EXTEND YOUR FISHING SEASON BY ICE FISHING
ICE Fishing is a fun way for the entire family to avoid winter's "Cabin Fever" and your Illinois Fishing License is good till March 31st.
Another advantage in Ice fishing is that now many sections of the lake that you cannot fish during summer is now accessible.
As long as the cold weather creates safe Ice here in Central Illinois, here are some tips and suggestions to help you be safe, have fun and get started ice fishing.
SAFETY: Always use Extreme Caution any time you venture onto the ICE.
Early and late Ice can produce some of the best winter fishing, but can also be the most hazardous because this is when the Ice quality and thickness are the most questionable.
We recommend the ICE to be at least 4 inches thick to safely support you and your gear. Remember, ICE around docks and piers can be thinner, around spring holes, areas with current, as well as new ice with snow cover and around middle of lakes. It is always best to use the Buddy system and have someone with you and always tell someone where you plan to be. We will wear a Life vest early and late in the ice season or tie on a rope till we are sure the ice is safe.
Pay attention to the temperature and wind, because WIND CHILL can lead to freezing of exposed skin surfaces.
REGULATIONS: A sport fishing license is required. While Ice Fishing you are allowed to use a maximum of three poles or tip-ups with no more than two hooks on each line. An exception would be at sites with specific limits. All poles and tip-ups shall be constantly attended and kept under observation by the angler. Holes cut in the ICE are limited to 12-inch diameter or less and you will find a 6" hole is adequate.
CLOTHING: Heavy or bulky clothes are not recommended, instead use several layers of loose clothes to allow for adjusting to the weather. Parka with hood, insulated coveralls, gloves and since standing on the ICE can be cold on your feet, warm waterproof boots will assure you will stay warm and dry. Do not get boots that are too tight, this cuts circulation = cold feet and keeping your feet warm is one key to staying warm.
EQUIPMENT: Keep it simple to start out, get an inexpensive ice rod with small reel and spring bobber attached to the end (to help detect slightest bites), 2 - 4 # clear mono line, some tiny jigs (& wax worms or small minnows), 5-gal. bucket & cushion to sit on, rope, a claw, an ice auger, skimmer to keep hole from freezing over, a towel or rag to help keep gloves dry when removing fish and a piece of carpet to stand on. Warm drinks and some of those hand warmer packets are nice to have along too. Just the basics will help keep weight down. Once you find you enjoy ICE Fishing and will be going out a great deal, you may consider optional equipment such as shed, an ice shelter, lanterns or heaters and a depth finder.
PRESENTATION: Since Panfish (Bluegill ) feed on plankton and water fleas, they are suckers for tiny jigs. Jigs types are either a vertical or horizontal presentation. Slightly bent-bodied jigs produce a slight bobbing motion, while longer thin bodies create rocking action. We usually use a horizontal small Rat Finkee with larvae for smell and taste which really helps. Colors can also make a difference, but we find that chartreuse is good to start with. Rig up several different ones and keep switching till you find what the fish want. We like to lower our bait to the bottom and start about 12-inch off, allow to settle and jigging with very slight shimmying motions. If no bites, slowly bring bait up some and continue till you find fish since many times during early Ice fish will suspend. Another good and effective method for panfish is to use a small jigging Rapala minnow or Swedish Pimple again tipping with a wax worm or minnow can help, but keep small.
REMEMBER, even 1/8 inch motions are greatly exaggerated below the ICE.
SO DO NOT jig to fast and try to establish a subtle jigging rhythm. During winter Panfish will mouth the bait before taking it and moving off with it. This is where a spring bobber will help you detect the slightest bite while not putting too much resistance causing big panfish to spit out the bait. At the slightest interruption, set the hook, but not so hard you break your line. We find late afternoons to be best for us, because there is less light penetration from the holes (watch your shadows which can signal the fish) and it is the warmer part of day. At dark or after is also a good time to catch crappie. You will find that crappie will be off the bottom more than other fish and usually around brush and smaller minnows will work best this time of year. Be versatile and experiment, like hooking your minnow upside down so as it struggles to right itself, the commotion may attract fish. ? (Avoid big temp changes to keep minnows alive).
PANFISH STRATEGIES: The main factor controlling winter Panfish location, is how far winter has progressed. We break winter Bluegill fishing into three periods:
* FIRST ICE - Panfish are found in backwaters, channels and coves with vegetation in about 6-12 foot. So start your search shallow and work deeper till you find fish.
* MIDWINTER ICE - Snow cover and less light causes vegetation to disappear along with fishing pressure, causing remaining fish to move out to deeper breaks 15-30 foot (edges of dropoffs). Bluegills will suspend near cover feeding and can be very scattered. Crappie will school up along weedlines, drop-offs and submerged stumps.
* LATE ICE - As sun stays out longer, temperatures warm, melt down filters through cracks warming water and refreshing oxygen. Bluegills will gradually filter back toward areas they held to during early ICE in that 6-12 foot range.
MORE POINTERS: The local weather changes can complicate fish movements, but we have found the snowiest days with a low pressure system make fish more active. A clear, bright sky after a cold front sends fish heading deeper and tighter to cover. You will find the cloudy low light conditions better, or be sure to shade light from entering hole.
We find that it only takes about 10-minutes to start getting bites if fish are in the area, so keep moving around, fish slowly and don't give up. Using small diameter lines call for you to retie often and changing couple of times if catching several fish. This rubbing the edge of the ice can wear out the line and cause lost fish. Open up the hook gap on these small jigs will improve your hook-ups and always keeping the hook sharp is important.
And finally, Never take any unnecessary chances with safety; it's not worth the risk. Check the ICE thickness often..
These tips will help improve your good winter FUN because
ICE FISHING IS BETTER THAN NO FISHING AT ALL, SO BE SAFE, HAVE FUN AND
DRESS WARM AND GIVE IT A TRY.
Watch for our Ice Reports and Be Safe - Good Fishing to You.