Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2019 Yellow Bass Bonanza

The Yellow Bass Bonanza Banquet at the SURF BALLROOM
February 10th marked the day for the 2019 YBB, Iowa's largest ice fishing event.  The event has occurred on Clear Lake for several years and Jacy Large and I have teamed up to the fish in the past 4 years together.  We always have had the goal to have fun and try to get to the top 25, but with tournament fields ranging from 220 teams to the nearly 310 this year it is never easy.  In the previous four years we accomplished the "Top 25" goal three times.  In 2015- 5th place, 2016- 15th place, 2017- 16th place,  2018- 150th place.  That placing didn't settle well with us, even though we were lucky and still won an ice shack.  I don't like luck, and was really pushing to get to the top 25 once again.

This year, the tournament goal was to weigh in 30 yellow bass.  We were able to get into town Friday night to prepare tackle and gear, ready to hit the ice for a practice day on Saturday.  We started in the little lake and moved very quickly from spot to spot.  I was amazed to see the ice so thick, I had no way of measuring it, but I would estimate at least 18 inches.  Typically with that much ice I like to use the propane powered Eskimo auger...reports did not say the ice was going to be that thick.  That was a mistake...but in the end it didn't matter.  Lesson learned, you have the space, bring ALL your equipment!  Oh well, we drilled out the little lake and several species were willing to bite; walleyes, perch, white bass, crappies and a few yellow bass.  We never were able to catch more than one yellow bass in an area, although the yellows were of very good size on the little lake, we decided to cross it off our list.  Numbers is the name of the game with yellows, and if you are seeing multiple species and not groups of yellows, then it is definitely time to move on at Clear Lake.

We moved over to the big lake and like the previous weekend many anglers were grouped up around the pumphouse and baptist areas.  The secret was out...if it was ever a secret.  The yellows were on that side of the lake and it was up to the over 600 anglers in the tournament to trick them into biting.  Once we joined in and around the groups our Vexilar FLX-28s were lit up pretty regularly.  The yellows were there and ready to bite, numerous yellows in areas and we knew we would have to work pretty hard on Sunday to get our 30 fish in the bucket.  It was time to head back to the house and regroup for tournament day.  We re-tooled some baits and were set for the event, it was off to the YBB Banquet.

The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake has been the venue for the banquet each year.  It is a really neat place with a ton of history.  The stage is always full of prizes and this year well over 600 ice anglers were there to have a good time and enjoy a meal together.  The meal was fantastic as usual and the opportunity to see and meet new ice anglers from around the state and Midwest is a great time.  Kevan Paul and Chris Scholl along with their staff at Clear Lake Bait and Tackle sure have things figured out.  Everything is smooth from check-in at the banquet to the final weigh-in on Sunday.  Hats off to them and their staff for putting on a great event for ice anglers.  This year the prizes totaled over $40,000 which included a 4-wheeler and a Polaris Ranger!  The event typically fills up by the end of November, so if you want a spot next year, I would say get signed up and get signed up EARLY!

The goal each year is a top 25, this year we knew the fishing was a bit "off" but we knew we had to get our bucket of 30 yellow bass to try and get towards the top.  With over 300 teams in the competition each team choose to either start in the big lake or the little lake.  This really helped keep the shotgun start safe for anglers and worked great.  We began in the big lake near the channel and caught 4 or 5 yellows, all of very good size, but we were not seeing many of them on the Vexilars.  It was time to move.  We moved away from this area to some shallower water to an area we caught a quick few on Saturday.  We set up a few holes in 5 feet of water and little perch moved in.  After seeing several smaller marks on the Vexilar screen follow our jigs and spoons and then catching 3 small perch, we were out of there in just a few minutes.  We went north towards the pumphouse area and sat in the middle of two larger groups in about eight feet of water.  Staying away from the crowds on this move helped us the rest of the day as we never had to move the snowmachine again.  We started picking up a few yellows right away and they slowly became more frequet as the morning went on.  Although we didn't catch a good ratio of fish that came on the Vexilar we knew we were in the right area as we were getting enough bites and the right size of yellows in the bucket too.  It wasn't easy, as many fish would look and toy with us and simply would not bite, but we stayed with it as I was pretty sure the yellows were swimming right at us.  The Vexilars were becoming more regular as the morning went on, showing fish moving into the area we were at.  It was a perfect scenario.  Jacy and I both had a couple of good runs late in the morning.  We both were able to pop multiple yellows out of the same hole and stared getting towards the tournament limit of 30 yellows.  Battleing these larger than normal yellows sure is a treat using high quality rods and reels.  I love the Jason Mitchell Meat Sticks coupled by the Quantum Throttle Reel.  The reel is so smooth with 11 bearings and the drag is no match for the scrappy yellow bass.  We kept gathering our yellows here and there, at times they wanted a small jig, which is the specialty of Jacy, while other times they wanted a spoon, which is my specialty when it comes to Yellow Bass.  The time went on and 12:30 was upon us.  I decided to go count the fish and make sure they were fresh  in the bucket.  I knew we would be pretty close to 30, but as soon I dumped the bucket on the ice, I knew we didn't' have it, in fact I thought we weren't even close...I was crushed.  I quickly started counting; 10, 15, 20...oh boy.  Yep, 29, actually it was more than I though we had when I dumped the bucket out.  I yelled over to Jacy, "We need one more!" Nothing, he didn't say anything...just sat there.  I yelled, "Did you hear me?"  He then says, "Yes I heard you, I'm trying".  In the next twenty minutes we both ended up catching a couple more, so we had our bucket of 30 yellows and were able to replace some smaller ones, which is always a good feeling in a tournament.  Off we went to the weigh-in to see where we would fall this year.
2019 Recap: 310 teams, 7th Place with 30 Yellow Bass = 17.04#

Jacy got in the weigh-in line, I tended to the mess of ice equipment we had used for the day.  When he came back I could tell by the grin on his face we did well.  He said, 17.04 pounds.  I knew this was a good weight and I was pretty sure it would land us in the top 25.  We were thrilled as teams were called off to collect their prizes, 25th place, 20th place, 15th place, 10th place..."We made it in the top 10 again" I said to him, as Jacy was grinning ear to ear.  When it was all said and done, we ended up in 7th place out of about 310 teams.  A plaque for the wall and a new pair of Costa Sunglasses for each of us too.  A great way to end the weekend, it is always fun to fish with Jacy and this event makes sure it happens every year with a little pride on the line too.  I also learned a unique trait of my friend this weekend that I never knew before; when under extreme pressure he seems to freeze and focus immensely on trying to solve the problem.  I learned this on the ride home when I asked him if he heard me say we needed one more fish...he simply replied, "I heard you the first time...I was just nervous I would catch the next fish to make 30!"   Always nice talking with you Jacy!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Ice Fishing in IDAHO

This year was the year for another long trip out of Iowa to chase some fish through the ice.  Lake Cascade in Idaho is a lake I have read about and have seen hours of video on.  This lake is known for its World Class Yellow Perch.  The ecosystem of the lake has grown HUGE perch for the past couple of years and is peeking, or perhaps on the downhill slide.  Time was running out to make this bucket-list trip.  This is not a trip you take alone, or even with one other person, the lake is huge in regards to Iowa lakes and there is the length of travel to consider as well.  It all started when I heard someone say "Lake Cascade" at a Buchanan County Wildlife meeting.  My ears perked right up, and I joined the conversation.  At first I was a little blown away, could anyone be as crazy as I am about ice fishing?  I guess so.  Mike Lenius and Jim Klever were discussing it, Mike was all in and wanted to go, while Jim was not on board...I had to speak up.  I was interested in the worse way.  Our enthusiasm grew quickly and soon we were organizing lodging and an outfitter for augers and snowmachines.  The snowball was growing and rolling downhill at increased speed!  It was going to happen!  David Gissel jumped on the Cascade train, as well as Mark Anderson from the Des Moines area.  We were 5 guys from Iowa that were going to cross off a bucket-list destination.

Jim Klever with a 2 pound 3 oz Perch

We boarded a plane out of Cedar Rapids on Thursday morning, January 24th and headed to Boise, Idaho.  The lake is about 1.5 hours north of the airport and so was the lodge we stayed at.  It put us minutes away from the best perch lake on the planet.  We were all so excited for the first morning of fishing...it was hard to sleep!
Day 1:  We met the outfitter at 8am and took off for the lake after getting the gear packed.  Most of us brought our Vexilars , rods, reels and tackle either via a check bag or FedEx shipping, the outfitter had the augers and snowmachines for us to use as needed.  The fog was thick as we stopped at the first area.  Other anglers were around and we joined right in.  A few fish showed up on the screens but no takers.  Off we went south to another area, a little bit deeper.  This area was deeper and along the main channel of the lake where is drops into 40 feet of water.  We focused on water in the 21-26 foot range and immediately started to bring up some fish.  The first one I brought up was a dandy, a male about 12 inches long.  I was elated until the outfitter came over and said, "oh, that is a small one" and then he walked away.  I thought, what the heck???  Anyway, he was right, that was small for this lake after I caught a few more.  The perch in this lake just grow differently.  Thick, long and with a lot of girth is the only way to explain them.  The weather each day was almost identical; teens in the morning and then sunny and 30's in the afternoon.  The wind was around 5mph all three days, Mother Nature was looking out for us on this trip, she couldn't have been any nicer!  This certainly had an affect on us catching so many perch.  We ended the day with 41 keepers.
Our best day on the lake; 53 keepers.

Day 2: We started a bit earlier on this day knowing the lake would be much busier.  We were able to go back to the same area and continue to work over the 21-26 feet of water.  The big highlight of the day was Jim and his 2 pound 3 ounce perch, it was HUGE!  It was the biggest of the trip for any angler, by quite a margin.  Day 2 was our best day as a group, we ended up 53 keeper perch that day.  We were able to clean all our fish at the Birch Glen Lodge where we stayed.  This is a perfect place for anyone in the area looking for a place to stay while ice fishing.  As a group on this second day we definitely were able to do some fine tuning on the baits we were throwing.

The perch were not active and rarely, I mean rarely did you get a "thump" for a bite, it was more of a hesitation in your line.  Something that me detect the bites was a Jason Mitchell Meat Stick.  These have plenty of power to fight the biggest perch, but  soft tip for working a spoon and detecting those subtle bites.  By the middle of the second day everyone was using a spoon of some sort, and some added a dropper chain to it too.  Both the regular spoon and the dropper chain did well on this trip putting almost all the fish on the ice for us.  Although many of the perch we caught were regurgitating small blood worms they seemed to like the spoons tipped with a small piece of Tiger Worm (small nightcrawler).  Teamwork was necessary for everyone to get some fish, sharing knowledge, drilling holes, and moving together to find the next bite was critical in catching so many fish.
Day 3: It was a sad day...IT WAS THE LAST DAY!  Again, the weather was perfect for hole hopping and chasing down these wandering perch.  We all knew what we had to do, use teamwork, spread out and find the roaming fish.  Catching a single fish that came in on the Vexilar was no easy task, many times they would play around with you, but end up leaving.  However, when two or three fish showed up together you were almost certain one of them was going to bite.  Often times picking them off the bottom with the Vexilar in zoom mode made this an easy task.  If you were not in the zoom mode, you simply would not see the perch on the bottom.  Switching to zoom mode on this trip was critical to catching a few more fish as they tried to swim by on the bottom undetected.  Sorry Perch, you may be the biggest in the world, but you were no match for the Vexilar FLX-28 zoom!  We ended this day with 38 keepers, and so many memories for all of us to enjoy for a lifetime.

If time and money allowed, I would turn around and do this trip next week.  The amount of perch surprised us, the size was just as advertised.  Wile talking to many other anglers at the lodge and on the lake, our group definitely had the bite down.  We were catching far many more perch than others out in the same areas of the lake.  I guess these "5 Iowa Guys" were able to make this bucket list trip, and catch our fair share and then some!

David Gissel with giant
Mark Anderson with a pair of Perch

While at Lake Cascade I recorded some of our action along with some details of the trip and fishing.  I was able to put them together in a 15 minute video, I hope you enjoy:

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.