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Fish play hard to get on Nebraska farm pond By Larry Myhre

HARTINGTON, Neb. — The fish showed up as a red line on the Vexilar flasher. It was just below another red line which was my tiny, tear drop jig tipped with a waxworm.

The two red marks merged. My eyes left the flasher and concentrated on the strike indicator at the tip of my short, ice fishing rod. The indicator dipped ever so slightly and stayed there. I lifted the rod until I felt the fish and then swept up with a gentle hook set. There was a tug of resistance and then nothing.

The bite had been so fine I don’t think the tiny jig was in the fish’s mouth. The resistance was probably the fish pulling the waxworm off the hook.

Sure enough. When I reeled in to check, the hook was bare.

It was gonna be one of those days.

I was fishing a small farm pond northeast of Hartington, Neb., with Gary Howey, Hartington, and Anthony Thoene, a farmer who lives nearby. It was a pond we had both fished before. Big bluegills, crappies and largemouth is what it is known for but there is also catfish and maybe even a northern or two.

Gary had arrived at the pond first and had dug a bunch of holes with his new Jiffy propane-powered ice auger. The ice, surprisingly, was a good eight inches thick and in good condition. The warm weather we’d been having was weakening it, but it was still good. With warm weather still in the forecast, it will probably be too dangerous to venture out on by the time you read this.

Anthony scored first, landing a nice bluegill. Before long he added a good-sized crappie. It was obvious that he was no beginner. He was using two rods in adjoining holes. One was a spinning reel on a short ice fishing rod. The other…well, suffice it to say there is a little girl somewhere who is wondering what ever happened to her fishing rod.

By the time I missed that bite, both Gary and I had fish swim into our setup, their presence given away by the red lines on our flashers, but they were lookers, not biters.

That’s not a good sign.


Bluegills were playing hard to get that morning. When single fish came in they didn’t seem to want to bite, but when the electronics revealed several fish we could usually catch one of them.

Then my flasher lit up with the presence of several fish. This is a good thing. Competition sometimes results in bites.

Sure enough. Even though my jig was lost in the jumble of red lines, the strike indicator dipped and I set the hook into something solid. It put up a good fight but I soon had it through the hole. It was a bluegill and bigger than my hand.

I slipped out the jig, Gary took a photo, and I put the fish back into the hole. Everything we catch in this pond goes back. That’s the wish of the owner, and we have no problem with that.

It wasn’t long before Gary added a nice crappie. Again, a photo and the fish goes back.

The crappie had taken a minnow on a plain hook under a bobber. Gary usually fishes two rods in two different holes. It’s a good technique because you are offering the fish two presentation options.

After a lull, Gary dug a bunch of new holes and I followed with the flasher looking for fish. Never saw a one.

So, I just chose a hole in about seven and a half feet of water, about a foot shallower than I had been fishing. It didn’t take long for another bluegill to come in and I soon had him on the ice. Ten minutes later, I added another. They were nice ‘gills about 8-inches long.

But, again the hole went dead so I moved again. Sometimes it pays to just keep looking.

This time it was a good bite, and the fish had some weight. It was another bluegill, but this one was a hog, measuring over nine inches.

Later I moved again and caught a largemouth bass of about a pound and a half.

I was using my standard bluegill set up. Tiny open face spinning reel taped to a short ice fishing rod with a bite indicator. The reel was spooled with two-pound test Berkely Crystal Fire Line. At the end of the line I attach a size two Mustad hook snap which is designed primarily for fly fishing. It’s a quick and easy way to change lures, although the snap is so small I have to hold it with a needle nose pliers.

My lure was my old bluegill standby, a gold tear drop. I hook a waxworm through the mid section and then squeeze out all the juice so I’m fishing just two flaps of skin. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I catch more ‘gills by squeezing out the juice.

Now, the following comes under the heading of do what I say, not what I do.

When a farm pond bite is as difficult as the one we encountered, it becomes imperative to not fish with a lure that is too heavy.

I missed several fish. That told me that even my tiny tear drop was too heavy. In my supply of ice fishing lures are a number of tiny, sliver-like spoons which are virtually weightless. They are so light they must be fished under a split shot to get them down to fish level quickly.

As you all know, when a fish bites, he opens his mouth and flares his gills at the same time pulling in water and anything that is in the water into his mouth. The lighter your lure, the farther into the fish’s mouth it is drawn. That can mean a hook up instead of a miss.

So why didn’t I do it, especially when my Mustad snaps make it so easy to change lures. Well, chalk it up to a little laziness, a little stubbornness and a whole lot of I’m gonna make ‘em do it my way.

Had I swapped out the jig for the spoon early on, I might have caught maybe three more bluegills.

The other thing I should have done was check out what Anthony was using. He seemed to be catching more than his share of fish. And he wasn’t using electronics.

We only fished about two and a half hours that morning and caught about a dozen ‘gills a half dozen crappies and the one bass. Slow, but not too bad, either.

And it sure beats sittin’ at home and thinking about fishing.