Friday, April 3, 2020

"Long Stick" Time

This spring has been one to remember for a lot of reasons, mostly negative, like NO baseball, NO late ice, No regular work schedules and the world being affected by the Coronavirus.  In our household we are doing our best by staying home, only visiting the grocery store once a week.  However, April can be the best time of year to catch your biggest bass of the entire year.  I have made it out a few times, but haven't hooked into that big one yet.  I have had a lot of time to organize the boats, tackle boxes and get the Quantum Rods and Reels ready to go. 

I am often asked, "What do you like the best, ice fishing or regular fishing?"  My simple answer has always been BOTH.  However, the enjoy of finding some fish and then catching them is always the purest enjoyment for me, hopefully that will always stick with me and I am able to do both for decades to come.  No matter if I am floating in one of my boats, or drilling holes in the ice, it is always about that next bite.

Get out and enjoy if you can, keep things simple and do your part to be safe and those loved ones at home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fish Cakes- Bake or Fry

To say the least, this past week or two have changed a lot of habits for people in Iowa.  The Corona-Virus has hit and is rapidly spreading, causing Iowans to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.  To no surprise people are making/cooking more of their own food, thus the purpose of this update on my blog.  In the past ten days or so I have been asked by three different friends about the fish cakes recipe I had published a few years ago.  I decided to do another post about this recipe that was originally found in The Iowa Sportsman Magazine.  Each month they highlight wild game recipes, each that I have tried have been great, just another reason to subscribe to the only made for Iowa outdoors magazine.

I have updated a few things that made these cakes even easier to cook, including a baked and fried version.

The recipe calls for bluegills, but I have substituted Yellow Bass in, and they are awesome as well.

The Iowa Sportsman Magazine Recipe



INGREDIENTS:
12 Bluegills/Yellow Bass- filleted 
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1 Egg- separate yolk from white
2/3 cup Milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Lemon or Tarter Sauce to flavor


A few notes about the process; I just placed the 24 fillets in a casserole dish after spraying with PAM and baked for about 25 minutes (these can also be baked in a toaster oven).  Flaking them is as simple as taking a fork and stirring the baked fillets into small pieces.  Try to drain or soak up unnecessary water from the fillets before you put them into the ingredient mixture.  Having the burner set a little above "medium" seemed to fry them the best on the stove top.  Make sure and flatten the cakes so the middle cooks thoroughly.  Not much oil is need in the fry pan.  This made 7 cakes like you see in the picture, large enough for a couple really hungry people or 3 if there are other items to eat.

BAKED VERSION: spread cakes thin and place in an over/toaster oven for about 25 minutes on 350 degrees.  This is a healthier choice without the added oil needed in the frying process.
I hope you enjoy this recipe from "The Iowa Sportsman Magazine".

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Last Ice Day

The "Crew" with one last pile of fish for the year.
Yesterday marked the last day on the ice for me this season.  What I thought was going to be a long ice season, maybe creeping into the last week of March was taken care of by several 50+ degree days, high winds and nighttime temperatures that were well above freezing throughout Iowa.  It had to end sometime, and I am not one to chase ice to the northern states, it is time for the boats to come out.
The last remaining ice happened to be on Clear Lake this year.  A lake that had a rough season, with many smaller perch being caught and the Yellow Bass that were spread out and not schooled as they once were in past years.  The yellow bass are typically the calling for anglers to visit the lake, but this was only my second time there this year, the other being the YBB ice fishing event.  It was the only chance to hit the ice one more time and I was looking forward to it all week long.
A few friends made the trip there on Saturday, and the bite was awesome for them in the big lake.  My crew and I decided to try the big lake for ourselves on Sunday and it did not disappoint.  The ice had definitely seen better days, but at no time did I feel uncomfortable about the situation.  The top layer of ice was very strong and we enjoyed the day hopping around the big lake chasing down the yellows.  Fishing for yellow bass is an exciting species to ice fish.  You have to be mobile, and with this, packing light helps you achieve that.  Most days, the more you move the more fish you will catch.  They are very nomadic fish, and anglers that want a bucket full of them have to be mobile as well.  A small sled with a bucket, K-Drill, Vexilar FLX-28, Dead Meat Rod with a Quantum Drive Reel and a small box of jigs and spoons was all that made the trip.  This keeps fishing simple, and keeps the angler on the move.  Everything about today was the hunt, and the lighter you pack the more you will hunt.  We landed on two different large, hungry schools this day.  When the fish are below you swarming, it is so important to keep them fired up.  Having a reel with a smooth drag and large spool to drop back down is key, the Quantum Drive in the size 10 model is perfect.  Another tool, or spoon I have come accustomed to using on Yellow Bass is the Reins Tungsten spoon.  I have no doubt that the tools I choose on the ice help me to have successful days.
Reins Palpuntin Spoon, made of
tungsten to get back down
to the schooling fish.



It was an awesome day of catching fish, mostly on a spoon as the schools of large fish were eating.  Everyone caught plenty to take a bucket of fish home to eat, which by the way was about 50 per five-gallon bucket.  The meat on these big yellows are fantastic, especially when you find the larger sized schools.  I have caught a lot of yellows out of the Clear Lake in the past decade or so, but I do not recall a day when I/the group had caught so many fish over ten inches. Typically I do not measure yellow bass, but the day after cleaning session was different this time.  Due to "The Virus" my kids were helpers as I cleaned the fish.  They used a Frabill E-Z Crappie Checker measuring tool to help research the Clear Lake population.  This tool, if you have never tried one is a fool-proof way to measure fish quickly and safely.  Of the 50 fish I had in the bucket, 42 of them were 10-inches or larger.  An amazing year-class of fish.  I did have my eyes set on one particular Yellow Bass I caught this day, I quickly measured it while on the ice at just over 12 inches but wanted a more accurate measurement.  After a day sitting in the bucket it still measured right at 12 inches, no doubt my largest Yellow Bass ever.  Needless to say, it was a great way to end the year!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Deep Water Ice

Today was the day that another check mark was made on my to-do list this winter.  I had not fished through the ice on Brushy Creek for about five years.  In the past the Team Extreme Ice Tournament Trail visited this lake each year, so I got used to fishing it a few weeks each ice season.  I had good memories of the lake, and the endless possibilities that it holds.  Popular ice fishing species in this lake include bluegills, crappies, perch and walleyes.
This lake stays under the radar as a top lake in Iowa to ice fish.  It holds nice sized fish for the all the species I listed, but they don't come easy.  This lake is full, and I mean FULL of structure.  Trees all over the lake, rock piles, points, creek channels, long and deep coves as well as a huge main lake area.  It was quite overwhelming when I began to ice fish, even though I had a good understanding of the lake from bass fishing.  It is a large lake for Iowan's standards, and then all the structure! 
Myself and three friends took the trip west to see how the lake was doing after a half of decade.  I remember the lake having some very nice crappie, decent bluegills and always heard of nice walleyes being caught too, although I had never.  The lake did not disappoint on this day, and it was a good reunion.  The four of us found a really nice little school of bluegills on a main lake point, several different schools of perch, topping out about ten inches, and we followed a school of crappie around from most of the afternoon.  Catching those suspended crappies on the Vexilar FLX28 is quite a treat.  It truly is like a video game!  It was a great day of getting some fish for a meal and practicing catch and release.  The quality of bluegills, in the one school anyway were very nice, nothing like I had experienced in year past.  The crappies that we found in about forty feet of water were not the great quality that I remember, but were good keepers.  Having a smooth reel like the Quantum Drive made getting up and down to the deep crappies an easy task.  I relied heavy on the smooth drag system to bring the fish up slowly, which was necessary for keeping them alive to release.  The larger perch were a nice surprise that added to our cleaning tables. 
I doubt that I will get back to the lake this winter, but I think we will making that trip once again next season.

A nice mess of keepers for the four of us to share

Monday, February 17, 2020

Lake Cornelia Yellow Bass Crash

Lake Cornelia is another lake in Iowa that had fallen from popular places to fish.  The culprit...Yellow Bass.  As short as 5 years ago this lake produced panfish for the taking and provided anglers a nice place to fish year-round.  This is not the case anymore.  This lake is just one of the new problems Yellow Bass have created around the state.  For those of you that do not know, yellow bass can and will destroy smaller lakes that they end up in.  At no time should anyone, for any reason put yellow bass into any body of water.  Anglers can help curb the spread of yellow bass by enjoying a meal of them after you catch them.  They are good to eat, and they fight like crazy when you try to drag them up a 6-inch ice hole.  They have become one of my favorite fish to hunt down during the ice fishing season, and recently they brought me to the Lake Cornelia Yellow Bass Crash.

Check out Central Iowa IceSticks
on Facebook for more info
This ice tournament was put together by Randy Bieghler of the Des Moines area.  The events has no doubt raised awareness about the dangers of yellow bass in smaller Iowa lakes.  February 16th marked the third of such events at this lake put on by the Central Iowa Icesticks group.  This event was like no other ice tournament I have ever participated in, as the goal was to catch as many yellow bass as possible.  Typically ice tournaments have a set amount of fish to bring in, however this was a race against time and all the yellow bass in Lake Cornelia we could find.  David Gissel and I set out to the deeper part of the lake, like 90% of everyone in the event.  We started drilling and immediately located schools of fish on the Vexilars.  They were not shy, and we started to catch yellow after yellow.  We quickly realized there were two distinct sizes of yellows in this lake, small and micro size.  The typical yellow bass baits worked, as these fish were hungry and have a lot of competition to get their daily allowance of food.  Jigs, spoons, it didn't really seem to matter, it also didn't seem to matter where we drilled holes.  In each new group of holes we drilled we found yellows of both sizes.  We continued moving and caching the whole day.  As mentioned, it was a race to see how many yellows you could catch.  I stuck to the same combo all day long, a Jason Mitchell Dead Meat Stick with a Quantum Drive reel.  This combo is ideal for moving and chasing yellows.  The line flows off the size 10 reel to quickly get your bait back down to the active yellows.  Another key to this setup is the large eyelets on the rod, they do not ice up as badly as other rods with smaller eyelets.  It is an awesome combo, especially for hunting yellow bass.  We were able to fill two 5-gallon buckets full of yellow bass, we had no idea on how many we had, and we certainly didn't count.  We weighed in 49.78# of fish, which got us 2nd place.  It was a great way to spend the day, although the size of fish were small it was fun to chase them.  Several kids also participated in the event, and thanks to the sponsors each child walked away with about $50 in merchandise.

The tournament as a whole weighed in just over 498 pounds of yellow bass.  The final count by the Central Iowa Icesticks was 5,621 yellow bass removed from the lake during this 5 hour tournament.  Quite a feat by the teams that participated, although it is a small dent in the population it brought awareness of the troubling yellow bass in small Iowa lakes and helped to get almost of 6,000 of them out of the lake.  Well done Randy on an effort to help improve the panfish populations at Lake Cornelia.

So, what happened to the near 500 pounds of fish, they were all given to the SOAR Raptor organization.  They will use the fish to feed the many birds they keep and rehabilitate.  You could say this event was a success all around.   

Monday, February 10, 2020

2020 Yellow Bass Bonanza

Iowa's largest tournament over much of the past decade has occurred at Clear Lake in the month of February.  As the world of ice fishing has expanded over the past ten years, anglers from all over the Midwest come to Clear Lake to chase the famous Yellow Bass through the ice.  This year the attendance was down to about 190 two person teams, but still the biggest event by far.  The population of larger yellow bass in Clear Lake is definitely down, so I assume many teams took a break from attending this event.  In past few years the number of teams has been over 300.  No matter the number of teams the group at Clear Lake Bait and Tackle put on quite a show.  It all kicks off at the Saturday evening Yellow Bass Bonanza Bash.  All anglers are treated to a meal and dessert, each year I am amazed at the quality of food they provide.  It is great to see anglers from all over the state and catch up guys I only see once or twice a year.  Thousands of dollars of prizes are given away and the rules are discussed the for event the following day. 

Sunday morning was an anxious one for me, although this is a fun event with a good friend, our time on Saturday was limited to only three hours of fishing due to a main gas line break on my snowmachine.  It is a good thing that my partner, Jacy Large is a "can fix everything" kind of guy.  We located a new hose in Mason City and managed to find some yellow bass...the only problem was that we found one area that had them, not multiple.  Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!  I set the GPS track to our waypoint and at 9am we were off.  As I followed the line to our starting position I knew that catching the limit of 30 yellow bass would not come easy today, and if a team could catch 30 yellows, no matter the size would end up towards the top.  Our goal each year is to make the top 25, this year was going to be tough.  We rolled up on our spot and I began to drill holes, as I was drilling hole #3, Jacy was already pulling up the first yellow bass of the day!  A big sigh of relief fell over me as I knew at at least a few were still around.  As I walked a few paces to drill hole number 4 I asked Jacy how many he could see on Vexilar, he response was, "a lot more than that one".  I began to drill hole #4 and as I completed the hole my drill snapped in half at the chuck.  I was in udder disbelief.  Our auger, our only auger was broken...with only 4 holes.  Talk about high and then coming to a crashing low.  There was only one thing I could do...I grabbed my Vexilar and spoon rod and started fishing.  Jacy and I had about 15 yellows on the ice in the first few minutes and then they calmed down.  In the past, this is when I would get the auger and drill another 10-15 holes, but not today.  We grinded it out in those four holes picking one up every now and again.  Luckily a near-by team cut some holes around us only a few yards away.  Once they fished those holes and left to another location we moved over there.  More yellows were waiting for us.  We ended up getting on another flow of fish and they were cooperating.  It was certainly a blessing, and a good lesson to always bring two augers!

We ended up catching about 50 yellow bass and 5 white bass on the day in those dozen or so holes.  We weighed in 8 really nice yellows, all in that 10-11 inch range and the other 22 were yellows that were measuring around that 6-7 inch mark.  As for what was working to catch those fish; locating and reacting to the fish on the Vexilar is key each and every time out on the ice.  I was using a 36in Jason Mitchell Dead Meat stick paired up with a Quantum Drive reel.  A gold Kastmaster spoon or the Clear Lake Bait and Tackle Special Edition Pinhead Minnow were the only two baits I threw at them. 

Looking back at the event, he jumped several hurdles but just kept on fishing.  With the cards we were dealt (and not bringing a 2nd auger) we were both thrilled to end up in the top 25, as we set out to do each year.  As they handed out prizes to teams we both realized that our weight of 8.97# was going to be a lot closer to the top than we expected.  We ended up in 9th place this year, a nice plaque for the wall, and as fate would have it...a new Nils Auger.  A great weekend in the end, and already looking forward to hitting the ice next weekend!
Our biggest for the event: just over 10.5 inches
 and weighed right at .70 pounds


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shack or Not?

Dropping baits with the Quantum Drive and Jason Mitchell
Dead Meat Stick all while watching the Vexilar,
a great way to spend the day.
When ice fishing comes into a normal conversation between "non-ice anglers" the topic of sitting in a shack all day.  I quickly choose to educate or at least tell them my beliefs on what an ice shack is for.  I explain that I might be in an ice shack 1 or 2 times a year, and prefer to stay outside and roam around to fish.  There are many anglers that love the comforts of a shack and they certainly do have their place.  Just a day ago I found myself venturing onto the ice when the high temperature was 3 degrees, along with 25+ mph winds.  It was the only day of the weekend that I could fish, so I really had no choice, I had to fish!

I packed up my 1-man shack and headed out to the lake to see if the fish could still be found under these tough conditions.  The team of four anglers took to the ice and quickly started to dissect a small flat next to the main lake drop-off.  We quickly started to pick up some fish but I noticed I was missing a lot more bites than the typical yellow bass outing.  When fishing under these severe conditions everything becomes harder.  Whether it is the temperatures affecting our bodies, line flexibility or the wind tricking our bite sensor.  Either way these all will hurt your fish count at the end of the day.  Although we were catching fish, I knew taking cover might give us the advantage.  By taking shelter in the shacks we were able to warm up our extremities, give our line a much needed warm-up and most importantly helped us gain the advantage to seeing the bites on our rods.  More fish catches immediately started to occur.  It wasn't an accident or a coincidence, it was simply getting an advantage over the elements to catch more fish.  After the bite cooled down in that area, we hiked to a different part of the lake that was protected from the harsh wind.  We were able to hop around much easier and stay mobile in this area, continuing to pick up more fish to finish the day.

So far that has been the only hour of the winter that has found me in a shack.  I prefer to move around and cover a lot of territory.  There is no right or wrong way to ice fish, as long as you are having fun and enjoying the outdoors, you are doing thins right.  Fish on my friends and do things the way you like, in the end it is you against fish, and I hope you have a great time doing it.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Northern Iowa Ice

Typically this time of year anglers can pick and choose whatever lake they wish and go have a good time fishing on the ice.  This year is far from that.  Many lakes throughout the state don't have a bit of ice on them, some have portions of ice while most of the lakes in Iowa are not even close to safe ice.  It has been a weird year for ice anglers, as many people have had to cover a lot of miles to travel to Northern Iowa to find safe ice.  Some lakes north of Hwy 20 have survived the several warm spells we have had in Iowa, and are providing great panfish action.  

Recently I fished one of these lakes on two different occasions.  Each time a friend and I hit the lake from around noon until dark.  Almost the same exact times and almost exactly a week a part.  I have fished this lake over the past several years a few times each year.  Each time has yielded almost exact results.  I am not complaining, as each time some real nice bluegills have been caught with a few crappies mixed in as a surprise.  

Each time while visiting this lake the fish have seemed to be tight lipped.  Yes, they can be tricked by using 1 or 2 pound test line, small jigs, and spring bobbers while jumping around 100 or more holes with the Vexilar... but each time I ask myself why?  Why are these fish, at this particular lake, always seem to be in a negative mood in the past 4 years?  Mother Nature has many secrets, and I guess this anomaly is one of them.  I am not sure if the fish will ever be regular fish in this lake, but when that day happens it will most likely be my best day of bluegill fishing ever.  Until then, I will continue to do my best to trick these nice gills into biting.