Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Century Mark on the Ice!

Last week I met up with a musky fishing friend of mine, Mike Carrigan, and a couple of his buddies on small local lake.  My buddy Wayne also met me there.  The plan was to find some willing crappie at first light, and for me to make a day of it.  Wayne planned to stick it out with me, while Mike and his buddies were only fishing a partial day.
My friend Mike Carrigan fishing out of a Clam Fish Trap and using a Vexilar FL-18 flasher.  Mike caught some decent trout and crappie throughout the morning.  He found some active fish out of this particular hole.
Most of the snow from the previous week had melted and refroze, forming a nice white layer of slick ice on top of a good nine inches of clear ice.  The weather was cloudy but pleasant, not much wind, right below the freezing mark all day.

I arrived after sunrise, getting a later start than I had wanted.  Wayne, Mike and his buddies were all on the ice already.  As I was getting ready, first Wayne showed up to greet me, then went back out and fished, followed by Mike a short time later.  It took me a while to get my stuff organized and ready to roll.

Mike and his buddies were about a hundred yards away from Wayne.  They were fishing the deeper water near the dam, while Wayne was working the deeper drop off out from a main point not too far from the dam.  I decided to cut holes in between all of them, to connect the dots, if you will!
Wayne had already located a school of active bluegills and a few crappie, out in the channel closest to the main lake point.  Here's he is using his sonar to watch the reaction of the fish as he teases them into biting.
I proceeded to cut half a dozen holes, scooped out the ice chips, and dropped my sonar down to see if I could mark fish.  I marked fish in every hole.  They weren't suspended, but were holding tight to the bottom.  I dropped my twin Ratso soft plastic rig down and drew the fish off the bottom  in each hole, but they either bit really lightly or lost interest quickly.  I went back and covered each hole with a smaller jig rigged with two maggots to see if I could get those finicky "sniffers" to bite something tipped with bait.
Starting near my sled,  I cut holes between Mike and his buddies and my friend Wayne, hoping to mark and find some active fish.
Spikes or waxworms as bait act as a nice tasty treat to the fish and provide a little bit of scent to trigger their feeding instinct.  When the fish are active, I prefer to use the soft plastics and not mess with constantly replacing bait when the fish pick the maggots or waxworms off the lure.  But, sometimes, they only thing they will bite are the baited jigs.

Mike was catching medium and small sized crappie now and then, while Wayne, over by the point was getting a pretty good bluegill bite going with an occasional crappie.  Meanwhile, I was having a hard time getting solid hits.  So, I kept cutting holes.

I walked over to see how Mike was doing, and he found a hole that held a few pretty aggressive fish.  I watched him fish for a bit while chatting about the fishing on this lake, and took a nice little video of him in action, showing us how it's done.  Please note that this fish is one of the small finicky crappie, not one of the bigger ones that he caught throughout the morning.  The fact that this catch is on video is merely because I spent way more time fishing than walking around taking videos.  Yet, it does illustrate how to use a flasher to catch fish.

Mikes buddies were catching some stocked rainbow trout on tip ups, and Wayne was jigging a few up too.  But one of the small trout had something sticking out of its gullet, a set of shooting ear plugs!  At least five inches were down it's throat.  We all got a laugh out of that!
These were the earplugs that were found in a trouts gullet that Mike's buddy Phil caught on a tip up.  We cracked up, saying that maybe he should put this back on a tip up and try for another!
I wasn't satisfied with the holes that I had cut so far.  I wanted active fish, not sniffers.  So, I cut another half dozen holes along the basin of a cove not far away where I'd found a good crappie bite in the past with similar results.  I caught a couple small bluegills and crappie, about one fish caught out of every four holes, with lot's of sniffers in each hole.  And the sniffers that bit seemed to prefer the tiny jig/maggot combination.
Every hole marked fish, but when I caught them, they were on the small side.  These were the finicky fish, the sniffers.  When you get this type of inactivity or finicky fish, move and find bigger more active fish.
My next move was back near where I started.  In one of the holes that I cut, I marked what I thought at first was a fish, but it was some sort of structure.  Perhaps it was a tree limb or something.  This particular spot didn't mark any fish, or at best, a sniffer or two.  It was almost what I was looking for, structure, but lacked the fish that I'd expect there.

So, I decided to cut a half dozen more holes around that area.  The first hole that I checked was loaded with fish, suspended off the bottom over nineteen feet of water from the bottom ten feet.  This was late morning, and the fish were stacked like cord wood.

I remember saying to myself, "This is the spot!"
My flasher lit up like a Christmas tree!  The bottom of the lake is at about 8:40, which was nineteen feet deep, and there was a tree branch at about 7:35, about four feet off the bottom.  The rest of the marks were fish, showing all the way up to ten feet off the bottom (about  3:20 on a clock).  The surface is at high noon, with a couple marks that are noise from the ice surface.  You can see the fish were stacked like cord wood here!  This was the spot!
As I've described in recent posts, my tactic when finding fish stacked like this is to set up and fish over them for a while.  Most of the time, you'll catch a good number then the bite dies off and you're off on the search again for more active fish.  However, this spot seemed different.  This was late morning, and the fish were suspended.  My graph was lit up like a Christmas tree (a popular saying among ice anglers when they mark a bunch of suspended seemingly active fish).  This is the type of spot that can make your day.

My way of setting up is to cut a couple holes, one for my electronics, and one to fish out of.  Since there were a bunch of fish showing up, I decided to set up my underwater camera.  It took me a couple minutes to set up my shanty and the underwater camera so that I could see my jigs, but it took even less time for me to start hooking up.  I can't see much on the camera out in the open because of the glare, so I need to close up Clam Fish Trap Pro (my portable flip over shelter ), so I could see the camera.  Please note that I don't waste the time or energy to set up this way unless I know for a fact that I'm on a hot spot.
When I find a good spot with lot's of fish marked, I'll cut one hole for my electronics, and one to fish out of.  I took this picture shortly after marking tons of fish.
I lowered my camera to about ten feet off the bottom, the upper range of the suspended fish.  The water clarity was a bit cloudy, not as clear as I'd like for this type of set up, but it would have to do.  I could see only about two feet at the most below the camera, which is set to look down on the fish.  As soon as I picked up my rod and jigged, I saw a crappie swim in very quickly and miss my lure.  The next attempt from a different fish resulted in the fish sucking my jig in.

When I set the camera up, I dropped down my tandem Ratso rig down there because they're easier to find. The top Ratso was the one that the crappie inhaled, so I set the hook.  These weren't the dink crappie that I was getting earlier, these were decent for this lake.  They weren't big, but they were fat mediums, most good enough for a nice filet at nine to ten inches long.

The fish were ferocious.  As soon as I dropped the Ratso's into camera view, a crappie would swoop in to inhale it, aggressively.  And my sonar was showing a lot of fish down there.  I was catching them one after another, giggling like a little kid.  So, before the school left, I decided to coax Mike over to give the camera a try.

Mike spent about fifteen minutes in there playing with the camera and catching a few.  I heard him laughing as he was getting used to fishing versus what he was seeing on the camera.  It takes getting used to for sure, but he was having fun.  He didn't want to take up my fishing time, so he turned my shanty back over to me.

For the next two hours, the crappie kept showing up, actively attacking my soft plastic jigs.  I lost a couple nice crappie at the hole but for the most part, I landed about eighty percent of the fish that decided to bite.  I lost some time when crappie or bluegills decided to wrap themselves around my camera cable during the fight, but landed those fish.  The time lost was setting it up again so I could see my jigs.

By now it was snowing lightly.  I've always seemed to have good luck with the crappie while it was snowing, so this seemed to be the case again.

Over the next two hours, I managed to ice thirty four crappie and seven bluegills.  Then, they seemed to disappear.  But, one solid mark remained about four feet off the bottom and didn't more or react to any of my lures.  I couldn't see it on my camera, but I was pretty sure it was a larger branch of that tree that I found earlier.  I felt that the fish would return, so I decided to stick it out.

During the following few hours, I picked up crappie and bluegills now and then.  But, the fish became a bit finicky.  I could see them on the camera at times, and they'd move in and check out my lure and either bite or swim off.  I also was able to fish off the bottom and coax a decent bluegill into biting every now and then, below the tree mark.
Sometimes finicky fish, especially bluegills, will prefer a smaller jig tipped with a couple spikes.  This tiny Northland Tungsten Fireball jig fishes heavy and shows a nice mark on my sonar.
I took a break and socialized a little bit, and during the meantime checked some of the other holes out without electronics while jigging a Salmo Chubby Darter, a jigging lure that resembles a lipless crankbait and an effective technique for catching bass, trout and jumbo crappie.  I didn't get any hits, but Mike and his buddies, Phil and Nick, were pretty much calling it a day during early afternoon.

Meanwhile, Wayne was consistently catching bluegills and the occasional crappie out of his spot.  I went back to my hole and noticed that the suspended fish had returned, with more and more of them appearing on my flasher.  They snubbed my tandem plastics for the most part, but willingly hit the tiny jig/maggot combination.  They were bluegills.  Not the sniffing dinks from the morning, but decent sized ones.  I wouldn't say they were big, but they were decent, averaging seven to eight inches long.
Wayne with a small crappie caught earlier in the morning.  Later, we both caught quite nicer ones.  Like I said earlier in the post, when the bigger fish are really biting well, it's tough to be a camera man!
Bluegills fight like crazy and easily wrap around the camera cable, so I quickly pulled the camera out.  They were so active that using the sonar was highly effective.

These fish became very active and aggressive toward my smaller offering.  Every now and then, I'd hook a crappie.  By late afternoon, the bite was frantic again. The bluegills were all around the tree, both above it and below it, and sometimes suspending ten feet off the bottom, and extremely aggressive.  The crappie bite earlier in the day was quite impressive, but this bluegill bite was something else!
The bluegills preferred this small round ball jig tipped with a couple spikes.
Our hope was to fish into the dark for the crappie, that since we found them during the day here in decent numbers, that they'd return.  Usually, that's a good plan for setting up for a night time crappie bite.  But, I didn't want to leave this great bluegill bite to go back to my truck and get my lantern!

Wayne had moved closer so we could share the lantern light once the night bite began, and also was getting into the bluegills at a rapid rate.  He also had a knack for catching several trout on the day while jigging, and also a couple largemouth bass as well.
In between catching crappie and bluegills, Wayne caught trout and a few small largemouth bass, which are fun on the light ice panfish set ups.
I finally decided to quickly go get my lantern and return before it was too late.  But the bluegills didn't let me down, they kept on biting.  It was a great evening bite.  I managed to also catch a small bass.  Then, the sun dropped as well as the temperatures.
This hand sized bluegill liked that Northland Tungsten Fireball jig!
Wayne and I caught a few bluegills and crappie after dark, but the bite wasn't what we'd hoped for.  The fish became finicky but we marked them regularly.  I've noticed this before when fishing murky water, that those lakes don't make for great night bites for crappie.  So, we called it quits.

My numbers were my best trip of the year, and the size of the fish, although not large, was decent.  At least it was from the standpoint of having a good time.  I finished with forty two crappie, sixty three bluegills, and a largemouth bass.  That one hot hole produced 101 fish!  That is a great day on the ice, for me, a total of 106 fish on the day.  I'm sure Wayne had similar numbers.

Any time you hit the century mark with numbers of fish, on or off the ice, it's a trip to remember.  Hence, I thought that I'd share it with you!

What a fun day on the ice!


Rodger Moran said...

Great story Kev! Glad you enjoyed!

Jim C. said...

Great story as usual, Kev. Don't see the century mark everyday! Glad you have decent ice down your way this season.

Jim C.

Fat Boy said...

Thanks Rodg and Jim for the compliment...much appreciated!