Thursday, January 5, 2023

Don't Overlook Your Reels for Ice Fishing

It's all fun and games...until someone loses a fish!  All too often those "big ones" get away when we are ice fishing.  Most of the time while on the ice, people across the state are fishing for panfish.  This allows anglers to use two or three pound test line.  By doing so you can manage your line much better, keep it flowing off your reels more easily, and stay under the radar of detection from the fish.  All these are great reasons to use small diameter line during the winter, and in most cases is necessary to have a good day of fishing during the cold weather months.  However, there will come a time when a hungry bass, walleye, catfish or pike takes your panfish offering.  All too often this battle is lost very quickly and the larger species of fish is swimming away with your lure.  

This unfortunate event can be the result of many things; weak spot in your line, sharp toothed creatures, a bad knot, or a drag malfunction.  The more and more I tangle with larger fish (mostly a non-target species) the more I believe that it is the latter that will cause heartache or success.  A well manufactured drag system set properly can bring in fish much larger than your line specifications will indicate.  I was reminded of this once again this past weekend while perch fishing.  My Vexilar lit up bright white and without a hesitation a rather large Northern Pike decided that she like my jigging spoon and was going to eat it.  The fight was on, about half way through the battle, as she was stripping drag for the third of fourth time, I said to my friends watching, "I'm sure glad I hooked this fish with this rod and reel".  Of the three ice fishing combos I had brought along that day, the one I was using has the best reel on it.  The drag is smooth and it was working wonderfully.  The pike made run after run, and finally it had to give up.  I won this battle with two-pound test line and the Quantum Smoke S3 reel.  It has the smoothest drag I know, and on that day it was put to the test!  When choosing your next spinning reel, check out the drag components, it is pretty simple, the more parts or discs in the drag assembly, the smoother the drag will be. 

Quantum Smoke S3  Size 15
Ice anglers take a lot of pride in their rods, but we often forget out the reels we choose.  I have seen anglers pay $40-$150 for an ice rod but then get a $25 reel to pair with it.  Take a look around your ice combos when you get a chance, perhaps your next upgrade should be on some reels, not the newest, latest, greatest rod.  Good fishing to you, hope you find this helpful, and you have the chance to catch your next BIG ONE!

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Baits and Lures you Need for Ice Fishing


This article in its entirety can be seen in the January Issue of "The Iowa Sportsman" Magazine, click below for the online version of the entire issue.



Ice fishing opportunities are increasing across the state of Iowa right now, and there is no better time to go out and give it a try.  What was once a simple sport of drilling a hole in the ice and sitting on a five-gallon bucket has turned into a high-tech world of endless possibilities.  Thirty years ago, there were a couple of companies that made ice fishing jigs, and they all looked very similar, today there are so many choices it may leave you a little cross-eyed.  Let’s explore the endless choices ice anglers have in the modern-day world of ice fishing.

One thing that hasn’t really changed much in ice fishing is the two basic offerings you can drop down the hole to entice your targeted species.  Anglers typically choose a jig, or a spoon.  These two types of baits have served ice anglers well since the beginning.  I don’t see any changes to these two lures when it comes to ice fishing.  Jigs are typically known for bluegills, crappies, yellow bass and perch, while spoons are used for bigger fish, such as large crappies, bass and walleyes.  This is one misconception many ice anglers have today, spoons are for EVERY species of fish living under the ice.  The sooner you gather up the many different sizes of spoons available on the market, the more fish you will be catching.  Let’s dig into these two different lures for ice fishing, as well as live bait and plastics.

JIGS: Gone are the standard jigs of yesteryear, a trip to any local tackle shop or a Scheels will have you mesmerized by all the different colors and sizes of jigs.  The color patterns seem to be endless, as well as different sizes for these small baits.  Like any tackle box, your ice fishing jig box should have a variety of colors and sizes.  Each seasoned angler has their favorites, and until you find your favorite for the water you fish, have a good stock of the basics for sure.  Blacks, whites, reds, greens and gold will cover most situations very well.  Jigs also come in many sizes, and two different metals: lead and tungsten.  The tungsten jigs will be much more expensive due to the extreme measures it takes to make them compared to a lead jig.  Both work great, and at times lead will be better than tungsten, and sometimes tungsten is better than lead.  A good rule of thumb is if you are fishing less than ten feet of water, a lead jig is a good choice, if you are deeper than ten feet, a tungsten jig may produce better.  The theory of this is all about the fall rate of each jig.  The same size lead jig will fall slower in the water column than a tungsten jig.  If you find fish under the ice, sometimes they want that slow fall and slow rocking motion of a lead jig.  Fish in shallow water can spook when dropping a jig on them too quickly.  It may be hard to believe that there is much difference, but the fish and the waters in West Lake Okoboji will prove this point time and time again.  If you are fishing deeper water, the tungsten jig will fall quicker and get down to the fish much faster than a lead jig of the same size.  If you are “fishing fast” on the ice, a tungsten jig will help you do that.  Jigs come in two different styles, a horizontal jig and the less popular vertical jig.  The jigs are as their name indicates, the horizontal jig rests side to side, while the vertical jig stays in the upright position.  The horizontal jig gets used much more by anglers, however on those tough days, give a vertical jig a try, they look completely different in the water and sometimes the fish want something a little different.  Jigs will catch all sizes of fish, but typically are chosen to target bluegills, crappies, yellow bass and perch.

SPOONS: Like the jig, the spoon has developed into a huge array of choices for anglers in the past couple of decades.  Today, all the larger tackle companies have a spoon on the market as well as some smaller tackle makers too.  The shape and sizes of spoons vary from company to company as do the many different color patterns designers have come up with.  Again, like the jig, anglers have their favorite styles and colors that they will try.  Spoon colors really do touch every color of the rainbow and the patterns are truly spectacular.  When selecting a spoon, the size can be as or more important than the actual color.  Many times during the ice season, the predator fish are feeding on a particular size of bait.  If your spoon matches that size, you are going to have a wonderful day!  Use your flasher to see how the fish react to your spoon and make changes if they are not biting.  Perhaps a smaller, larger or different color would be better.  Common colors all anglers should have in their spoon box include white, glow colors, red, green, gold and silver.  Like the jigs, spoons will catch every species under the ice, when in doubt, give them a try!

BAITS: No matter if you are fishing a spoon or a jig, tipping it with live bait or a plastic is a must.  There are days when fish are aggressive and an unbaited spoon catches fish, but those are not the norm.  Adding a waxworm or spike to your jig will give it a bigger profile and add much needed scent to your lure.  I always carry both kinds of live bait, as some days they really want a waxworm, while some days they really want spikes.  Live bait can be tedious to keep alive and having to bait your hook often isn’t a lot of fun under freezing conditions, however some days it is a must.  I will always try plastics on my jigs too.  Some of the larger plastics can help slow down the fall of your jig and adds a lot of action that live bait does not.  Using plastics on really cold days can help you to fish a little faster as you won’t be changing your live bait out.  The main thing with plastics and the live bait varieties is to change things up and try different combinations.  If you are looking to get some plastics for the first time, these three colors are “can’t miss” for your time on the ice: white, red and motor oil.

Ice fishing is a great way to spend a couple of hours, or a couple days enjoying the winter season here in Iowa.  The sport has really grown in the past decade, and with that growth so has the baits and lures we use to enjoy our time.  If you have a good variety of jigs, spoons, live bait and plastics you will surely fool some winter fish in the upcoming months.

Monday, December 12, 2022

2022/23 First ICE

 It has finally arrived, the ice fishing season has started here in Northern Iowa!  As many of you know I love fishing 12 months of the year, but each and every year there is something special about that first time walking on the ice.  This occurred December 10th in Northern Iowa for my friends and I.  It really is like Christmas morning pulling up to the lake with anticipation.  All four of use were anxious and ready to get the year started.  After a huge cold front in late November, followed by a warming trend, it seemed like the day would never come. 

The four of us took to the ice after going over some safety items.  Even though there were a few people on the lake, David led the way with a spud bar.  I brought up the rear with a rope and flotation device in my sled.  The ice was good everywhere we went that day, however the first time out should be a wake up call to anyone.  No ice is SAFE ICE, proceed with caution... always!  We quickly found our first spot, which was a channel break.  We drilled out the section and the Vexilars went to work finding the active fish.  We found fish near the break and also on the flat.  It was a fast paced first couple of hours with crappies and bluegills cooperating.  Jigs and spoons were used evenly throughout the group, and I am not sure one was preferred over the other on this particular day.  I do know that spoons were less likely to get bit by smaller gills, which is typically the case.  A few bass came to the ice as well as one large catfish, that was quite a battle for Mike, but he played it out perfectly!

The first trip is always one to test out equipment and make sure things are working properly for the, hopefully long season ahead.  I was able to put to test the new Dead Meat Midnight Rod by Clam.  I was using the 36in model made of fiberglass.  This model is just like the original Dead Meat Rods but a different color rod and tip coloration too.  It performed like advertised, and when paired with a Quantum SmokeS3 reel, the day was flawless.  

Testing out new equipment, spending time with some friends, and catching some panfish for a fish fry...needless to say it was an awesome day on the ice!  Thanks for joining me Dan, David and Mike.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Auger Review: Which is best for Your Situation?

The world of ice fishing has changed so much in the past twenty years that some do not even recognize the sport anymore. Gone are the days of a couple of poles, a handful of jigs, a five-gallon bucket and a hand auger. Today’s ice angler has as much or more than anglers fishing from a boat. Multiple poles are rigged up, rod lockers, electronics and power augers are standard to most anglers on the ice. The one standard piece of equipment, without it ice fishing would cease to exist, the ice auger has changed the most over the past couple of decades, and has left today's ice anglers with many choices to fit their style of fishing.
You could say the ice auger is the most important tool of ice angling, however most anglers do not give much attention to them. Obviously, everyone needs one to get the day started, but which one is right for you? Perhaps you own several of them and use them for different reasons. To say there is one perfect answer for what you should spend your money on would not be just. Let’s dive into the topic and look at the pros and cons of each type of auger; hand auger, gas auger, propane auger and battery power, and drill augers.

Hand Auger: The only benefit to a hand auger is the price. Many companies make a hand auger version, which is exactly that, you use your hands to operate the auger to drill the holes. It is great to start out with, and if you don’t move a lot while ice fishing you may not need anything else. If you are dredging yourself and gear out on the ice in the middle of winter, you are probably more than capable of drilling a hole in the ice with a hand auger. However, the amount of energy and time it takes throughout a long day of fishing can and will wear you down. This is the biggest deterrent for anyone using a hand auger. They take too much time, and ice shouldn’t be a workout!

Gas Auger: The gas-powered auger really changed the game of ice fishing about twenty years ago when more and more showed up during the winter. More and more people started using gas augers, which at the time was the next evolution of augers on the ice. There are still gas-powered augers out there, you can hear a few fire up across the lake on any given day. They offer anglers a chance to drill dozens and dozens of holes on the lakes and rivers they fish each day. The overall weight of a gas auger was overlooked because of the cutting power it possessed. Cutting through two feet of ice is never a problem with these powerful augers, a huge benefit to these machines. Leaking gas lines and gas tanks seem to be a common theme when dealing with gas powered augers, as well as always having the oil and gas mixed ahead of time. Another downfall of the gas-powered auger is the weight of the machine. If you are pulling your gear out on the lake and have a long walk, you may think twice about buying a gas-powered auger in today’s world. If you have a small vehicle to pull your ice fishing items such as a snowmachine or four-wheeler, then it really doesn’t make any difference. Gas spilling and leaking onto ice shacks and clothing are also another reason anglers have looked to other methods of drilling holes in the ice.

Propane Auger: In the early 2010s the gas-powered auger got some competition. Jiffy and Eskimo came out with a propane powered auger that uses the small 1-pound propane cylinders. These augers have plenty of power without the mess of gasoline and are a popular substitute for gas engines on the ice today. Lakes in the lower half of Iowa rarely see/hear a gas or propane auger due to the lack of ice that grows beyond 18 inches. However, in the northern half of the state where the ice will be nearly two feet thick for a month or more, these augers shine. These augers excel when the ice is thick, and a 1-pound cylinder will have your drilling holes all day long. The downfall, like the gas-powered augers, is the weight. You do not want to be lugging either of these power augers too far on the ice unless you have a machine to haul them in. In my mind the propane augers are much better than the gas options simply because they are clean, and you do not have to worry about gas or anything leaking. These types of augers are a great option when the ice grows thick.

Electric Augers: Several years ago, another version of the ice auger was brought to the market, the electric auger. Again, technology has made everything in our lives easier and this is just another example of that. An electric auger uses a lithium battery to power a motor to turn the auger blade just as in the gas or propane auger. They look very similar, but the electric augers will weigh quite a bit less. This makes it easier to tote around by hand and hop from hole to hole drilling out a section of ice to look for your favorite fish. Lithium batteries are not cheap, nor are the specialized chargers to recharge the battery, so the price on these augers is really the only “con” there is. They are a great cutting tool for the angler that walks on out on the ice or has a machine to pull your gear. These augers have gotten more and more popular the past few years, especially in the northern part of the state where the ice reaches over 18 inches for a large part of the ice fishing season.

Drill Augers: Last, but certainly not least, actually quite the opposite as these are the most popular auger in the state of Iowa currently. The drill auger has literally taken over as the number one choice of augers on the ice. Most families have a nice drill, yes the same drill you would use to drill a hole to hang a picture in your house, which makes this the most affordable “power auger” you can buy. If you already have a drill powered by lithium batteries then you only need to buy the actual auger part. There are many companies that sell their best version of this ice auger and all vary a little bit. By using your drill, you simply attach the auger to your drill like a drill bit. You tighten it on and suddenly you have an ice cutting machine! These are by far the lightest version of any power ice auger you can buy. If you do not own a 1/2inch, 18volt drill, then this may not be the best buy for you, as you could buy the before mentioned electric auger for about the same money as a new drill, batteries and auger combo. Prices vary from company to company and store to store so that is something to consider when buying. There are a couple of downfalls with this auger; you do need to use common sense when operating them. You cannot leave your drill on the wet ice, or in the snow, and you also need to pay attention to the drill so you are not overworking the motor and burning it up. Another downfall with the drill augers is the number of batteries you may need. If you drill less than 50 holes per day in a foot of ice, this auger is ideal, however if you are drilling 50 holes in 2-feet of ice, you are going to need a lot of batteries. Overall, there is a reason that most ice anglers use this method of drilling holes in the ice; simple, low cost and lightweight is hard to beat.

Another consideration: If you are looking into purchasing an ice auger for the upcoming season there is one more thing that you must look for. No matter what auger you chose, many models will come with a metal auger or plastic/composite auger. This will affect the overall cost of the product and the overall weight as well. If you are traveling on the ice with a machine it really doesn’t matter, however, if you pull your gear on the ice, you will want an auger with a plastic or composite auger. The actual operation of the auger is no different, but the weight and ability to move around the ice quicker and more efficiently is a night and day comparison.

The season is upon us, do everyone in your fishing party a favor by sharpening those blades. This will make your work easier and keep your equipment running for many years. Be careful out there, always travel in a group, have a rope, flotation device and ice picks ready, and I hope you never have to use them!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Indee Bass Club Annual Year-End Awards

Coach Reed/Cal Sweeney/
Ranger Reed/Jackson Beatty
The Indee Bass Club held its Year-End Banquet recently to hand out some final awards and to look back at this historical season.  2022 brought many accomplishments for the students and the club as a whole.  The group started the year by taking 3rd Place at the Iowa High School Bass Team Championship at Pleasant Creek Lake.  In September, club anglers Justin Schmadeke and Hunter Patton won the Iowa Bass Nation State Championship in the High School Division, at the same event Jackson Beatty and Gable Eddy won the Junior Division Championship.  The same event saw Carter Cameron claim the Biggest Bass of the State Tournament.  In early October, the Indee Bass Club won the first ever Iowa High School Bass Club Battle at Lake Delhi, competing against the Cedar Falls Fishing Team.  It was a great year for the Indee Bass Club, one worth celebrating!

The annual awards banquet saw many bass club families come together for a fun evening of looking back at the many opportunities the students of the Independence area had this past year.  Each month, from April through October there is an event planned by the club’s volunteer coach, Todd Reed.  Any student in grades 7-12 can participate at no charge at these events, which is made possible by the club sponsors; Colony Plumbing Heating/AC, Klever Concrete, Bank Iowa, Buchanan County Wildlife Association, Scheels, Hank’s Live Bait and Tackle, Quantum Rods/Reels, The Rod Glove, X-Zone Lures, and Hot Rod Baits.  These events offer students a chance to get out fishing with friends and adults to learn about bass fishing, the laws of fishing and how to take care of our resources.  The club was able to give away over $2,000 worth of fishing gear to students throughout the year at the club events.  At the awards banquet there were still four more year-end awards to give out.

The Big Bass of the Year was caught by Carter Eddy.  He caught the 4.54-pound largemouth bass at the Pleasant Creek Lake tournament.  He caught it on a spinnerbait.  This bass is also the new all-time club record for largest bass ever weighed in.  Carter received a plaque to commemorate this accomplishment.  

The Angler of the Year awards were the final three awards to hand out for the night.  The Angler of the Year is given to students that accumulate the most points at each of the four club events.  If a student finishes a tournament in first place, they receive ten points, a second-place finish is awarded nine points, third place gets you eight points and on down the standings in one-point increments.  The points are calculated in all four events and awards are given to the top three anglers each year.

In third place this year was Freshman Cal Sweeney, he also finished third place in 2021. When interviewed, Cal had these things to say about his year: “I believe going to all the tournaments really helped even though I did not get a limit at all the tournaments, the points gathered throughout the year added up.  I like to use swim jigs, crankbaits, and plastics.  My favorite rod/reel combo is one that I won last year and one of the club tournaments. It is a Quantum Accurist rod and bait caster reel.  My best tournament of the year had to be the Pleasant Creek Lake tournament with Hunter Sherwood.  We had lots of fish in the boat and overall was a great day to fish.”  When asked about what character trait helped him earn third place in the Angler of the Year race, he said, “I think patience helped a lot with fishing, not only when you are not catching fish, but also on cold days when you sometimes have to fish slowly.”  Cal had a great year, weighing in bass at each of the four events, he finished in 6th, 3rd, 2nd and 5th.

Coming in at the Runner-Up spot in 2022 was 8th Grader Jackson Beatty.  Jackson spends a lot of time fishing throughout the season, which no doubt helped him to great finishes.  Jackson says,” Going out and finding patterns in fish and what depth, bottom, and structure they are in or hanging around is fun.  The most successful lure this year for me was the tube jig. Having that crawdad imitation is a good option in any structure or bottom.  My favorite rod/reel combo is my 7'3" heavy rod paired with a Shimano Curado.  My favorite tournament this year was the state tournament in September on the Mississippi River. That day was good for numbers and quality which is critical for a big bag.”  When asked about his most important character trait to be successful on the water, he didn’t hesitate, “The trait that helped me this year on the water was my determination. Some days fish will come right away, and some days fish won't come until an hour left in the tournament.”  Jackson finished the season with finishes of 7th, 1st, 6th, and 1st earning him the 2022 Runner-Up Angler of the Year.

The 2022 Angler of Year is Freshman Ranger Reed, he finished Runner-Up in 2021.  This angler has been very consistent in the past three years, never finishing below 5th place.  When asked about his recent successes he shared the following, “You have to fish all of the tournaments and you have to place high in the tournaments. If you do not catch any keepers, you get 0 points for that tournament.  You must avoid that at all costs.  This year I used a Wacky Rig and Spinnerbait to catch keepers.  I also used a lot of other baits when practicing.  My favorite rod/reels are Quantum Rods and Reels.  I liked the tournament on Lake Delhi the best, even though it wasn’t our best finish.  I like it over there in October because the lake is really scenic, and I learned a lot at that tournament about where the fish were living.”  When asked about his best character trait, “I always tried my best and never gave up. My partner for every tournament was Carter Cameron, he always tried his best and never gave up too.  You have to just keep working at it and your goals will come true.”  Ranger had finishes of 2nd, 2nd, 5th and 4th earning him the 2022 Angler of the Year award.  

This concludes the 2022 Bass Club season, a huge thanks to the sponsors of the club and the captains that are a vital link in getting kids out on the water during the events.  Students will continue to meet once a month to plan for 2023 and learn more about the sport of bass fishing.  Please find the Indee Bass Club on Facebook, Instagram and their webpage for more information and pictures.