Posts Tagged ‘Ice Fishing’

Early Ice Walleyes, Crappies and Northerns

Clam Ice House Had a great adventure on early ice a week ago.  My friends Eric, John and I headed out to find ice on Friday afternoon.  We ended up on a small lake we had never fished before by Alexandria, Minnesota and slowly made our way out on the ice.  We ventured out about 150 yards and found a nice break that went from 8 ft of water to 20 ft pretty quickly.  We each had our portables with, so we set up in a line running from about 13 ft to 19 ft.  We found a consistant 3 1/2 to 4 inches of good dark ice, so we felt pretty good about that.

Walleye and CrappieFriday evening ended up to be a great night on the water.  We ended up catching 6 walleye, 5 crappie and 4 northerns.  The walleyes all bit on set lines with fat heads, they didn’t seem to want a wide variety of more active presentations we were throwing at them.  The crappies all came in about 5-6 feet off the bottom and when we marked them on our electronics, we jigged up to them.  They were pretty aggressive hitting buckshot rattle spoons tipped with a minnow head.  The northerns all came before dark and like a typical northern, was slamming anything it could find.

Eric Ice Fishing

Saturday morning started off a bit slow, but we ended up getting four more walleyes to bite along with 4 more crappies.  Once the sun came up, the northerns were in full swing and we got 17 northerns in less than an hour.  None were huge, but fun anyway.

It was great to get back on the ice for the first of many trips this year.  I’m not going to be able to make it back out this weekend, but I’m sure I’ll be on the ice several times over the holidays, so look for more reports soon.


Minnesota Walleyes Through the Ice

It’s been far to long since my last post, but fishing has been pretty good.  A few of the guys usually take a trip up to Upper Red Lake or Lake of the Woods about this time of year to hammer some walleyes, but we are not going to make it up this year due to schedules and two of us heading to the Bahamas for some relaxing and deep sea fishing.

Last week Blake, Sty and I fished for a few days on Lake Ida near Alexandria.  We aren’t much for chasing Crappies all over the bays, so we pretty much targeted Walleyes on the break lines.  The deeper water seemed to produce the best for us.  We moved the house four times, and didn’t really seem to do better or worse, it was all pretty consistent with a dawn and dusk bite.

The first day and a half were right in the middle of a cold front that came through the area.  The fishing was fairly steady at dawn and sunset, but other than that, there was a cloud of small Perch with the occasional Northern swimming through.  All of the fish we caught were on set lines those first couple days with the Walleyes coming in to check out our jigging lines, but taking the set lines.  We had a variety of small jigs and plain hooks on the set lines, and that didn’t seem to matter, it was the slower presentation that seemed to be the key element.

WalleyeIda walleyeWalleye







As things warmed up the second half of the trip, the fishing slowed down, but the fish we did get were more aggressive taking our jigging lines and leaving the set lines alone.  A variety of jigging spoons in a variety of colors produced nice Walleyes, so again it really didn’t seem to be the bait or the color, but more the aggressive action that triggered the bite.

in the ice houseWe didn’t light it up over the three days of fishing, but we ended up with about 25 Walleyes, 3 Northerns and a few small Perch.  Blake was the big winner the fist couple days catching the biggest and the most fish.  I chalk it up to laziness since he wasn’t jigging so he had twice the set lines Sty and I had, but in reality, it was a smart move given the bite.  It was a blast being out there with the guys though in Sty’s new Ice Castle.  I love my Clam Guide Series portable, but the comforts of a wheel house make for great days on the water.

One of our traditions over the past few years has been to chisel a bunch of crystal clear lake ice to keep our cocktails cold.  Blake happened to pick an iceberg for his drink.  Not sure why, but the lake ice seems to last much longer than ice cubes.  I’ll have to look into the reasoning for that one day.

Tight lines, and be careful out on the ice!

New Year’s Ice Fishing For Walleye

I finally got to spend some quality time on the ice over the New Year’s holiday.  We spent the weekend at my friends cabin on Lake Ida near Alexandria, MN.  We were targeting Walleyes through the ice over the weekend, and had some pretty good success, but the flurries each morning and night were fast, but short lived.  We spent a couple hours in the ice house each morning and evening around sunrise and sunset.

Our first night out we we had Eric’s wheel house in about 24 feet of water, and I set up my portable in about 22 feet of water.  We didn’t nail a big one that night, but we ended up with 3-4 walleyes (can’t remember).  The first night the walleyes seemed pretty mixed hitting both our set lines and our jigs.  I do know that the one fish I got the first night came on a red Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon.

The next morning we got on the ice at about 6:30 and started fishing right away.  Things were slow until about 8:00, and then we had a small flurry of action.  I got my biggest fish of the weekend that morning, and we also managed 4 others during the morning bite.  The fish were really aggressive in the morning, and all of our fish came on our jigging lines.  Eric got one on a Chartreuse Glow Lindy Darter, and the rest came on Lindy Rattl’n Flyers in both red and gold.  If only the flurry could have kept up for a bit longer.  Man, that was fun.

A beautiful Lake Ida Walleye caught through the ice.

Friday night was slow for us.  The bit turned off and we couldn’t get a thing to hit our jigging lines.  We ended up getting one more nice fish and a couple little ones, but they all came on set lines.  We had several fish check out our jigs, but nothing would commit.

Ice FishingSaturday morning we set up two portables along with the wheel house in about 28 feet of water to try something a bit different.  We managed a couple more small walleyes, but that was about it.  I had one in my house, and Eric had a couple in his house, but the rest of the guys were pretty quiet.  Mine came on a gold Lindy Rattly’n Flyer, and I believe Eric got one jigging and one on a set line.  Oh, our set lines were all about 4-8 inches off the bottom.  We found that the lower ones typically did better.

Saturday night things were looking up a bit.  Like the other mornings and evenings we had ice fishing, a flurry came through, but we had a couple prior to it and a couple hit after as well.  Our luck wasn’t as good Saturday night though.  Blake and Briz both had really nice fish on, but we couldn’t get them through the hole.  We didn’t see Blakes, but it looked like it had some weight to it.  Briz lost his right at the hole, and our guess is that it was about 26-27 inches.  Would have been nice to get a picture of that one!  The big one hit on a set line with a small blue jig and a fathead.  It was the only fish we had hit a fathead, the rest were all on Shiners.  We managed to land a half dozen fish during the flurry, but three were pretty small.  The wind was screaming Saturday night, so Eric and I had to make a run out to the houses and pull down the portables, we were worried they might not be there in the morning if we didn’t, and I’m glad we did.  Things were really whipping out there.

Ice fishing for walleyeSunday was our last full day to catch a mess of fish.  The morning was more of the same.  We managed few fish, but all but one were pretty small.  Again, jigging seemed to be the ticket, but the occasional set line would go down as well.  The evening was a bit crowded in the wheel house because we didn’t have any portables out due to the weather.  We had a better school of fish go through and managed to get another 4-5 fish, I think three between 14-17 inches, the other couple were small, and we missed a few more.

Monday morning was our last time on the ice.  Eric and I were the only two headed out in the morning and it was still really whipping out there and the temperatures dropped quite a bit.  We managed to get three really nice walleyes between 16-18 inches and also released a couple smaller ones.  Everything came jigging on Monday morning.  The walleyes were much more aggressive and really hit an aggressive presentation.  I don’t think our set lines even moved.  We were jigging and a big red mark would just fly onto the Vexilar and wham!  Fish on!

Lake Ida Ice Fishing Walleye

For those of you headed out to the lakes around Alexandria, be careful out there.  On Lake Ida, the ice was pretty good where we were fishing, but I heard a house sunk in a bay not too far from us.  We were on 9-11 inches of really good ice most of the time, but I did see a spot that was just shy of 8 inches of ice.  There was a pretty big pressure ridge about 200 yards from us, and a smaller one about 50 feet from us.  We wandered over to the close one and there was no open water, but the bigger one was much bigger sticking up about 2 feet.  I’m not young and invincible anymore, so I kept my distance from that one.

I’m not going to get back onto the water for a couple weeks, but I’m already looking forward to it.  Eric, Blake and I are going to be meeting up for 2-3 days of solid fishing, so we’ll be trying all kinds of stuff and chasing the walleyes all over the lake, not just a morning and evening thing.  Can’t wait to get out there and can’t wait to tell you about it.

Have you made it out on the ice recently?  How did it go?  I’d love you hear your stories as well.

Tight lines!

Locating Early Ice Fishing Slabs

Special thanks to Matt Johnson for this guest post.  To learn more about Matt visit him on Facebook, or you can contact him through the Matt Johnson Outdoors website to plan your next ice fishing trip.

Early Ice Crappies

Crappies are a sophisticated fish, especially those slabs, and at times it can be rather confusing and frustrating for ice anglers to pinpoint slab patterns. Some lakes are abundant with slab crappies, while others are more inclined to hold smaller fish, and then you have those lakes where you can catch a mixed bag. Regardless of the lake or body of water, location is important when it comes down to being a successful crappie fisherman during the winter months. Flashers allow ice anglers to quickly determine whether or not fish are in the area and locating the elusive slab crappie is more than half the battle. If you can establish a pattern of where these fish will be holding then the rewards will come.

I always pay close attention to fall patterns, especially at late fall as the water plunges into near freezing temps. Crappies will begin staging for early ice towards the end of summer, and as fall approaches they will begin to stake out areas that they will utilize at early ice. The turn-over period is where I start. This is when the thermocline diminishes and the cool and warm water start to mix. The typically deeper water crappie patterns of the hot summer months will turn into shallower water patterns. (Keep in mind that rivers will be different and not every lake will experience the same effects either, every body of water may be different from the next). When the water mixes you will typically find the crappies in some sort of migration stage (in lakes) and they will start to slide to the initial breaks and suspend off shallow water edges instead of constantly roaming the deeper depths.

The turn-over period might not last too long. Once the water turns over and the temps drop more and more, you will begin to find fish staging in their early ice locations. Summer and late-summer crappies will stage, often times, suspended in deeper water at the same level of the top of the initial break line (flat). So if you have the top of your break reading at 10 feet on your flasher, and you drop into about 25 feet at the basin, you will find crappies suspended 15 feet off the bottom out on the basin. These fish will roam and you will often times mistake them for baitfish, or when you try to pinpoint them they just keep moving (that’s part of the reason it can be tough to find the big slabs in the hot summer months). These fish will begin staging for the winter once fall approaches and will feed on whatever is in front of them if the opportunity presents itself.

Intercepting these fish can be tough on lakes with large basins and limited structure.

I don’t typically heavily follow the crappie movements during the hot summer months since they are so sporadic, but once they begin moving into winter patterns that’s when they get my attention (I’m an ice fishing geek). Learning the fall (turn-over period and into early ice) patterns has a lot to do with finding the slabs at early ice. Smaller crappies will stack up in obvious shallow(er) spots at early ice, but you will still find some of your larger fish off the “so called” prime hotspots at early ice.

Early ice crappies will relate to the weeds, at least as long as they provide oxygen (which may last quite a ways into winter or even throughout winter in some cases). I personally don’t think that the larger crappies need to relate to those weeds, I’m not saying that you won’t catch slabs in the weeds at early ice, but I’m just saying that those weed areas tend to draw in more smaller fish as well as potato chip bluegills and hungry roaming pike. The larger crappies (concentration of fish) that I do typically find in the weeds are located in lakes where the weed line pushes out into deeper water, say 12-15 feet or even more, and I find the slabs right out on the deeper portions at early ice. Meanwhile, the smaller fish are holding shallower. Once the thermocline does a flip-flop (and disappears) and you complete the turn-over, you will notice that the crappies adjusted to a whole new area. During this time you won’t find the crappies suspended over the deeper water 24 hours a day, or even at all anymore. They will somehow relate to shallower water, whether it’s off the break, or along the deep weed edge. Once they move up into the weeds they will relate to the shallower weeds until they die off (assuming that they do in a typical lake situation), then they will cling to the oxygen-rich (slightly deeper) weeds until those are gone. Now, this is a general crappie pattern, and not true for every lake and not always true for all the larger fish. This is, how should we call it… “Crappie intuition”

Here’s how I pattern crappies throughout late summer and into early ice:

Deep Water Patterns – Your summer to late-summer pattern. Crappies will roam deeper water.

Turn-Over (thermocline dies) – Crappies move from deeper water and stage off shallower water. Keep an eye on areas where you know the crappies where at during early ice in the past and move out from there. (In between this period and the next is where I find my larger crappies at early ice)

Thermocline is Dead…Full Turn-over

Full Turn-Over – Crappies are holding off shallow structure, more tight though. Weeds are dying and fish gradually slide deeper. This can also be an early ice stage on occasion.

Early Ice – Shallow, oxygen rich weeds and primary breaks. Look for depths anywhere from 3-15 feet. Weeds will die as ice thickens and crappies will gradually move deeper. Narrows can be good too.

This is my view of a typical crappie movement from late summer to early ice for your typical lake. I have some lakes where the pattern is very different, and some lakes where you catch your early ice crappies in deeper holes. Keep in mind that these crappies that are found in the deeper holes at early ice might have already migrated shallow and already moved back out into deeper water (crappies will move back out as ice thickens, oxygen diminishes and light penetration gets worse…).

So, with that being said, where are the crappies at early ice?

Well, for one, we have the weeds, an obvious option for a good number of crappies at early ice. Shallow bays on large bodies of water are good early ice locations. Any depressions in the bays should be marked on a map and checked out as well. These are “pockets” in the weeds. I also like to find the weed edge and punch a line of holes across that as well. Breaks just off the weed edge will also hold crappies at early ice, both suspending and bottom hugging. Some of these areas will have no weeds on the actual slope, but once it flattens out again you will see more weeds, this is a prime example of an early ice slab spot. Work those deeper weeds and stay moving until you locate a school of fish. Depths of 10-15 feet are not uncommon. Also check out humps and saddles too. Weeds are good, but don’t only judge early ice spots by where the weeds are, stay open minded. Wooded areas can also hold a good number of crappies at early ice, same with rocks and muddy areas.

I also like to find spots where there is a narrow area between different portions of the lake, like “bottlenecks” and deeper channels (deep could only mean 6-7 feet). These channel areas often times freeze first and the crappies fishing can be excellent during first ice. These spots are short lived though, and the bite might only last a week or so. If you find the crappies holding in these areas at first ice, than there’s a good chance that those fish will relate to adjacent deeper water once they move towards the main lake basin.

Mouths of shallow bays are good areas to target too. Crappies will relate to the transition areas in these mouths, and once they move out from the bay these areas might be the new hot spot.

Early ice crappie locations are going to be different from body of water to body of water, but the general principles still apply:

• Look for shallow green weeds
• Focus on “structure” in the weeds (pockets, humps, edges, etc…)
• Search the primary breaks just off the shallow weeds (deeper weed lines)
• Look for any flats just off the weed line, as well as off the first break
• Narrows
• Also check deeper holes in the lakes where the average depth is shallow

Location is number one for most of the winter when it comes to crappies. Locate the aggressive school of fish and then figuring what they want is the easy part. If you find fish but there are negative than move, there typically are some active fish somewhere, and often times they won’t be far.

Early ice can produce some nice catches, and hopefully some of this will help you ice more slabs this winter.

Good Fishing,
Matt Johnson

Don’t forget to visit the Matt Johnson Outdoors website for more posts, videos, recipes, fishing reports, information on guided ice fishing trips and other great information.

Early Ice Walleyes in Minnesota

Eric showing off some of our Walleyes

I finally got the opportunity to get in on some early ice walleyes this year.  My friend Eric and I went out on Lake Ida by Alexandria, Minnesota this weekend in search of some early ice walleyes.  From the reports I’ve been getting, every lake seems a bit different for ice conditions.  Some lakes are reporting 9-10 inches, and at my lake which is by Perham, MN, it is wide open, you could take a boat out there (as of Saturday).  Crazy.

Our fishing grounds on Lake Ida

Where we were at on Lake Ida, there was a pretty consistent 5 inches along the shoreline, and then about 4 inches out a bit further.  I’m not as young and invincible as I used to be, so we didn’t push it too much.  The spot we were hoping to fish was a break about 300 yards from shore.  There was a pretty big pressure ridge between us and our spot, and given there wasn’t too much ice, we decided not to push it.  We went a bit further down the shore and fished a break that was only about 150 feet from shore.  It’s a pretty steep break we had never fished before, but since it looked much safer, we thought we would give that a try.

The view from my ice house at sunset. It was incredible. Looks like we should be in a boat, not an ice house.

Saturday night we punched holes in about 16 feet of water.  We ended up with 2 walleyes and 1 northern.  Sunday morning, we moved out a bit deeper on the break and set up one portable in 18 feet and one in 20 feet of water.  Each house produced 2 walleyes and we both missed a couple as well.  In the end, we had 6 really great eaters for lunch (all were between 14-17 inches) and had a great time.

Eric and I are both pretty aggressive fisherman, and if we mark something by our bait that doesn’t hit, we switch presentations until we find something that is working.  All of our fish ended up coming on a red buckshot rattle spoon tipped with a shiner head.  Our set lines got hit a couple times, but the fish were never there when we went to set the hook.  We were jigging pretty aggressively until we marked a fish in the area, and then slowed down the presentation.  That seemed to do the trick.

Nothing beats fresh walleye for lunch!

As you can see from the pictures, there isn’t a flake of snow on the ice.  Based on the conditions out there now, and the lack of snow in the forecast, we are set up to possibly have great ice conditions this year, which would be a welcome change from the past few years.  The ice on Lake Ida was crystal clear with very few major cracks to worry about.  It was a bit unnerving wandering out, but after we got the holes drilled and started fishing, all the worries went away.  With the holidays coming up, I’m not sure I’ll be hitting the ice for walleyes in the next couple weeks, but I should get several days out there around the new year to hit it hard. In the mean time, the fresh walleye we enjoyed for lunch will have to hold me over until then.

May your ice be solid and your lines tight!

Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing

Getting ready to head out on Lake of the Woods

All I can say is that I’m getting antsy to get out on the ice.  I’ve fired up the auger, pulled my Guide Series Clam portable down and put new line on my reels.  On top of that I’ve spent a few too many hours in Scheels and Gander Mountain over the past couple weeks and my wish list has grown.

I’ve been watching the fishing boards and it looks like the small lakes have 1-4 inches of ice on them and the larger lakes still have open spots, so it is a couple more weeks until it will be time to hit it hard.  In the mean time, I’ll I can do is think back to past ice fishing trips.

Lake of the Woods and Red Lake are two of my favorite hot spots in the winter.  I’ve started hitting up Leech Lake a bit, but I still think that Lake of the Woods and Red Lake are better fisheries.  Getting the itch to get on the ice sent me looking through pictures of past ice fishing trips.  I didn’t take nearly as many pictures a year or two back as I do now, but I thought I would share a few from a Lake of the Woods ice fishing trip I was on with my brother-in-law and father-in-law.  It was a great weekend on the ice.

I can't help but lead with this giant 6 6 incher I mean.

A couple nice eaters from Lake of the Woods

Another great eater by my father-in-law

The Eelpout sure turned on in the evenings

Jerry was thrilled to get an Eelpout...ha

Andrew's Eelpout - and he got to clean them...hehe

It was a great trip that I will remember for a long time.  As slimy as those Lake of the Woods Eelpout were, they were absolutely delicious.  We boiled them in some water and just drizzled melted butter and salt on them and they were fantastic.  I’m not sure if I’ll say they were better than the fresh from the hole walleye, but darn close.  I can’t wait to get back up to Lake of the Woods, with our recent Red Lake trips, it has been too long.

BWCA Ice Fishing

In my last post, I talked about a fantastic fishing trip I took to Ft. Myers, Florida.  I’m going to continue my trip down memory lane today.  This trip was a bit different from Ft. Myers in that I traded a tropical shirt for a parka and traded a boat for cross country skis, snow shoes and boots.

Looking back at our trail across a lake.

My brother-in-law, father-in-law and my brother-in-law’s uncle headed out for an adventure a couple winters.  We headed up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for a real adventure.  The trip started out with a drive from Duluth, MN to the BWCA.  From there, we geared up and headed out for a few days of adventure.  The trip took us about 7 miles into the BWCA.  We had to use a mix of cross country skis, snow shoes and hiking boots to make our way to camp.  The trek in took much of the day as we were all carrying sleds of gear and also changing foot apparel often based on the terrain we were going over.  After the first hour or two I wondered what I had gotten myself into, but then I stopped for a few minutes and just looked around at the beauty of the BWCA.  From there on, I focused on my surroundings and not on the long trek and it was fantastic.

Our Campsite is all set up for the evening.

Because the trip in took longer than anticipated, we decided to set up camp two portages short of where we wanted, but it worked out just fine.  When we got there, we had to dig out about 3 feet of snow for our tents.  I had never done this before, so just getting camp set up was an adventure in itself.

The next morning we headed out fishing.  We continued to our final destination packed much lighter because we decided to leave our camp where it was and just bring our fishing gear.  What a great day!  Almost as fast as we punched holes we started catching fish.  The lake we were fishing was filled with Trout and we nailed them all day long.

We caught fish on a variety of presentations and a variety of depths.  Since we had never fished the lake in the winter before, we set a small spread of tip-ups in varying depths from about 15-50 feet of water.  We also drilled some holes right along the shore in about 5-8 feet of water, and we caught fish in almost every depth.  The shallows had the most aggressive fish and we were catching them on mostly on jigging spoons and rattle spoons tipped with a minnow head.

Getting set up for a day of fishing.

Jerry with the first trout of the day.

Lunch is served!

Andrew stoaking the campfire for shore lunch.

We got a fire going and had a fantastic shore lunch and continued fishing for the rest of the day.

What a beautiful place to be fishing.

Another fish on!

A great day comes to a close with another dinner over the campfire.

Since it gets dark early, we headed back to camp late afternoon and enjoyed Trout Stew for dinner that night.  What a difference a warm meal can make when you are sleeping in a tent during a Minnesota winter in the BWCA.

The next morning we fished a bit on a closer lake to give it a try and didn’t have the same luck as we did the day before.  We didn’t want to go all the way back to our first lake because we needed to pack up and get out of the BWCA, and we knew we had a long trek in front of us.

Things I Learned Winter Camping

1.  No matter how heavy you pack, bring a chair.  After a long day of trekking, standing by a fire rather than sitting is no fun, and sitting in the snow only leads to melted snow and wet clothes.

2.  Don’t bundle up too much in your sleeping bag.  You have a tendency to dress too warm for sleeping, then you sweat and the next night your sleeping bag is an ice cube.  (didn’t happen to me thank goodness)

3.  With the chair learning considered, pack as light as you possibly can.  Those sleds get heavy after a while.

4.  Put granola bars and a bottle of water in your sleeping bag when you go to sleep.  That way you don’t have frozen water and frozen granola bars for breakfast.

I don’t think my photos do the trip justice, but I can’t tell you how beautiful it is up there in the winter.  We didn’t see another person from the time we left the car until we got back.  It was quite an adventure.  I hope to get out there again this winter for another adventure.

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