Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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HAND TO FIN COMBAT

A proven pattern for hooking gargantuan pike during early ice

Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig
Yet another tape-measure pike falls to a Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig and live sucker minnow. This jaw-dropping specimen was caught by Northland Pro Staffer Scott Glorvigen.

Up above, I tiptoe across the frozen shallows maintaining a low profile. Stealth is a big part of the game. Down below, however, it’s more like lions in the Coliseum tearing and tossing-down everything with blood running through its veins. That’s what it’s like in early winter when northern pike slash through the shallows with hearty appetites and an equal amount of recklessness.

 

These apex predators spent most of late autumn roaming the basin, tracking along offshore humps and deeper secondary breaks. With the flip of a switch, though, they head straight for the shallows – 4 to 12 feet of water – when the surface water solidifies. And there’s no secret to the gravitational pull. It’s about gorging on the bounty of available forage.

Panfish are standard fare. Bluegills, crappies, and perch are already making use of whatever green weeds are left. There, they find food, and, allegedly, sanctuary from threats. Pike disrupt the peace, however, ferreting through cuts and openings, as well as cruising along the edge picking off the careless. Ultimately, panfish only find safety in numbers, some brethren sacrificed for the whole.

On certain lakes and reservoirs the summons comes in the form of whitefish and or tullibee (ciscoes). Their reproductive ritual begins in the late fall and finalizes sometime after first ice. Perfect timing for pike.

So the foodstuffs are up in the shallows, but located randomly. Weeds have already been noted. But make sure your focusing on the greenest and thickest vegetation available. That could mean a lush garden grove. In other situations it’s a thick spot amongst an acre of spindly brown weeds. The most reliable weeds are found in shallow bays that are adjacent to the main lake.

River mouths are another natural draw. Pike are suckers for moving water. Suckers, the actual fleshy baitfish, are common there. Take heed that ice quality on and around river mouths is several notches thinner than what the main lake offers.

Although pike activity is at its seasonal peak, there are good, better, and best times to fish. Morning and evening are no-brainers. With that said, historically, I’ve nailed the majority of my larger fish – 10-pounds plus – during mid to late morning, say from 8 to 11 am. The last hour and a half of the day is next in importance, but a distant second.

Weather is a factor as well. Invariably, I pound more pike on cloudy days than those marked with sunshine. Pike roam more freely. They loosen their range and don’t stick as tightly to cover. In response, I spread the field, which means running Frabill tip-ups while maintaining a rigorous jigging schedule. Depending on the state’s legal allotment of lines and how many partners I’m sharing the ice with, it can be half-dozen tip-ups sprinkled about a 200 foot radius.

The only thing that bests cloud cover is cloud cover on the leading edge of imminent precipitation, either snow or one of those bothersome early winter mists. Pike go bonkers before a front.

Now about that tiptoeing and black-ops stealth I mentioned earlier… Yes, early winter pike are ferocious feeders. That’s to your advantage. But on the flipside, you’re operating in shallow water with only a thin veil of early ice. The ice, in fact, is often transparent. To the fish, you’re silhouette is as apparent as the old tire and boulder on the bottom you just walked over. Complicating matters, my preferred technique positions me directly over their heads.

Jigging really scratches their itch, though. When pike are on the move an energetic jig is irresistible.

Pre-drilling puts the angler in position to operate stealthily. Drill your holes 15 minutes to a half hour before show time. To really take advantage of the morning bite, pre-drill in the darkness, before pike take their morning swim.

Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig
Bro says the White Cisco flavored NorthlandBionic Bucktail Jig accurately mimics foodstuffs such as whitefish, ciscoes, suckers and lake shiners. Photo courtesy of Northland Fishing Tackle (www.northlandtackle.com)

Finally, it’s fishing time. Lurched over a hole, I ready the rig, which was tied-up the night before. There’s no finer opening act than an oversized jig fitted with a live sucker minnow, either. My preference is the Bionic Bucktail Jig from Northland Fishing Tackle. Hand-tied with genuine bucktail, the Bionic Bucktail creates a full-figured and vibrant target. In clear water, I opt for White Cisco, as it mimics most native baitfish. In darker conditions, Yellow Perch is a better choice.

Next comes a 4-inch sucker minnows or chub – they are the ideal length and shape for jigging pike. Lip-hook the minnow with the forged single hook. The rear of the jig features a “sting’r” hook, a treble tethered by teeth-resistant steel. Don’t stick the treble in the bait’s posterior. It’s a common practice, but I’ve stung more pike with it floating freely alongside the minnow. My theory is that the lightest part of the rig – the sting’r in this case – is the first to find a pike’s jaw.

 

The action is more of a swimming and dumbed-down-darting than classic jigging. Don’t snap it. Instead, smoothly but confidently pump the jig in 1 to 2-foot motions. I’ll operate from top to bottom in clear conditions. Pike aren’t bashful about rising to the underside of the ice. In darker water, I’ve found most fish operate within 4-feet of the bottom.

Not just any old rod will do, either. Put away the panfish stuff. Remember, you’re tangling with muscle-bound fish in a relatively small space. It’s fist to fin combat.

Ice Fishing - Northland Fishing Tackle
Bro opts for the Yellow Perch patterned Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig when fishing stained water or the forage-base is known to consist of perch and or sunfish. Photo courtesy of Northland Fishing Tackle (www.northlandtackle.com)

A guiding buddy of mine and northern pike nemesis, Paul Nelson, developed a pike-specific rod for Frabill. It’s quite the fish tamer. Found in the Ice Hunter series, the 32-inch, medium-heavy stick yields the perfect balance of a firm but playful tip with the backbone of a brontosaurus.

 

For battling in tight-quarters I recommend spooling with a superline, not monofilament or fluorocarbon. You’ll appreciate the toughness and resistance to shredding. I look forward to testing the new Performance Fuse from Sufix.

It takes angler skill to bring down fish of this magnitude as well. Expect violent runs and very dynamic directional changes. To win, you must wear the fish out, no horsing it in. Pulling back too hard nearly insures that the jig will tear free. Maintain pressure, letting the drag do what it’s designed to do. As a failsafe, I back-reel with the drag-system covering my behind. If the fish runs exceptionally fast, lock down on the handle and the drag takes over – beautiful 2-part harmony.

Icing a submarine-sized pike in the shallows isn’t like walking and chewing gum. Plan that the fish will appear horizontally – wide head in the hole and numerous inches of body tucked beneath ice. Keep the rod loaded, applying constant pressure while turning the fish. Obviously, it’s nice having a “net man”. As the snout rises, prepare for the snatch and grab. Know that you’re going to get wet. In fact, to reduce the risk of breaking off, I take the fish while it’s vertical, its movement restricted in the hole. As a bonus, the fish is less likely to flip-out and injure itself.

Once on the ice, it’s a quick photo – titans only – and the head goes back from where it came. Hold and pump the fish a few times until it’s self-powered. High-five your partner, or do that faddish knocking fists move, and it’s on to another screensaver quality pike.

About the author: Brian “Bro” Brosdahl (Max, Minnesota) is a professional fishing guide and renowned ice fishing expert. For nearly two decades he’s been sharing his insights and innovations with the fishing public. He can be reached at bbro@paulbunyan.net.

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BLUEGILLS ICE ANGLERS BEST FRIEND



By Gary Howey

Getting started in ice fishing can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

There are some species of fish that are easier to catch through the ice than others are, these are in the panfish family.

One of these is the Bluegill, a member of the panfish family that are generally eager biters at first ice.

In the Midwest, we have several species of panfish that some consider and every once in awhile, you might pick up a Pumpkinseed.  They may differ in size and color, but they all seem to like to nibble on baits such as wax worms, or plastic bait suspended below a jig or a bobber.

In the winter, look for Bluegills, and Green Sunfish in the shallower water.  There are several reasons for this; the first is that they feed on small insects and larvae that live in areas where they find weed growth.

Because of the shallow depth, the sunlight penetrated to the bottom in the shallower water until temperature turned very cold, with the remainder of the weeds vertical allowing the insects and larva a place to over winter. The weeds make ideal areas for the Bluegill to locate and feed on small aquatic life.  Finally yet importantly, is the fact that since Bluegills are a smaller fish and quite tasty, they like to hang out in the shallow water near these weed beds because the larger predator fish have a difficult time locating them and maneuvering in the shallow water and weeds.

To catch Bluegills through the ice, I like to use a Northland GILL-GETTER JIG tipped with a wax worm or some sort of plastic like the Impulse® ZOO PLANKTON.

There is a new Northland lure that I am anxious to try when I am fishing back home in the Glacial Lakes near Watertown and Webster; it is the Northland lead-free Glo-Shot® Jig. It is available in 12 fish catching colors and three sizes, 1/8, ¼, and 3/8 ounce, depending on what species of fish you are after.

The GLO-SHOT® Jig is a luminescent jig that glows because of the Glo-Shot® Sticks placed in the jig that illuminates the entire jig for 8-Plus hours. Anglers who used it, indicated the GLO-SHOT® JIG works great during the day for fishing under snow covered ice, during cloudy over cast conditions, in darker water and when fishing at night.

Anglers I know that have used it say it is very effective bait when tipped with a wax worm, minnow, or minnow head fished vertically, jigged, for deadsticking or below a bobber.

Its unique shape allows it to jig, swim, and flutter below the ice.

Live bait also work well, with the old hook, line, sinker, and a bobber when tipped with wax minnow or minnow head.

As I mentioned in other articles, when ice fishing, this is when you truly want to use “Light” as cold weather has a huge effect on monofilament line, making larger line weights tough to use during the hard-water months as it creates even more memory than the it had before winter.    Lighter line with less memory allows the lighter lures we use ice fishing to flutter and rise naturally.  If you use too heavy line, split shot or jig, the Bluegill will either back off and look at the heavy kinky line or spend his time pecking at the split shot and not your wax worm.  Use small hooks or jigs and experiment with the number of wax worms you attach to the hook.      There are times when Bluegill will want just a tiny little wax worm and at other times, they will take an ice jig with two or more before they look at the smaller offering.

The bobber or float helps you to detect the bite and because Bluegill are cold blooded and in their slow mode, you do not want to overdo it.  All creatures during the hard-water period do not move around much and not require a whole lot of food when the water turns hard above them.

Try to use as smallest bobber if possible.  The key to bobber fishing is to have just the very top of the bobber sticking out of the water; the less bobber floating out of the water, the less resistance the bluegill will feel when he takes the bait, holding on to it longer.

I like to use the Northland LITE-BITE ICE FLOAT, their 3″ and 5″ foam Hi-Vis float comes with its own bobber stop. Adjustable by unscrewing the cork screw base and trimming the foam back so it verily floats above the water, allowing fish to pick up the bait and because there is just enough float to hold on top of the water the fish will not feel any resistance and not spit out the bait.

Fish during winter, will move vertically as much as they do horizontally, so if you were catching bluegills at 3 feet, and the bite quits, do not move to a next spot to soon.  Try going a bit deeper if the sun is out or a bit shallower if it is a cloudy day.

Bluegill and other panfish are fun to catch, great eating, especially when caught from ice-cold water. Bluegills are eager biters, found under the ice on most lakes, ponds or stock dams.

On some sunny warm day, when you’re looking for something to do, grab your auger, a rod, a few lures and the wax worms and give Bluegill fishing a try, it will be worth it.

Gary Howey, a Watertown native, now residing in Hartington, Neb. who is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide Howey and inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2017. He is the Producer/Co-Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out garyhoweysoutdoors.com or like Gary Howey’s Outdoorsmen Adventures on Facebook or watch his shows on www.MyOutdoorTV.com. 

Photo Caption

Gary Howey with one of the big bluegills caught while ice fishing a small pond in Nebraska.

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Key tool in winter success:

vertical jigging spoons