Sunday, January 6, 2019

Pool 10 Panfish

This past Saturday I was able to head back to the Mighty Mississippi river in search of some panfish.  My bass fishing buddy, Trent joined me on this adventure.  We hit some backwaters of Pool 10 and quickly started catching gills and crappies.  Trent has used a Vexilar a couple times in his life, so I turned the FLX-12 on, gave the ten-second intro and he was off.  I rigged him up with a 23-inch rod with a spring bobber.  It didn't take him long before he was catching fish at a good pace.  The Mississippi is known for all kinds of fish, but in this deeper backwater area the panfish are there to stay, all winter long.  It is the matter of punching holes to find them, and then punching more holes to find them again.  For the day we caught bluegills, white and black crappie along with some largemouth bass. 

Perhaps it was the water we were in, or the weather conditions this day but a spoon sure did catch fish when a typical ice jig did not.  It seemed like the fish needed a change of pace for awhile.  I would load the spoon up with 2 or 3 whole waxworms and they would kill it.  It didn't last long but when they ate it they were good sized fish too, crappies and bluegills.  Just goes to show that some experimentation can help you get a few more fish to the top of the ice.
It was another great day on the Mighty Mississippi River!

This spoon caught many of the larger fish on the day
when they wouldn't bite a jig.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Okoboji Area

All states have their unique places to ice fish, Mille Lacs in Minnesota, Waubay Lake in South Dakota, Devils Lake in North Dakota, the famed Lake Cascade in Idaho and the Mississippi River backwaters of Wisconsin.  Those are some high class destinations here in the Ice Belt, but where does Iowa claim its ice fishing fame? 

In my opinion it resides in the Okoboji area.  West Lake Okoboji, East Lake Okoboji and Spirit lake make a up a chain of lakes on the most northern part of Western Iowa.  This chain of lakes has a huge variety of fish to keep you busy drilling holes all winter long.  I live about 4 hours from this destination, but it is a place that I try to schedule a couple trips to each year.  I had one of those trips recently on my annual Christmas break from work.  We fished Emerson Bay on West Okoboji and Spirit Lake on this trip, as much of the ice was not quite ready for ice anglers.  The pure numbers of fish in these two lakes continues to amaze me with each trip up there.  Bluegills and crappies were the targeted fish of the this trip and we certainly chased them down.  We explored Emerson Bay the first two days we were there.  This area I am familiar with and the typical bites were there.  A good gill bite was had in most areas we tried, a few crappies were mixed in too.  Our last stop was to head north to Spirit Lake.  A little bait and help from Kabeles Bait shop, as they pointed us in the right direction, and we were off.  Again the bluegills and crappies were more than willing to cooperate with us, even a few perch were mixed in.  Shallow was certainly the key on Spirit Lake, as well as finding some green weeds. 

If you ever get the chance to go to Okoboji, the answer should be "YES, when are we leaving."  The bluegills just grow different up there, tall and thick, making for some great fillets for the dinner table.  Enjoy these lakes if you can this year, I know I will get there as much as possible!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Mississippi River Icin'

The Mississippi River has been a popular place for me to fish in the past 2 decades.  Countless trips in the boat to search around for largemouth and smallmouth bass, but never have I drilled a hole in the ice on this massive body of water in my life.  Today a friend showed me around and gave me the chance to see what the big river can be like in the winter.  He has fished the big river many of times in the winter and was kind enough to show me a few places to get me started.  A chance I couldn't turn down. 

We hit a few areas in the middle of Pool 9 and quickly started catching some BIG river bluegills.  Shallow backwater areas are key locations as I have read about and learned in the past.  Three or four feet of water is plenty for these gills to hide themselves in the winter.  Hole hopping with the Vexilar FLX-28 made the task easy as each fish showed itself as soon as the ice-ducer was dropped in the water.  A quick drop of the jig down the hole and BOOM, they were on it.  The bite died down a bit mid-morning and we were off to DeSoto Bay.  This is a popular fishing area year-round.  I couldn't wait to get there and see what was waiting for us. 

It wouldn't be a trip to the
Mighty Mississippi River
without some BASS!
A long walk is what was waiting for us...but well worth every step.  Again, I have fished this area in a boat countless times for bass but today was like a brand new adventure.  I was like a kid on December 24th!  Drilling is always part of ice fishing, but we really drilled this bay up.  We tries areas from 4feet deep all the way out to 14 feet deep.  Fish were located fairly deep and a steady bite was had all afternoon.  For the day I caught 8 different species of fish; bluegill, redear sunfish, yellow bass, white bass, crappie, shad, perch and largemouth bass.  You just never know what you might catch on the Mighty Mississippi River.  It has always held a special place in my heart for fishing, but now has even a bigger spot as I added it to my ice fishing destinations.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Shallow Water Clear Lake Fishing

Clear Lake is always a first of the season place to ice fish.  The lake is very shallow throughout and freezes very quickly.  The beginning of the ice season is also the perfect time to fish the shallow weeds that surround much of the lake.  This was our target today as I was joined by David Gissel and Cameron Arnold.  Like many anglers on Clear Lake this year many small perch were caught on the little lake, so after several small moves we made a big move to the big lake.  Different locations but same strategy, hit the weeds and find the pickets that the fish were using to move and feed.  The water was very clear so sight fishing became the method of choice.  Several nice bluegills were had on this day as well as a few yellow bass.  The action was not fast and furious, but the size of the gills and yellows surprised us all.  This technique gets overlooked at Clear Lake and it shouldn't.  Fishing shallow for these moving fish is a fun way to get on some quality fish as we did on this day.  Clear Lake didn't disappoint but next time I hope to be chasing down schools of yellows...which is an adventure every time!

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Season has begun

November 18th marked the first time on the ice for me this year.  This was the earliest I have ever ice fished.  The unusual fall weather brought enough cold weather to northern Iowa to allow the ice to form rapidly over a week-long stretch.  A group of 5 of us traveled to Northern Iowa in search of good ice.  We tried 7 locations over the day and ended up fishing on 3 of them.  Bluegills, Perch, Largemouth Bass and Catfish were caught.  The VEXILAR showed us that the action was steady all day and we all had a good time.  It was good to see some ice fishing friends from Des Moines once again.

First ice is very exciting, however CAUTION has to be on forefront of any ice adventure, especially early in the season.  Traveling in groups is first line of defense, as well as safety equipment; spikes, rope, flotation devices and cell phones.  Using a spud bar and or drilling many holes to check the ice is something we all need to do this time of year.  Don't take someones word that the ice is ok, check it yourself or simply stay home.  NO FISH is worth taking a chance on unstable ice. Be prepared, travel in small groups and always take in your surroundings in this early ice season.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Understanding your FLASHER

Ice fishing shows in Iowa are in full swing, I was sent to Clear Lake Bait and Tackle last weekend to give a seminar on using flashers to catch more fish through the ice.  No matter the crowd there are always a few things that really get the attention of the crowd.

Below you will see the most common thing I get asked while doing shows at the beginning of winter.  This graphic shows the math behind the lines on your flasher.  We need to train our minds that the colors are not the "size" of fish as a lot of anglers assume.  The graphic shows how the colors can create a mental picture for us as we decipher what our flasher is telling us.  Use the colors to present the baits at the appropriate depths, never go to a GREEN or YELLOW line, always fish above it.  Also, always go after the RED lines, those fish are right beneath you and it also tells you at what depth the fish are moving through your water column.  Note, the crappies are swimming all at the same depth, however the lines on the Vexilar will appear deeper as they are farther away from the ice-ducer.  This is the reason why we need fish above the yellow and green lines.

Many great videos can be found on the Vexilar website:

Have fun, be safe and enjoy the upcoming ice might be here before many think!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cold Water River Bass Fishing

This past weekend, Don Henry and I made our annual trip to the Mississippi River for a little fall fishing.  The past couple years, the weather worked out to our favor...this year, the weather tested us on both days.  Saturday morning on our way to Pool 9 we ran into an October Blizzard.  Winds were gusting up to 40mph and the snow coming down was thick as fog.  Typically a little snow in October is nothing, this was a hard snow that blanketed everything for a few minutes, thankfully it did melt away quickly as the temps were near 40 degrees.  We fished in some flurries which isn't anything brand new to fall fishing, but the 30+ mph north winds were a constant battle.  The Minn Kota Talons and Ultrex trolling motor made the day much more tolerable fighting these conditions.  These two tools give you total boat control and allow you to fish any style you want.  The day was a typical fall day up there, however the fish were not easily tricked.  We had to really slow our baits down and fish through the trees and weeds to get them to bite.  I know I say it plenty but having the right equipment on these "light bite days" is important.  Using med/heavy flippin rods by QuantumPT and smooth casting control of the QuantumPT reels really made these terrible fishing conditions disappear.  Backwater areas with little or no current are always the popular places to be this time of year.  The water in Pool 9 at several different locations was hanging right around 48 degrees all day long.  It was a good day, boating a few dozen largemouth bass with plenty of two pounders tugging at our lines.  The cold and wind wore us out and by the sunset we were regrouping at the motel for the next day.
Largest River Bass to date: 4.76#

We woke up Sunday to temperatures of 28degrees.  Needless to say we were in no hurry to get on the water today.  Some tackle prep, a hot breakfast and coffee later we were headed to the ramp in Pool 10 for some more backwater fishing.  Today, the wind was out of the south and much lighter, and the sun was out all day long.  The temperatures only rose into the high 40's but it felt great all day long with that bright sunshine.  Today was a similar day, focusing on backwater areas where the fish were starting to gather for the winter months.  The middle and upper sections of Pool 10 have many of these areas and are quite easy to get to.  Rocks are always good this time of year and the bass were holding true on this fact today.  The water on Pool 10 was at a 15.9ft level, 7-8 feet higher than a typical October day, this gave the fish plenty of areas to hide.  Flooded trees, especially willows seemed to hold a lot of baits today.  Don and I pitched craws and tubes into the tree stems and the fish were ready for a quick meal.  Many fish were caught using this method, but a method that continues to shine for me is the swing-head jig.  This, paired with a Hot Rod Baits Big Craw has been a great search and catch combination for me.  It is quickly becoming an everyday tool for me.  One other method that shined today was the jerkbait.  I was using the IMA Flit 120, this jerkbait has 3 treble hooks, suspends in the 6-8 foot range and you can really cast thing a long ways.  It is ideal for fall fishing with the stop and go presentation for weary cold bass.  This bait caught me my largest ever Mississippi River bass today, it weighed in at 4.76#, a true beauty.  Needless to say it was the highlight of the trip.  Overall it was a great 2 days of fishing on the Big River with a couple of friends.  It might be the last time I visit the Mississippi this year and if so, it will be one to remember for a long time!
Don Henry with a nice Pool 10 keeper