Lodging food and more
If you want to catch more fish through the ice, you can "Stick
By the On Ice Tour Pro Staff
A growing legion of anglers has one thing to say when it comes to many
bodies of water across ice-fishing country.
"Stick it!" they are exclaiming, and they're not talking about the
rising cost of fishing licenses, user fees, taxes or even gasoline. They're
talking about one of the most productive forms of habitat that exists beneath
winter's cover of ice.
Not every lake or reservoir is blessed with an abundance of rock piles,
reefs, sandbars and gravel beds, but most have some form of submerged wood
that attracts and holds a variety of fish species. And while wood
can be productive year-round, it becomes a focal point for many anglers
in the know during the hard-water season.
Guide Jeff Dosch spends most of his winter in pursuit of walleyes and
perch on Devil's Lake in North Dakota. Pro angler Tommy Skarlis of Walker,
Minn., grew up chasing panfish around the lakes and reservoirs of Minnesota
and Iowa. The wood, both said, is often where it's at.
Devil's Lake is a perfect example of what fishing in the wood is all
about. Over the last five or six years, rising water levels have created
acres and acres of new habitat. Meanwhile, anglers are learning how to
interpret what they're finding, and how to make it pay off with impressive
catches of quality walleyes.
"The brush is the No. 1 spot for walleyes on Devil's Lake," said Dosch.
During the first part of the ice-fishing season, Dosch keys on main-lake
areas with a gradual slope to deep water. From there, he seeks out sections
that are littered with what locals describe as "buck brush." Also known
as "scrub brush," it's that gnarly, tangled mess of vines, saplings and
branches that make woodland hunters choose another route.
"Buck brush is good because it holds so many different kinds of baitfish,"
said Dosch. "There are a lot of minnows in there, and there will be freshwater
shrimp clinging to the branches. It's great for walleye, but it can be
good for perch, also."
Buck brush that still has some life tends to produce and attract more
aquatic insects, which in turn, draws in more baitfish than old, dead brush.
Dosch said good brush isn't always right along the shoreline, either.
Flooding on Devil's Lake has been extensive enough that quality buck brush
can be found up to 200 yards off shore.
Fishing these areas can be tricky, and it requires a specialized approach.
While it's possible to pull a few fish out of the brush by fishing above
it, it's generally more productive to seek out sections with clearings
between the brush piles.
"Walleyes like those places where they can move back and forth between
clumps of brush or between points," noted Dosch. "And they will move into
those clearings to feed. The other good thing about finding these areas
is that you don't have to worry about hooking a fish and not being able
to get it out of the brush.
"Finding these areas is where I really like my Aqua-Vu (underwater
camera). It eliminates a lot of the guesswork and the moving around drilling
holes to find the openings."
Anglers who don't have access to a camera can narrow down the search
by finding water where the tips of the buck brush are sticking through
the ice, and then working their way down the slope and out into the lake
Once a location is chosen, the trick is to get the walleyes' attention.
All the debris in the water limits their vision, Dosch explained, so anglers
must appeal to the fish's other senses.
"I like lures like Northland Tackle’s Buckshot Rattle Spoon or Sonars"
he said. "A lot of times I'll take a jigging rod and jig two feet off the
bottom to attract the fish. In another hole, I'll have a dead rod with
a minnow on a bare hook sitting about six inches off the bottom. About
75 percent of the time, the walleyes come eat the minnow."
Take plenty of lures along, Dosch added.
"Inevitably, you are going to lose some tackle," he said. "It comes
with the game. You have to go where the fish are. It's that simple."
Anglers can improve their chances by getting to their fishing location
"You want to get there and set up before primetime, which is usually
about the last hour of daylight," said Dosch. "Especially in shallow water,
those fish spook easily."
Skarlis grew up in Iowa where the best hard-water fishing is found on
the man-made lakes across the southern third of the state. For the most
part, it's flooded farmland where old creek channels are often lined with
"In any newer reservoir, fertility is high and critters like worms;
grubs and aquatic insects relate to those pieces of wood and those trees,"
said Skarlis. "Almost every species that swims will relate to that wood
at one time or another because of the natural predator-prey relationship.
"Fish around new wood, and you're going to be successful."
Most of the wood in these situations is visible, and once the creek
channels or roadbeds are identified, an angler can figure out where the
key inside bends and outside corners lay. Inside bends tend to feature
softer bottoms that attract panfish species like bluegill and crappie,
while the protruding corners usually consist of rock or hard bottom that
Skarlis said mobility is one key to attacking the wood along creek
channels, old roadbeds and even fencelines.
"Sometimes, there's no method to the madness other than drilling a
bunch of holes and moving from stick-up to stick-up," he said. "A lot of
times, you'll be going along pulling a fish here and a fish there. All
of a sudden, you'll find the mother lode relating to one certain tree.
No matter what the age or position of the wood, a quality sonar unit, especially
one with a zoom feature such as Vexilar’s FL-18 helps the angler distinguish
between the tips of the branches and the fish. It also helps the angler
understand the mood the fish are in that day by the way they approach and
attack, or don't attack, a lure.
Lazer Mag Ultra
|"I've had it happen dozens of times when I'm fishing timber. My StrikeMaster
Lazer Mag auger is my best friend in those places."
Older lakes may not provide the benefit of visible standing timber.
That's when maps that show the old channels and roadbeds combined with
tools like an Aqua Vu underwater camera and a flasher are invaluable.
Skarlis also suggested drilling a semi-circle of holes around docks
in lakes where homes dot the shorelines.
"Most brushpiles set by homeowners are within casting distance of their
docks," he pointed out. "If you work your way around them, you will find
them. Then you can punch in the coordinates on your GPS."
"You have to draw the fish out of some of that timber," he said. "Lindy's
Techni-Glo lures and Rattl'r spoons help accomplish that. If the fish are
really aggressive, I've had very good luck using Berkley's Power Naturals
in place of live bait."
Fire Line Micro Ice
|Skarlis prefers slightly heavier line for brush fishing, such as Berkley's
"You want to be aggressive, and get those fish up and out of there
as fast as you can," he said. "If it does wrap you around a tree, sometimes
you can set that rod down for awhile and it will unwrap itself."Like Dosch,
Skarlis prefers lures that are noisy and highly visible.
Regardless of which species of fish you are targeting, or the location
within the ice belt of North America you are looking, the wood is often
the best place to be.
Branch out. Learn the ways of the wood. Just say, "Stick it!"
Editor’s Note: On Ice Tour (a division of WildSide Diversified), co-founded
by Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis, is an extensive effort focusing on generating
excitement for the great sport of ice fishing. For more articles,
fishing tips, info on the latest and greatest ice gear or a schedule of
On Ice Tour Pro Staff appearances, log onto www.onicetour.com
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