my sled, seat, and shelter, made by the Clam Corporation.  Not only am I protected from the elements, but I can fish in comfort and remain mobile to stay on the fish.  They're fast and easy to set up on the ice, and keep me warm and out of the wind. 

An advantage to my Fish Trap over other styles of shanty is that I can stay mobile.  All I need to do is flip the canvas back and move the sled to another spot (usually a hole that I've cut previously), have a seat, and flip the protective canvas back over top of me and I'm in fishing comfort once again.  The Fish Trap is often referred to as the "bass boat on ice".

In this pic you can see a couple permanent shanties along with two flip over style portables.  Here, I'm searching for a new spot, checking holes for fish, while a buddy of mine is cozy inside his Fish Trap.  It was cold, snowing, and the wind was howling that day, expanding the canvas Fish Trap canvas tops to resemble giant blue marshmellows!
Here my buddy George is perched on his Fish Trap Seat, using his flasher to catch panfish.  You can see why people call these portable shanties "bass boats on ice".  All he has to do to escape the elements is to flip the top over his head and he's in total comfort.

On average ice fishing days, the sun and your body warmth will keep you plenty warm inside your portable shanty.  At night, if you're fishing for crappie and other night biters, a propane lantern will not only provide you with ample light, but also generate enough heat to fish inside your portable shanty to the point that you can peel off some layers and fish in a flannel shirt on all but the coldest of days.  For those really cold days, a Mr. Heater Buddy portable propane heater will keep things toasty inside.  Don't worry about these items melting the ice that you're perched upon, they're perfectly safe.

Portable shanties, like these "flip-over" styles, allow you to fish out of the wind and protect you from the elements, keeping you comfortable even on the coldest days.  The only time that you need to venture outside is if you're searching for fish and need to move.
Cozy in my Fish Trap, warm from my lantern and Mr. Heater Buddy heater, electronics to help find and catch panfish like this crappie...what more do you need?  I love it!

Here my cat demonstrates how to properly use the bass boat style seat on my fish trap while I prepare for a trip.

There are other portable shanties available, some are "pop-up" type shanties that set up in a few minutes.  They aren't quite as mobile as the flip over style, but are great when fishing with multiple people or to serve as base camps when fishing a wide area.  These are very popular with tip-up fishermen. 

Here's an example of a "pop-up" style portable shanty, with a permanent shanty in the background.  These are also a bit roomier than the "flip-over" style of shanty if you prefer more elbow room and aren't worried about mobility.  Notice the gas powered auger at the bottom of the picture.
Ice Fishing with Electronics

Probably the most important piece of equipment for me to locate and catch more fish is my sonar unit.  There are many brands and versions out there, all of them good, and all of them serve one purpose, to locate and help you catch more fish.  How does it work?  Basically, you place the transducer down the hole, and you'll see bars on your screen (see picture below).  The thick bars at the bottom of the picture (six o'clock) represent a "false" return, but the bars at about four o'clock represent the bottom.  Not only can you see the bottom and know the depth that you're fishing, but bars that show up at the bottom and "flicker" or that are suspended above the bottom, are fish. 

When you drop your lure down, it will also show up as a bar.  Often, if the fish are active, they'll react to your lure as it falls down to them.  You can see, in real time, every action that you impart on the lure.  As you jig, you can see your lure jump and the fish react.  When a bar, or fish, approaches the bar that represents your lure, take your eyes off the sonar and watch your rod tip.  When you see your rod tip, or sometimes just the line, do anything different, set the hook.  Sometimes the strikes are savage, but most of the time they're very subtle.  Don't forget to take your eyes off the "TV" (sonar) or you may miss that bite.

Do you need sonar to catch fish?  Nope.  But wow does it help.  It often is the difference between getting skunked and catching a ton of fish.  Once you get into ice fishing, this is the first major investment that I'd recommend.

Sonar, like the Vexilar FL18 pictured above, allows you to find fish, but also to see your lure, the fish, and how they react, enabling you to catch more fish.  When fishing for crappie at night, sonar is invaluable in finding suspended fish, and dropping the lure right above them to provoke a strike.
Underwater Video Cameras
Now I don't think that these are essential to ice fish, but let me tell you it's very fun to see what you're fishing for.  And, when the bite is really light, you'll find that using a camera is a great way to catch those light biters that you might miss if you didn't actually see the fish inhale the lure.  Fish often inhale a lure and spit it out so fast that, by the time you see your rod tip jump and react, you'll miss that fish.  And, often, the fish inhaling your lure and spitting it out may not even transmit the bite to your rod tip!  So, with this piece of equipment, you can not only see what you're fishing for, see how they react, but you can actually see them inhale your lure.  In this case, you leave your eyes on the camera and react to what you see on the camera, and set the hook. 

The use of an underwater camera is a great way to fish when you know that you have a lot of fish under you.  They can also be used to find fish and are quite valuable in that respect when searching in shallow water.  Why?  Sonar puts out a cone of waves that are read back to the unit after bouncing off the bottom.  The radius of the cone is much smaller in shallower water, so you're only seeing what is directly under you.  With a camera, in clear water, you can see many feet off to the side in any direction that you point the camera. 

Another great thing about these units is that you can record your underwater fishing moments on a DVR.  I currently use an Aqua-vu, one of the first portable underwater cameras built for ice fishing, but there are several quality brands out there to choose from.

So, in addition to the above facts about using an underwater camera, why do I use them?  I think that they're just plain fun!

Here, my friend Scott uses an underwater camera to find schools of bluegills in just a few feet of water, checking several holes until he locates fish.
Tactics and Strategies 
I'm not going to go into specific tactics with regard to fishing tackle and the various fish species available to you through the ice in this post as I'll save that for future posts.  But instead, I'll touch on some overall strategies that will help you improve your odds and find more fish.  Most ice anglers employ two basic tactics, jigging for fish, or setting up tip-ups.

Jigging simply means that you sit or stand over your hole in the ice, and work your lure with a rod and reel in hand to catch fish.  It really doesn't get any simpler than that.  But, if you think that you can venture out on the ice, cut a hole, and find fish every time, well, it just isn't that simple.  That said, it does happen once in a while, and that's just plain luck.  So, how do you rely on something other than luck and improve your odds at success on the ice?  Cut and check lots of holes, and stay mobile.

I usually start out and find a spot that I want to fish by looking at lake maps, or even on-line satellite imaging, to determine a section of lake that I'd like to fish.  Once I locate and access the area, I begin by cutting about several holes out from where I'd guess the first drop off is out to the creek channel.  Then, I go back and scoop the ice chips out, and drop my sonar transducer down the hole, turn on my sonar, and look for either suspended fish, or the bottom bars flickering and moving. 

Be careful that your transducer is still because that flickering on the bottom could be your transducer moving.  If you're transducer is still, and the bottom bar is flickering, try dropping a jig down to the fish and see if they react.  If what you see is a fish, then this is a hole to remember.  If you see multiple fish or they're reacting to your lure in an aggressive manner, stay and fish it out.

Here my friends Jack and Geoff found a school of panfish using their sonar units, then targeted them using light line, ice fishing rods, and small jigs tipped with maggots (spikes) or waxworms.
You may check all of the holes that you've cut only to not find any fish.  If that happens, move to another section of lake and start over.  Repeat the process until you locate fish.  Don't give up!  And, if you find fish and they stop biting, get up and move, and repeat the process once again.  If you do move, then remember where you've fished and caught fish successfully, because later on you may want to return to that spot.  I've often found that if you catch a crappie during the morning, more than likely if you plan to fish at night, that spot could prove to be a good night time crappie location.

If you've been on fish, make small location changes and look for similar structure.  If they completely shut down or you can't find fish, make major location changes.  That may mean traveling to a different section of the lake that you're on, or even heading off to a different lake.

The only thing that I want to say more about mobility, is that when night fishing for crappie, I've had less success moving to new spots.  I can't say that it won't work to move, but it may not be as easy as finding them in the day.  Be prepared to cut a lot of holes at night to find feeding crappie.  It's hard work, but when you find active ones, you will be rewarded.

Now, for me, being mobile is limited to what I bring on the ice.  This is where the Fish Trap is great because I can haul all of my gear and get out of the wind and weather, and move whenever I need to.  If it's warm out, I may opt to bring my smaller sled and go light, and be even more mobile.  But, in my area, on most of the lakes that I fish it's not legal to drive any vehicle on the ice.  On some larger lakes near me, snowmobiles are allowed, and they increase your mobility.  Of course, in more Northern regions, use of ATVs, snowmobiles, automobiles and trucks can also increase your mobility.

The concept of being mobile and fishing with electronics to locate and find fish quickly was made popular by Dave Genz many years ago.  I'd recommend checking his youtube videos on the subject.  He goes into a lot more detail than I have time for today.

Another tactic that ice anglers use is to cut a bunch of holes in such a way that they cover a structure, or structures, to target a certain species of fish, and set up multiple baited tip-up devices on them.  They can be used to catch any predatory fish, whether it be pike, musky, walleye, pickerel, bass, trout, crappie or perch.  A tip-up is simply a spring loaded device that has a spool of line and sits over a hole, where you set your bait to the depth of your choice, that has a flag that sets itself off and notifies you that you may have a bite.  The number of tip-ups that you are allowed to use depends on the regulations for your state or province that you fish.  Often, several anglers together will set up sets of tip-ups and work them together to increase their odds. 

Here's a nice Northern pike caught on a tip-up on a large shiner.
Basically, when a fish bites, the flag springs into the air, anglers quickly head toward that hole and check to see if it's a fish by first observing the line to see if it's coming off the spool, and then by picking up the line and feeling if the fish is there.  Once the angler determines that a fish is indeed on the other end of the line, the angler sets the hook and brings the fish in hand over hand.  If it's a big fish and you need drag, then you simply reverse your hand over hand activity.  Once the fish is at the hole, the trick is to maneuver the fishes head into the hole, then grab it and haul it onto the ice.  Sometimes it's necessary to use a small gaff for large toothy fish.

So, what about mobility and tip-up use?  You may not be quite as mobile as the jigging/moving tactics described earlier, but you can still use the same principles.  You can use sonar to find likely spots and even fish.  You can change locations if you aren't getting any action, or simply cut more holes in a productive area and anticipate where the fish may be based on your recent activity.

Tip-ups are very effective for catching large predatory fish.  Most of the time bait is used, but some tip-ups have built in features that impart a jigging action, which allows for the use of lures which can be effective.

Safety on the ice:
Folks that don't know much about ice fishing, particularly in warmer regions like mine, often question my sanity for going out on the ice.  Is it dangerous?  Yes, it can be, if you don't take precautions and know a few things about ice and ice conditions. 

In a nutshell, I follow several basic rules that I learned from my mentor, Jeff Redinger.  In early and late season, when ice is the most questionable, approach from the Southern shorelines, or areas that get a lot of shade.  Northern exposures receive the most sun, and therefore are the warmest and first to melt. 

Do some research ahead of time to determine if there are springs on the lake.  Springs often generate warmer water and/or currents that can erode ice and make it unsafe.  Avoid those areas.

Stay away from narrow points, bridges, creek mouths, or any other areas where current occurs.  Current can erode ice and make it unsafe.  In addition, very windy areas can erode ice too, so be aware of that.

Avoid wood sticking out of the ice.  Wood absorbs heat, which can thin the ice around the wood.

Sunny rocky areas or boat ramps at the ice edge can be tricky, if it's shady, you may be OK, but be careful when you access.  If the edges look soft or there's open water nearby, be suspicious and check it before walking out on it.

Use a spud bar to travel across the ice a step or two at a time, testing the ice with a spud bar to check the ice ahead of you.  If the spud bar goes through the ice or significantly cracks it, the ice could be too thin to move ahead.  Back away and move in a different direction.  Also, every now and then when moving, cut test holes and check the thickness.

Wear ice cleats, studded boots, or creepers when walking on slick ice.  I'd say that most ice fishing injuries are a result of someone falling down on the ice.  Let me tell you from experience folks, it hurts.  Not only can you give yourself a concussion, but you can break a limb too.

Carry safety equipment with you when the ice is iffy.  Wear ice picks or carry Phillips head screwdrivers to use to help pull yourself out if you unfortunately fall through.  It's a good idea to pack a forty foot length of rope with you too.

Be aware of the changing weather conditions around you.  Wind, rain, and warm weather can combine to erode ice quickly and change "safe" ice to dangerous ice in a hurry.  A good sign that this is happening is running water on top of the ice, swirling around in your hole.  When that happens, check the ice thickness often.  If the ice is sufficiently thick, you should be OK, but if not maybe it's best to try another area.  This can be difficult especially on a good bite.

Generally, my rule of thumb is four inches of clear or black ice, or newly formed ice, is OK for me.  Any less than that and I won't go out and fish on it.  It's not worth your life for a few fish.  Clear ice is the strongest ice and is most common early in the season.  If it's cold, and ice is building, it will crack and make booming noises.  Often the cracks will form right between your legs, and sometimes when you walk.  If the ice is sufficiently thick, this is not a problem at all but is kind of scary to ice fishing newbies.  To me, the booming noises are comforting to me, letting me know that ice is building underneath me.  The cracks are due to ice forming, created by the pressure on the ice against the shorelines as it forms.  They're only dangerous on thin ice, so once again, check often by using a spud bar or cutting holes with your auger.

Ice that is eroding has a white appearance, and is very granular when you cut a hole, almost looking like you're cutting through a snow cone.  Even a foot of "honeycomb" ice isn't safe and may not support your weight.  This type of ice occurs later in the season mostly, but can happen any time due to rainy weather conditions.

My friend Glenn jigging on four inches of clear ice.

Fish with a buddy, always a must for safety.

Be careful if a lot of snow is on the ice.  It has to be thick enough to support the weight of the snow and you.  Four inches of clear ice with snow on top isn't too bad, but any less ice than that is very risky.

By the way, I've been ice fishing for a long long time and have never fallen through the ice completely (knock on wood).  I've been fortunate, but that's because I'm extremely skeptical about ice and always check it when I'm moving about.  But I've had friends that have fallen through.  Most of the time it's due to fishing late in the season when the fishing is extremely good, but the ice is most eroded and risky.

Also, be careful around your ice auger blades.  They should be very sharp but also watch out for them.  They can give you a nasty cut if you don't pay attention.

There's a lot more to safety on the ice and I can't cover it all in one blog post.  Please research this topic on your own thoroughly.

For more safety tips, please check the following links:

Catch and Release, or Keep?
I practice catch, photo, and release most of the time when fishing open water.  Rarely do I keep fish except for a few occasions.  But I tend to keep more fish when I ice fish.  I don't know, they just taste great to me.  That said, most of the time I fish for fun and don't feel like coming home late to clean a mess of fish.  So, I release them sometimes.  When catching fish through the ice, if in a shanty, you can simply drop them down the hole.  If you plan on keeping them, they'll be fine as long as they don't freeze.  Fish taste better when they aren't frozen before being cleaned.  They're still edible though, so don't waste them if they freeze.  Just take them home and filet them after they thaw out, and cook them.  It's probably not a good idea to refreeze them.  Often, if it's not too cold, fish on the ice will mark my good holes, and when I bounce from hole to hole, it's important that I remember which holes are productive.

If it's below freezing and a fish is exposed out of the water, it will freeze.  Obviously, if you plan on releasing the fish, don't let this happen and return it to the water as soon as possible.  If you plan on keeping them, don't let them freeze either.  How?  You can keep them in a covered bucket, and even better, throw some snow over top of them to insulate them.  No snow available?  Scoop up your ice chips left behind from cutting your holes.

Why Ice Fish?
So my friends that think that I'm insane often ask me why I ice fish.  Why not just go to the store and purchase my fish?  It's not about the fish.  It's about solving the puzzle, about friendships on the ice, about the experience, about the beauty of winter.

One of the great things that distinguishes fishing the hardwater over fishing the softwater is that you are over the fish, and there is no drift.  This is why you can see your lure so easily on sonar.  This is why, once you find fish, you can often find and catch a lot of them. 

Another great thing about ice fishing is that, combined with joining, is that it's a great social activity.  I've met a lot of nice people on the website and on the ice, and many of them are my friends.  It's a great way to share and learn about ice fishing, but a better way to enjoy life.

My Brother Kyle and my friend Mark, posed over some nice iced crappie.
I'd like to thank my friend and ice fishing mentor, Jeff Redinger, a.k.a. ratsotail on, for teaching me the basics of ice fishing, and other fishing strategies on the hardwater.  He really is a master on the ice.  I owe a lot to you buddy!

In my next post, I'll discuss ice fishing strategies specific to jigging for panfish.

For more info on icefishing, make sure that you join and post on and visit Bass Junky's blog posts.  He recently posted some great ice fishing posts amongst many other great topics.  You can find is blog at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Small Streams...Arctic Style

By Guest Author Jim Cumming

No matter where you are in the country, December through March produces the coldest weather of the year.  For sure, where I currently live in the Northeast, the “depths of winter” are colder and longer than in states to the South, often expanding to include much of November and April.  Nonetheless, even the Mid-Atlantic region rarely escapes a prolonged cold snap that changes the game on small streams.  The fish have taken their fall feedbags off and spring conditions are months away.  I ice fish for much of the winter, but there are days when I change things up and I am drawn back to the small streams that captivate me for much of the year.  For sure, winter open water outings rarely result in fast action.  You will often fish hard for a few bites.  At the same time, the solitude, crisp air, and beauty of the winter landscape will make your time on the frigid water pass all too quickly even if the fish aren’t cooperating.  Hopefully, this article will give you a few ideas leading to the added bonus of a few fish brought to hand when Old Man Winter blurs the line between open water and ice.

Many times your tracks will be the only ones in the parking lot.  You can often enjoy a nice winter bite to go along with the solitude.
Many of the concepts covered in my “Small Stream Magic…..Going with the Flow” article in Fat Boy’s blog last month can be applied to your pursuit of fish during winter months.  Fish in winter often behave like fish in high water conditions during warmer months.  Rarely will you find them holding in swifter currents or shallow areas.  The spots to focus on are the deeper, more placid sections of pools.  I call these areas “soft water.”  Scour areas behind larger boulders within pools can be particularly productive “spots within a spot” to target. 

This deep run with a moderate current is a prime holding area for winter trout.
While these are prime spots, winter fish can be full of surprises.  More than once, I’ve fought off the skunk or come up with a bonus fish by fishing the tail out areas of large pools.  Such spots can be fairly shallow and have a strong current.  One December outing with my buddy Warren comes to mind.  We had pounded the previously mentioned “sweet spots” with nary a tap.  Before packing it in, I decided to probe the tail out of a pool practically within sight of the parking area.  I made my first cast across stream and allowed my crankbait to swing seductively as the current pulled it downstream and I slowly retrieved.  To say that the twenty inch brown slammed the lure would be overly dramatic, but the sudden added weight and headshake were unmistakable.  Well….sort of.  Winter bites are often met with disbelief at first rather than excitement.  I managed a hook set that was good enough and a weak, “Warren, fish,” was all I uttered to alert my buddy that the game was on.  The war whoops would wait till that fine trout was in the net.

This twenty inch brown trout grabbed a crankbait in 32 degree water in a pool tail out.
With an idea of the in-stream spots to target for winter fish, let’s turn the focus to the prime times to pursue them.  A concept that applies to winter fishing is that “all 32 degree water is not created equal.”  I’ve had action packed days in ice water in December, while that same water temperature in April will find the same stream seemingly lifeless and find me tugging at my few remaining hairs as I search fruitlessly for answers.  I liken this to the “inertia” principle.  Just like an “object in motion tends to stay in motion”, a “fish on the feed tends to stay on the feed.”  Fish in December and the first half of January will often remain in their fall feeding mode and hit aggressively before going into a period of relative lockjaw till the first real thaws of spring arrive.  This is not to say that there aren’t bursts of feeding activity throughout the winter months, and there are ways to maximize your chances of being on the water for these windows of opportunity.

The low light periods of dawn and dusk that generate good action throughout much the year, are often unproductive during the winter.  It is best to focus your winter angling around mid-day.  My fishing log contains many entries such as “brown trout landed 11:15 AM”, “lost fish on at Noon” and so forth, with very few entries for success late in the day.  The mid-day sun may not cause a noticeable uptick in degrees on my water thermometer, but a slight warm-up of a dark bottom area or boulders is apparently just enough to activate a few scud, stonefly larvae, or other feed to activate the predators if only for a brief time.

While a slight warm-up on a given day may generate a brief feeding period, an extended warming trend (especially with warm overnight low temperatures) can produce bursts of exceptionally fast action.  Just as you look for “spots within spots” when prospecting a stream, there are also the “best times within prime times.”  One such time is when a cold front or storm approaches as a warm spell is about to end.  There is often an intense bite just as winter closes back in.  Once a prolonged cold spell settles in (with overnight temperatures plunging into the teens or lower), the bite will often seemingly shut off until the next warming trend arrives and the cycle starts over.

A warm rain or some snow melt (enough for a slight bump in the flows, but not enough to blow the streams out) can trigger a bite and clear out ice that may have prevented you from fishing some prime winter fish-holding spots.

Good winter timing.  A warm spell raised the water level and cleared the stream of ice.  The cold front that followed delivered a fresh dusting of snow, but also triggered a mini blitz.
As I discussed in “Small Stream Magic….Going with the Flow” in Fat Boy’s blog last month, it pays dividends to locate spring seeps during low water conditions in summer.  Don’t ignore their potential as fish magnets during the colder months as well.  The springs continue to deliver ground water that remains at a relatively stable temperature when compared to surface water in the icy grip of winter, and can become a fish-holding area.

With the topics of holding water and prime times explored, let’s turn the discussion to what lures to throw.  This is not to say that natural bait won’t work.  In my area, on the streams that are legal to fish in winter, regulations allow for the use of artificial lures only.  I’ll limit my discussion to the use of artificials.  Intuitively, you would expect a slow approach with a lure or fly close to the bottom to be the way to go for winter fish.  However, I’m amazed how often a fish in ice water will intercept a crankbait as if it was still October.  In fact, a review of my records for open water fishing at water temperatures of 32 degrees or below shows that nearly sixty percent of the fish caught fell for Rapalas, Rebels, Yozuri pin minnows, and other crankbaits.  For sure, I’m not burning the lures back on the retrieve...a “stop and go” or “hold in the current and dive” gets the most attention...but the effectiveness of crankbaits in the dead of winter is an eye opener.  The key thing is to cover the water thoroughly.  A slightly different drift, retrieve, or other variation can turn “fishless” into “fish on!” 

To cover all the bases, I use what I call an “over and under approach.”  The “over” refers to working a pool for “overactive” fish with a crankbait first, trying for a few quick bites.  My fishing log also contains numerous entries like “fish hit on the first cast at Henry’s Pool.”  I’ll often work through a series of pools with a crankbait before taking a lunch break and then working back over the same water with the “under” approach...working a pool with jig, Berkley trout worm, or something similar trying to trigger reluctant biters (what I call “underactive” fish).  I usually do best by suspending the lure below a float at a depth where it just ticks off bottom occasionally as it drifts at the same speed as the current.  I find that if the bite is really tough, a small marabou jig will out-produce tube jigs and other plastics.  Whatever jig you use, keep it small.  I carry a selection of colors in the 1/100th to 1/32nd ounce range.  Experiment with colors…on some days, natural colors like olive, brown, or black are the ticket, while on other days pink, white, chartreuse, or other bright colors ring the dinner bell.  Bites on the bobber and jig technique are often subtle...just a slight pause or jiggle of the bobber.  Set the hook!  Better to find a snag then to be left with that nagging, unanswered question, “Was that a fish?”

It took a small tube jig suspended under a bobber to trigger this brown on an icy January afternoon.  The fish was released, so it was kept submerged for the photo to avoid the tissue damage that could result from the freeze-up that can be seen in the upper part of the net.
There was a saying back in my Coast Guard days when it came to heading out on an emergency call, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”  Chasing winter fish doesn’t rise to the level of risk that comes with saving lives and property at sea.  However, winter fishing does bring with it a set of hazards that are unique to the cold weather months.  I feel it important to point some of these dangers out, so you do come back from your fishing adventures!  I will not delve into cold weather clothing and hypothermia to any extent since I’m certain that most of Fat Boy’s readers are avid and well-equipped outdoors men and women.  Instead, I will focus on physical hazards in the winter small stream environment that can lead to injury or worse. 

There is often a fairly steep slope descending down a stream bank to the water.  This can be hazardous at any time of the year, but it’s made even trickier by ice and snow.  As you near the water’s edge, dropping water levels may have left a thin coating of ice on all surfaces.  Within the stream, you often find shelf ice built out from the shore, moving ice in the flow, and even anchor ice adhered to the bottom in frigid waters.  All can lead to a soaking and early ending outing at best if things go wrong (which they can in a hurry). 

Twenty years ago, I took a chance on traversing a slope that had been slickened by a freezing rain storm.  Even with cleats, I lost my footing and was forced to sacrifice my shoulder to avoid a potentially deadly plunge into a raging river thirty feet below.  While I’ll never know for sure, this incident and injury likely planted the seeds for the failure of the rotator cuff in my casting arm years down the line. 

The author was able to safely get past shelf ice to hook this New Year's Eve trout...
...But had to pass on fishing this productive run when weak shelf ice built out from the shore into about five feet of water -  A sure prescription for a potentially deadly dip.
My recommendations for winter small stream safety are:

  • Wear cleats (Korkers, Stabilicers, etc.) or wading shoes with studded rubber soles.
  • Avoid felt soled wading shoes.  Even if they are legal where you are, they are prone to hazardous ice and snow build-up. 
  • Minimize wading, especially above your waist, and always where a wading belt.
  • Fish with a buddy or at the very least give someone your itinerary.
Proper footwear and caution can get you safely around these "landmines"...shoreline moss and a glaze left behind by falling water levels along a swift run that drops off quickly to nearly six feet.
I’ve presented a few thoughts that I hope will enhance your small stream angling when winter grips the landscape in your area.  The fishing may not always be fast, but just getting out on a crisp, clear day is its own reward.  And with persistence and a little luck, you will connect with a few of the battlers that call the ice water home.

January 10, 2012...everything came together.  A warming trend, with favorable stream flows, and an imminent cold front created a window of opportunity for a burst of action.  Within a few hours, the air temperature had dropped to ten degrees and that window closed.

Blogger's Comment:  Thanks Jim for the wonderful article.  I'm sure that you've inspired some die hard anglers to get outside, fish, and possibly catch fish in conditions that they never dreamed that they could catch fish from, and perhaps offer relief from cabin fever.  I look forward to your next article.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fat Boy's Outdoors Top Ten Contributions in 2011

Happy New Year everyone!
This was my last fish caught in 2011, my personal best walleye.  It was 26 inches long, and hit a musky lure while targeting muskies on a local river.  I've caught my share of nice fish this year which make for great outdoor moments, but it's the more important things that make for a great year.  I'll detail them below.

I thought that I'd use a familiar theme to bring in the new year by recapping off the top of my head the top ten contributions to the Fat Boy Outdoors blog, and give thanks when appropriate for helping me kick off the first year of this blog.  This list is not in any order, but instead is just a list.  Everything on the list are great memories that will put 2011 on the books as one of my best outdoor years ever.  If there is any order to this, it's only how these ideas popped into my head.  I can easily come up with ten more great moments, but I'm going to try and keep this brief.

1)  Creation of the Fat Boy's Outdoors Blog - First, I'd like to start off by giving thanks to Bass Junky, for inspiring me to start blogging back in May 2011.  I never thought that I'd enjoy doing this much less think that anyone would follow what I'd have to say.  This all began when reading one of his posts on, asking everyone to post their personal fishing sites.  He has been maintaining the opening post ever since to bring peoples blogs on that site to the forefront.  In addition, he helped me with several questions that I had when starting out as a new blogger.  Thanks Bass Junky, and here's to our next successful blogging year.  Make sure that you check out his blog, Bass Junkies Fishing Addiction.

2)  Gene Mueller Interview - It's not every day that anglers or hunters have an opportunity to talk and learn from a local icon or celebrity.  By chance, Gene Mueller, the Outdoors Columnist for the Washington Times, commented on one of my blog posts.  I responded back with thanks, and while thinking about what types of things our readers would like to read, came up with the concept of an interview with Gene.  He agreed to participate, and the blog post resulted in one of the most read posts on my blog.  If you missed it, here's the link:  Interview with Gene Mueller, Outdoor Writer Celebrity.  Gene's insight and outdoors experience is fascinating, and even for those who don't live in the Washington, D.C. area, his articles and column are well worth reading.  Please visit his blog, Gene Mueller's World of Fishing and Hunting and his newspaper column,
Since Gene's interview, we've struck up kind of an on-line friendship.  Thanks Gene, for helping me out with my blog, promoting it, and for all of your writing tips and advice, and for your friendship.  Here's to another great outdoor year!

3)  Fishing With Howard - I've been fortunate to get outside and fish many times this year, more than I have in a long long time.  Howard Boltz has been my enabler, going fishing almost weekly and helping me to amass so many good photographs to document my trips and share with the readers here.  The fishing was great in 2011, but it doesn't mean much unless you can share it with a good friend, and he's been there for me.  Thanks buddy!  If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have much to share with you all.  His contributions to this blog have been there since the first few posts.

Here's Howard with a nice bass caught right after Hurricane Irene blasted through our area.  Howard has contributed to this blog by taking many of the pictures of my fish caught this year that I've shared with you, by taking me out on his boat and sharing tons of fishing time with me.  We had a great 2011, and 2012 promises to be even better.

4)  Jim Cumming as Guest Author - My good friend, Jim Cumming, wrote a guest article recently, titled, Small Stream Magic, Going with the Flow.  If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so.  Jim is one of the best small stream anglers that I know, and his passion for small streams is contagious.  His post was one of the most popular posts on my blog in 2011.  Thanks Jim, for your contribution.  We all look forward to your next article.  I'd be honored to post it on my blog next time too.  In addition, I look forward to spending some time with you soon on the water.

Jim shares his passion for small streams with Fat Boy's Outdoors.  Make sure that you check out his post, linked above.  I love this picture by the way.  Jim and I shared some great times fishing the local streams in my area for smallmouth bass and brook trout.  Hopefully I'll be able to visit him in Maine to rekindle some of those moments on his home waters.

5) Fishing with Bob - My good friend Bob Barber has taken me to some spots this year that I wouldn't have been able to do without him.  We've had some good trips and some tough trips, and we've caught some great fish this year.  Without him, I wouldn't have caught my personal best musky and walleye (pictured above).  The great fishing opportunities are huge, no doubt, but it's our friendship that makes the good fishing trips great.  Thanks for taking me fishing Bob, and for our friendship over the years.  We've had some great fishing trips over the years, but the ones in 2011 will go down as some of the best!

Here's Bob with a nice fat walleye from our local river.  Bob's boat was the means to get to some great fishing,   But it wasn't the boat that made the trips special, it was the company.  Thanks Bob for a great 2011!

6)  Fishing with Other Friends - Guys like Mark McWilliams and Dave Roberts provided me with some opportunity to obtain some nice fishing pictures and catches during 2011.  We had a great time together, and those trips inspired me to write about some bass fishing techniques.
Mark McWilliams with a dandy largemouth bass, with Howard looking on.

Dave Roberts, pictured here with a spunky largemouth bass, and I struck up a friendship on the water after sharing fishing stories on  Thanks Dave, for taking me fishing and giving me something to blog about.
7)  My Favorite Web Fishing Forums - I'd also like to thank the Founder and Administrator of the following web forums for supporting the promotion of my blog on his web fishing forums:;;  and  Also, the following web fishing forums allowed me to promote my blog:  Eastern PA Fishing Reports;;; and Fishing Maryland, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the administrators of those sites.  Please visit those forums when you have time.  There's a lot of good people on there to share fishing and hunting information with.  Not only that, I've made some great friends on those sites as well to fish with.

8)  Fellow Blogger, DadTB - I appreciate the support of fellow blogger, Tom Boyd, for following and promoting my blog.  I met Tom through some of the fishing forums above, although I've never had the pleasure of fishing with him, I've followed his blog since it's beginning.  He's a great guy and always posts interesting fishing stories and reports when searching for one of my favorite fish, the smallmouth bass of the mighty Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  He also posts fishing news related to access and conditions on his site, especially around the Susky.  I encourage you to visit Tom's blog titled, Fishing With Dad.  Thanks Dad for helping Fat Boy's Outdoors in having a great 2011.

Tom Boyd, a.k.a. "DadTB", with a football of a Susky smallie.
9)  Fossil Collecting Friends - I'd also like to thank some of my fossil collecting friends for providing material for the fossil sections of my blog and for taking me collecting with them.  In addition, to thank my daughter for accompanying me on some of the fossiling expeditions earlier this year.  Although I haven't collected as much this year, the few times that I got out were really special with her.  Thanks go out to Kevin May, Steven Ferguson and Daryl Sarafin for helping out with the fossil sections of this blog, and for Kevin taking my daughter and I to one of his special spots, and for the O'Sheas for their company and friendship in the fossiling community.  Also, I'd like to give a shout out to Mike Taggert, an avid fossil collector that is serving our country in Afghanistan.  I look forward to the day that he'll be home soon to collect with us again.  Thanks Mike, for all that you and your fellow servicemen do for us.

Mike Taggert collecting in a stream a couple years ago.  Mike is now in Afghanistan.  Happy New Year Mike, I'm looking forward to your return to the States for some awesome collecting trips.
10)  You, the followers and readers of my blog - Finally, I'd like to thank you all for following and reading my blog, and for checking back in from time to time.  I hope that you've liked what you've read so far, and in some cases I hope that I've helped you in some way to enjoy the outdoors.  Together, we've had a terrific 2011, and I sincerely hope that you visit again throughout 2012. I hope that you all had as much fun reading this blog as I did writing it.

The year 2011 came to a close, providing me with beautiful scenery like this, along with some great fishing, hunting and fossil collecting.  I'll continue to share my experiences throughout 2012, along with some more pictures, fishing tips, and other outdoors related articles.  I wish everyone a great and Happy New Year!