As the wind howls through the Black Hills Spruce in my front yard, I busy myself re-arranging gear that I’ll need to load in my Dodge Ram. I call this the “In Between Time”, when I and other outdoor people are coming out of one outdoor activity and getting into another.
Since we just returned from a late season pheasant hunt in the Watertown, S.D. area, I still have my shotguns, shells, chaps, hunters orange and cold weather clothing loaded and once the wind dies down a bit, I will transfer it to my office loading dock.
Once it is unloaded, I will get ready for my next outdoor adventures, “Ice Fishing” starting to load my Vexilar locator-underwater camera, five-gallon buckets, ice sled, rod & reels, tackle and auger.
I love ice fishing, and with the gear and clothing we have today, it takes a lot to drive me off the ice. I really do not enjoy being out in ten below weather when a strong northwesterly wind is blowing my ice fishing sled and me all over the ice. However, when the wind lies down and the sun comes out, I am game for any kind of ice fishing.
In Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota there are numerous bodies of water that I love to spend time on ice fishing.
In Nebraska, several lakes in the Valentine area hold excellent numbers of fish taken through the ice. Merritt Reservoir is one of these, as I like to fish it for walleye, crappie and bluegill.
Then there is the Valentine Refuge lakes, Hackberry, Watt, Dewey, Clear, Willow, Rice, Duck, West Long, and Pelican. All of these lakes have good populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch, northern pike and black crappie.
For the best fishing in South Dakota, I would head back to my old stomping grounds in northeastern South Dakota, the Glacial Lakes and Prairies region. There you will find numerous lakes, the home of about every species of fish you could want. Lakes that come to mind include Kampeska, Swan, Goose, Dry, Big Stone, Bitter, Waubay, Reetz, Lynn, Horseshoe, Enemy Swim, Picas and Opitz.
Devils Lake in North Dakota is where I would head too to get into some excellent perch and good walleyes.
In Minnesota, I have iced fished Mille Lacs for walleye, northern pike and panfish and there is the big lake in northern Minnesota Lake of the Woods for walleye, sauger and perch.
I remember when I was growing up in Watertown South Dakota where I made my first attempt at ice fishing on Pelican Lake south of town.
It’s a wonder I didn’t give up on ice fishing after my first attempt as we had to follow the frozen Sioux River about two miles to get to where the good ice fishing was suppose to be. I attempted it several times, dragging my sled with a peach crate wired to it where I stored my homemade ice fishing rods. They, both of them consisted of two pieces from a broken broom handle with two nails driven into them, where my line wrapped around, this with a small bobber, small weight and hook was the total of all my ice fishing gear.
I would pick up some minnows from the bait shop put them into my coffee can and head out to Pelican to catch some “Big” fish. I tried it a couple of times, but would end up exhausted trying to chop through a foot of ice with a spud bar. I kept at it but do not recall if I actually ever actually caught a fish, but was bitten by the ice-fishing bug and dreamed about doing it again.
I remember what I used as my first ice fishing depth locator; it was a large bell sinker tied onto heavy Dacron fishing line, wrapped onto an old-line spool. Its one-foot increments were marked by a knot in the line and I had it “knotted” out to a depth of twenty feet as I never fished water deeper than twelve feet, but was ready just in case I found deeper water. This “scientific” piece of equipment gave me an idea as to how far to set my bobber as everyone knew or thought they knew, fish in the winter were always right on the bottom.
As I got more into fishing after I moved down to Nebraska where I now live, I learned more about fish locators and how they could help me to locate and catch fish.
My first locator I used for ice fishing was a locator from my boat, I mounted it onto a board and powered it with a 12-volt car battery, with my transducer mounted on a long piece of aluminum pipe, and it worked OK, but it would wear me out if I carried it very far.
As fishing and I became more sophisticated and more scientific, I started using Vexilar flashers with the Fl-8 being my go to locator and now I have the FL X-28 and the Vexilar Double Vision DT system, which is a FL-20 teamed up with the Vexilar underwater camera allowing me to double up and see what is down there!
Ice augers have also made the sport of ice fishing much more enjoyable as with the new gas powered, propane and electric augers you can cut through the ice quickly and be fishing in less time than ever before.
I have used Jiffy augers for years, starting with their gas models with an eight-inch auger and now using their Jiffy 44 Pro Propane auger, it lightweight, starts easily in cold weather, I don’t have to mix gas, there is no gas smell and I don’t need to worry about priming or flooding it.
Other ice fishing gear and clothing have also come a long ways, as the gear I carry is much smaller, lighter and made for ice fishing.
The ice fishing sleds of today have come a long ways as my Frabill sled holds all of my gear and I can keep warm by simply flipping over the over, firing up my Mr. Heater Propane heater and be out of the elements and warm.
Rods now are extra sensitive; they come in numerous lengths and actions and as well as species-specific rods. Many are available in lengths from eighteen to thirty-five inches. These new ice fishing rods are available in several actions; micro-light, ultra-light, and medium light, with some made specifically for fishing for panfish, walleye/pike with other being multi-purpose rods
Then there are the new in-line design reels for fishing shallow water panfish as well as other small reels that work as smoothly as the top of the line open water fishing reels.
Several line companies have come up with ice fishing line, I have always used Berkley line as it has never let me down and I use TRILENE Cold Weather, Micro Ice and FireLine Micro Ice for ice fishing. You want your ice fishing line to be easy to handle and it has to be tough as the edges of the hole you are fishing is sharp and will cut your line if you are not using quality line.
There have been many new designs in ice fishing baits, which include size, colors and material with the new tungsten baits becoming more and more popular. The reason tungsten has become so popular is that it is denser and heavier than lead, so you can fish a bait that is smaller and one, that will sink quickly, which is needed if you are fishing a school that are eager to bite. Getting your bait down to eager biters is important as many times when bait is not in front of them, they may lose interest and move on.
As far as cold weather clothing, both the bibs and jackets are much lighter have a wind resistance outer shell and the new insulation in them does an excellent job of keeping you warm.
Ice fishing has come a long ways and the advancement in ice fishing gear gives ice fisherman an opportunity to get out after other outdoor activities has stopped and to be warm in even the toughest conditions.
Ice fishing is a great sport and its a way to beat cabin fever and seems that fish taken from ice-cold water just seem to taste so much better.