5 Species – 5 Early Ice Tips



The beauty of early ice – fish are normally very plentiful and usually pretty easy to catch. The caveat – most of the time, there are too many species biting well at the same time, making it darn hard to figure out which one to pursue on any given day. But, hey, fishing is fishing, and any of the fish that are “snapping” are fun to catch. So, let’s take a look at the top 5 on my list and some of my tips on how to catch them once the ice gets here in Wisconsin.

Author: 

 Jim Hudson

 

The beauty of early ice – fish are normally very plentiful and usually pretty easy to catch. The caveat – most of the time, there are too many species biting well at the same time, making it darn hard to figure out which one to pursue on any given day. But, hey, fishing is fishing, and any of the fish that are “snapping” are fun to catch. So, let’s take a look at the top 5 on my list and some of my tips on how to catch them once the ice gets here in Wisconsin.

Walleye
Like most of you, I can attest to the excitement I get when I see that first sheet of walk able ice hits my favorite walleye lake. Most walleyes during this time frame are very active still and for the most part have not felt the pressure from anglers in some time. First ice is definitely walleye “prime time”. And for the slobo-variety, that I target immediately on clear and deep northern WI waters, my favorite spots to are associated with basin flats that are associated to shoreline points. Typically 15 to 25 feet of water, where 15 FOW is on the point as it breaks into the flat and 20 to 25 FOW (sometimes even to 30 or 35) is associated with the flat that surrounds the point. These spots are a game of tip-ups, covering varying depths on the point and into the basin flat. Pin-pointing the prime real estate is the name of the game, day or night, as the fish consistently roam the flats and up onto the points, depending on their mood. So, bring your friends, because more the merrier when it comes to setting the Beaver Dams and having fun with first ice walleyes.

Crappies
Giant crappies – most of mine any given ice year, are caught during first ice. Again, I attest this to pressure and the need to feed for both the black and white variety. And overwhelmingly, most all of these first-ice Crappies I catch using plastic tails rather than live bait. Truthfully, this goes for any time of the winter nowadays, but, for first ice, plastics really rule. Typically, I fish both weed line and basin roaming Crappies, and this pattern hold true in both areas. And my typical set-up, a pink glow tungsten jig and a glow nail tail type plastic. This allows me to fish fast and catch multiple fish without having to re-bait. Typically, these fish are kamikaze once we get to them on first ice and all you need is the quiver of that plastic tail to seal the deal.

Pike
If you ask me, some of the most exciting fishing in the winter revolves around pike fishing. It is fun, easy and you usually can catch quite a few during that first ice window. But, what is even more exciting to me is finding the bigger pike of the system and having a tussle. Here, I look to those clear and deep water lakes again. If they have pelagic bait, such as Cisco, even better. Often, when in search of the real big ones, I forego the weed edge approach many are accustomed too. Instead, I look to offshore structure (especially on those Cisco based lakes) or deep structure that juts out from shore. A lot of the bigger pike are on the prowl in the deeper water trying to intercept bigger prey. With that, I use a tip-up and jigging approach to call in fish and then hopefully catch them. Set your Beaver Dams, with a big portion of bait (8 inch suckers or even a Crappie or Bluegill that you caught on that lake), in varying depths on the structure you are fishing, then jig between the sets with a call lure, such as a blade bait or rattle bait. Hopefully you catch them jigging, which does happen a lot, but, if not, you are still calling in the roaming fish to take a peek at what’s hanging below your spools.

Perch
You have to love first ice just for this reason alone. Perch are one of the species I cannot wait to get out and chase once the ice settles in. With that, I add a little different twist to catching then most during first ice, where I normally put down the tip-ups to catch them, especially the bigger variety. Why? Minnows. Perch this time of the year are namely still on a minnow diet. So, by pinning fatheads on a #10 treble and using thin fluorocarbon leaders, I can present what the fish are normally looking for that time of the year, while also covering a big swath of water. I jig as well, but, typically, the bigger Perch will all come on the tip-up sets.

Bluegills
Last but not least, the “bulls” of the ice arena. Have to love their tenacity and willingness to bite during that first ice period. But, with the tenacity and willingness come weeding through the masses a lot of the time. Always hear that saying “gotta weed through the little ones to get to the big ones”. For me, I try to go straight to the big ones, using an upsized approach to catching those hand sized ‘gills. Spoons are the top of my list to get this job done, 1/16 ounce namely. And in lieu of live bait, my new go-to attractant to dangle off the treble is MEAT by Uncle Josh. They love the stuff and it stays on the hook for an eternity, allowing me to keep a school of fish under me for a long time. Unhook and send the spoon back into the feeding frenzy. When it’s on, there is no time for re-baiting, as that wasted time could send a school of 9 inchers along their merry way.

The author, Jim Hudson, is one of the premier charter captains and guides operating in the mid-west, where he provides open water and ice fishing trips on Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands region of Lake Superior along with the many inland lakes of Ashland and Bayfield counties. Along with his business, Jim is a nationally recognized face in the fishing industry as a product consultant and pro-staffer for the many industry leading companies and also appears routinely on The Next Bite Television, John Gillespie Waters and Woods, Northland Adventures and in many of the top named fishing publications. You can find out more about Jim and his business at:http://www.fishchequamegonbay.com