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Mid Season Ice By Gary Howey

As I mentioned in earlier columns, first ice is generally the best time to ice fish, when the fish are still not into their winter routine.

Last week Team Outdoorsmen Adventures Member Larry Myhre, good friend Anthony Thoene and I decided to hit the ice and do some Mid Season ice fishing.

Our main concern would be the quality of the ice, as the warm weather had really started to cause some ponds to open up.

I checked the pond the night before and noticed there were a couple of spots along the shoreline with open water, but the rest of the pond had a good six to eight inches of ice.

Arriving at the pond the following morning, it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful day. I had arrived early, as my partners would not be there until around nine, so I fired up the Jiffy auger and started punching holes, looking for deeper water, structure and hopefully a few fish. The pond we were fishing was spring fed and held good populations of bass, crappie, bluegill as well as a few catfish and pike, so my expectations were high.

This pond, had great fishing in the spring and early summer and at first ice, but once January, mid season, arrived, it seemed as if it became the Dead Sea.


Author with one of the crappies that fell victim to a live bait rig while fishing on a small farm pond in Northeast Nebraska.

The depth ran from seven to eight and a half feet, with little if any structure in the deeper water. When fishing small ponds such as the one, a body of water with no real structure (submerged trees, logs or rocks), a little change in the bottom depth could be the key to locating fish.

I decided to set up in the seven and a half foot depth, hoping to catch the fish as they traveled along the edge between the two depths.

My plan was to drill two holes close together, allowing me to fish two rigs, a live bait rig (hook baited with a minnow, split shot and float) and an attractor rig (jigging spoon with minnow or wax worms) which I hoped would draw fish into the area. When this works, generally, the more aggressive fish go after the jigging spoon while those in a negative mood might take the minnow.

From time to time, my Vexilar would light up just above my bait; I raised my bait just above it, with the fish moving up to check it out and then they would disappear, indicating the fish just were not hungry.

It was not long before Anthony and Larry arrived, spreading out, fishing different ends of the pond, hoping to zero in on some aggressive fish.

Anthony was the first to connect, bringing in a nice bluegill using a Swedish Pimple tipped with a minnow and shortly after that a good crappie. After a few photos, we would release these and the other fish we would catch back into the pond, to fight another day.

When it comes to ice fishing, if one-bait is not working and one of your partners is using a bait that has a different shape or color that works, it is time to switch.

Since it looked as if the fish proffered the Swedish Pimple, I would have switched to it, but the one I had had a treble hook that were too small.

Instead, I switched to a gold Tungsten jig, a jig the same size body as others but weighs more allowing it to sink quicker than similar jigs. I had several fish hit it, only to have them come loose before I could get them to the hole. After this happened two times, it was time for a change up. The fish were in a negative mood and the extra weight of the Tungsten jig made it hard for the fish to inhale it. Another problem I had with the jig was the hook, as it was smaller than I liked and when I rigged it with one or two wax worms, there was not enough hook exposed to hold the fish. I needed one with a larger, wider gapped hook.

It is a good idea when you purchase a jig for either open water or ice fishing, to check out the hook size to make sure there is enough hook (gap) to allow you to get your bait attached and still have enough hook exposed to hook a fish.

Larry and Anthony were having some of the same problems, getting bites, only to lose the fish on the before it made it to the hole.

We all made a change and I switched from the jig to a Northland Buckshot spoon, giving me better hooking ability as it had a larger treble hook and a rattle that should attract the fish. Before long after I started working the rattling jig that fish started to show up, lighting up my Vexilar, once again, I moved in up above them, with them coming up to look at the bait and then disappearing. This was truly Mid Season ice fishing.

As I twitched the spoon, another red line appeared, indicting a fish below me, I twitched it, bounced it and let it set there, nothing then I noticed my Lite Bite float twitch. Lifting up on the rod, I felt pressure, set the hook and soon had a good crappie flopping on the ice. The spoon had done its job, attracting the fish to my area to where my livebait minnow rig aught its attention.

Shortly thereafter, Larry connected with another crappie and then the bite died, it was time for plan B. We needed to try to locate the fish, as they had to be here somewhere. I fired up the Jiffy and started punching holes across the pond, as Larry followed behind with the Vexilar hoping to spot some fish.

Twenty-five holes later, we did not know any more than we did before, it appeared as if the fish had left the pond.

The rest of the morning we jumped from hole to hole, catch one fish here and there, with Larry connecting to a pound a half bass and a few more bluegills, nothing fast, just enough to peak our interests

This is what Mid Winter fishing is all about, the fish are in their negative “slow” mode, not moving around much and not needing to eat, biting best early and late in the day.

Our morning was not a total loss as we had gotten out on a beautiful sunny January day, spent some time on the ice with friends and caught a bass, three crappie and eight bluegill.

Mid Season, ice fishing may not be the most exciting thing to do this time of year, as I could think of many of less enjoyable things we could have been doing.