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Making the Most of Electronic Gadgetry

If a person can find the right spot, they will catch fish.

Every year, when the frozen season descends upon us, I find myself following two very consistent paths. One trail leads me to a number of local lakes that have a history of quality winter fishing. The other leads me to new lakes and an opportunity to explore unfamiliar horizons.

 One part of me says I have plenty of places to fish that are proven hotspots. The other side encourages me to take a look around to see what else is out there. After all, if it wasn’t for exploration, I would never have discovered many of my perennial favorites. 

 Whichever path I take on any given day, I depend greatly on electronics to lead the way. The two key components are my GPS with a map chip and sonar.

 Although nearly every winter angler I know utilizes some type of sonar for their fishing, not nearly as many have discovered the value of a GPS.

 When fishing on local lakes, I have every spot that has produced fish for me marked on my handheld GPS unit. Although not every single spot will produce year after year, I can be pretty sure that somewhere on the lake, there will be a location from yesteryears that will hold fish. Finding them is merely a matter of running through the waypoints.

 On a new lake, this process works a little differently. A classic case in point happened last winter.

 A fishing crony and I were exploring a new lake in hopes of finding some quality winter panfish. Although we had a general idea of where to go, the specifics of locating the spot on the spot still had to be accomplished.

 By pouring water on the ice and taking a reading with our sonar, we were able to cover the deep basin location quite thoroughly without ever drilling a hole. Once we located an area that held fish, our trusty StrikeMasters got a workout.

 The tool that guided us through this process was the GPS and LakeMaster depth chip. By utilizing the chip, we could see exactly where we were in relationship to the changes in depth. It allowed us to focus on the edges of the basin which is where the fish usually are.

 Once we started catching fish, we found that the big bluegills were a little shallower than the crappie. Again, by using the chip and depth contours on the GPS, we could work along the contour at the exact depth where the bluegills were located.

 Eventually, the sunfish action dried up and we went back to working the crappie. These fish continued to stay in the area for some time, but gradually moved out more into the basin and deeper water as the morning progressed. The GPS helped us identify the deeper water that the fish were attracted to.

 There is no question that winter angling is more of a challenge than summer. Although I believe the fish may not roam as much during the cold water period, the process of dealing with thick ice, augers and the cold make the search process much more difficult.

 For this reason, I am a huge fan of utilizing electronic gadgetry to my advantage. I have learned time and again how important proper equipment is to the overall success of a fishing season.

 Whichever path I take, perennial hotspots or new locations, electronics play a critical role in my fishing routine.

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February 21, 2011 Posted by | Ice Fishing | Leave a comment

Ice Combos Loaded and Ready

Having multiple rod combinations along makes it easy to test other rigs and eliminates the need for retying.

I have been criticized a time or two for taking along too many fishing rods when heading to the ice. Taunts like, “You can only fish with one at a time!” are common. I really don’t mind. It seems as though there are always critics in whatever a person does. However, I have often taught my critics the value of being loaded and ready when on the ice.

One thing I have learned over the years is the fact cold brings out the very worst in equipment. If a person is going to have trouble with a reel malfunctioning, it is going to happen on a day when it is too cold to do on the ice repairs or adjustments. A backup combo that is ready to go is pretty nice at a time like this.

There is also the issue of presentation. I really dislike retying jigs when my fingers are numb. I find it is much easier to utilize another rod that is rigged and ready than it is to continually retie.

Like everyone else, I have my favorite “go to” lures that seem to consistently catch fish. If I find lethargic fish when I am hole-hopping, it often pays off to be able to change the presentation. A classic example of this is the use of plastics.

There are times when plastics, like Bro’s Slug Bug, are all a person needs to trigger fish. And then you hit a hole where the plastic doesn’t seem to have the appeal it did earlier. Being able to drop a jig tipped with maggots to waiting fish will often do the trick.

Line weight is another matter. There are those days when I can double my catch by switching from two-pound-test Micro Ice to one-pound-test. Having rods rigged with each makes the transition fast and smooth.

The same can be said of spring bobbers. Although I usually prefer bouncing a jig with a tightline system, there are days when spring bobbers are clearly the way to go.

Spring bobbers aren’t all the same, either. There are different styles that have varied levels of sensitivity. Some spring bobbers do not work well on the open ice because they freeze up. Having a couple of different models to choose from helps.

Walleye rods are no different. On some of my rods, I utilize ultra thin FireLine Crystal while others are straight mono. Having a couple of rods rigged with floats and a couple set for jig fishing keeps me prepared for whatever I find.

It would be great if a person could predict exactly what the fish were going to do before we ever left home. That way, preparation would be simple and much of our equipment could be left behind. However, we all know that is not how it works. Every day of fishing is a different day with different moods and different preferences.

It is impossible to be totally prepared for every twist and turn we will encounter on a typical fishing day, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Having a variety of quality rod and reel combos that are loaded and ready for different situations does help.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Ice Fishing | Leave a comment

Chasing the Hunting Blues with Snow Geese

The spring snow goose hunt is quite an experience and one that is very memorable.

It happens to me every single year. When the end of the hunting season comes and goose hunting is over, I go through a period of withdrawal. Making the adjustment to new activities takes time. Even when I am busy with other projects, goose hunting is still on my mind.

 For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to have an early spring reprieve. Due to the Conservation Order that allows for the reduction of snow geese, I have been able to participate in the spring snow goose hunt. For two years, I did my hunting in Missouri. This year, I am headed to South Dakota.

 The snow goose dilemma is complicated yet simple. Simply stated, there are more snow geese in North America than their tundra nesting grounds can support. At their current level of population growth, they will destroy the fragile ecosystem on the tundra faster than it can replenish itself.

 The complicated part is figuring out a way to reduce their numbers before disaster strikes. That was the rationale for the first Conservation Order in 1999 that allowed for special spring snow goose hunting regulations.

 Not surprisingly, when a new hunting opportunity presented itself, guides and outfitters began to fill in the niche. Within a few years, snow goose guides were well established and hunting from Arkansas to North Dakota, following the geese as they moved north. Even though hundreds of thousands of geese are harvested during the spring migrations, most experts agree this is not enough.

 In learning more about the snow goose hunting business, I contact Brian Cahalan, co-owner of “Goose and Duck Smackers Guide Service.” Cahalan had some pretty interesting facts to share.

 Although Cahalan loved his spring and fall guide work and hunts nearly 200 days a year, he shared some of the tougher aspects of following the snow goose migration north in the spring. Travel and time on the road were negatives he discussed.

 He also commented on the incredible investment that is necessary to really do the guide business justice. Even though he has other guides that work with him, he supplies all of the equipment.  He estimated his hunting spread to be worth more than $100,000.

 According to Cahalan, a variety of decoys are needed to bring the wary snow geese into gun range. These birds live a long time and are hunted for at least seven months of the year. Adult birds have seen it all and are very decoy shy.

When I asked about a typical hunt, I was surprised at the success rate of his clients. Cahalan explained that part of his success was due to utilizing a variety of decoys and part of it came from scouting and moving fields often.

 Cahalan starts his annual snow goose hunting each February in Arkansas. As the birds move north following the snowline and available food, his group moves with them. By the first part of March, the birds are concentrated in Missouri. By mid March, the operation shifts to South Dakota. He guides in South Dakota as long as the geese stick around.

 Snow geese are interesting birds that adapt well to hunting pressure. I find it somewhat ironic that the hunting pressure they try so hard to avoid is actually what keeps their population in check and prevents a species collapse due to over foraging their nesting area.

 The current snow goose population in North America is over 5 million, not counting non breeding juveniles. For those that love to hunt and have not experienced spring snow goose hunting, it is quite a trip!

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Hunting | Leave a comment

Gearing Up for Late Ice Perch

For late ice perch I like to match the hatch with a #8 Bro Bug in Grasshopper. Tip this jig with Euro larvae.

I don’t  know of very many honest to goodness rags to riches stories, but I would have to say perch come about as close to a fairytale as any fishing story I know. These golden beauties that were once maligned as trash fish now sit near the top of the heap.

I find this whole perch realignment to be quite fascinating. There was a time when they were thought of as a worthless bait stealer. When anglers did catch them, many threw them on the ice in an effort to show their disdain for this pesky marauder.

Today, jumbo perch are looked at much differently. Today, anglers will drive hundreds of miles to have a crack at catching big perch. Perch undoubtedly generate a lot of excitement.

When it comes to perch lakes in the Upper Midwest, there are quite a few good ones. Usually these lakes are large and sustain a healthy walleye population along with the perch.

A classic example of this is Mille Lacs Lake in Central Minnesota. This 132,000 acre fish factory is home to a very respectable population of jumbo perch. Many of these perch measure in at ten inches, but you will also find 11s and 12s in the mix.

From my experience, late ice is always a good time of the year to be thinking about chasing perch. These fish get quite aggressive and hungry as they start their annual migration to shallow water to spawn.

To get more specific information on Mille Lacs perch, I talked with Mike Christensen from Hunter Winfield’s Resort, located in Isle on the south end of the lake. According to Christensen, the Mille Lacs bite has been pretty consistent all winter.

Although anglers have been catching perch in his rental houses throughout the frozen water season, Christensen believed the best bite didn’t really get going until after the first big thaw. Once the snow was off of the ice, the perch activity really picked up.

As far as location, Christensen felt the deep water transitions where the gravel turned to mud were key areas. He believed the insect larvae available at these locations were responsible for concentrating the fish.

Christensen went on to say that these fish can be pretty finicky at times. He preferred to use spring bobbers and even a camera to help detect the light bites. When asked about the best bait, he felt anglers should try to mimic baits that look similar to what the fish were spitting up.

From my own Mille Lacs experiences, I have had good luck using Euro larvae, or maggots as they are often called. It seems the larva smell associated with maggots is something perch like. I have also utilized small jigging spoons tipped with a crappie minnow head. Some anglers are successful with a small minnow under a bobber. The #8 Bro Bug and plastics, such as Northland’s Slug Bug tipped with maggots, have also produced fish for me.

There is one other technique I like to use that often works. Many times I will drop my jig right down to the bottom. There is something about stirring up the sediments on the bottom that brings fish in and makes them interested in eating. Pulling your jig slowly off of the bottom may mimic emerging larvae.

I was in total agreement with Christensen when he mentioned the need for mobility. Perch will roam in large schools and can create a feast or famine situation if you are in the wrong spot. Waiting them out does work, but I have had more success hole hopping and trying to follow the fish.

Jumbo perch are certainly a quality quarry for anglers. Not only are they scrappy fighters when you hook them, they are excellent on the table. With so many lakes available for perch fishing, it is not hard to understand their rise in popularity

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February 21, 2011 Posted by | Ice Fishing | Leave a comment