2-29-12 – A Short Day That Ended Too Early

Bobby and I headed for the islands on Lake Champlain this morning. We took our time getting on the ice even with knowing that we had to leave around noon to be back in time for me to get back to work. We pulled into the parking lot at 7:40am and hit the ice. At first, the fishing was slow. We started at the usual spot- no luck. We went shallower- no luck. We went deeper- no luck. Then we started to move side to side and started to find fish.

The majority of the fish we pulled today were bluegill. On average, they were decent sized. It seemed like in most holes we would catch a few keeper sized fish then the small ones would take over. Although we spent a fair amount of time moving around it was pretty easy to tell when a hole was spent and it was time to find a new one. The outer limits of decent fish were pretty well defined. If the first drop yielded a chip you had gone too far.

Both of us did good numbers of fish and a few crappies and larger pumpkinseeds were mixed in. I found that most fish were suspended 2-4 feet below the ice and that they would hit it on the fall most times. I caught one big bass that gave me an exciting battle on a quick tip rod with 3 pound test line. It was 22″ and even though we didn’t have a scale it was well over 5 pounds.

It was a great day to be on Lake Champlain. It’s not every day when you get sun and no wind to fish in up there! Toughest part of the day was that there was a few inches of snow to walk through. I guess it was good preparation for the coming days.

2-28-12 – It’s All About The Low Light Conditions

I got on the water at 6am and it was snowing sideways. I punched out a weed bed on an inland pond that had held fish the week before and got set up for the day. As soon as the dark started to fade, the panfish started coming out of the weeds. For 45 minutes, the bluegill came as fast as I could get down. They were suspending above the weeds at varying depths depending on how tall the weeds were. It ranged from 6″ to 4 feet below the ice. Once the sun was completely up, the fish slowed but were still cruising in less concentrated corridors. They began to go down into the weeds to settle for the day around 9am. At this point, we began moving around more searching out fish in the weeds. The bite was pretty bad at this point so we made a big move to the other side of the lake after an hour of limited success.

The second spot we hit held larger numbers of fish so we stayed for a few hours. The bluegill were half in the thick weeds and half right at the surface of the weeds waiting for a passing meal. The pumpkinseed seemed to be hanging deeper in the weeds and far less active. It seemed like for the fish that were in the weeds, the harder that I pounded a jig the more fish I caught. They were very active but because of the dense weeds, the fish didn’t come in large pods as they were basically staying put. After struggling to catch fish for too long, I decided to head back over to where we began the morning.

Because I had been fishing this weed bed quite a bit lately, I had a good idea of what holes would produce. I have dropped my Aqua Vu camera down most of the holes at least once now and have identified certain holes that have openings in the weed canopy. As soon as I started fishing, I was catching fish. I caught over 25 fish, mostly pumpkinseed, between the first two holes I kicked open. I called the troops over thinking that I was on a good bite!

I continued to catch decent numbers of fish but not great. For two hours we all made rounds in the holes from the morning session. The fishing was slow and lots of bass were swimming around below us. Around 5pm, there was only two of us that were the only one still motivated to stay in hopes of a night bite. As the group of guys were walking off the ice after calling it quits, the fishing picked up. My buddy and I caught good numbers of fish for another 20 minutes then he had to head out for some family time. I stayed in a cluster of 5 holes until dark and pounded on them. The evening bite has been really good at this spot. The smaller fish disappear for the night and every gill that comes out of the hole seems to be over 8″.

I cant wait to get back on this spot again! The fishing has been top notch!

2-27-12 – Yet Another Slow Day On Champlain

We got a late start today but that turned out to be not a bad thing. We were on the water just after 7:30am and quickly punched holes around a few spots that have been producing on Lake Champlain. We were fishing for three hours and only caught a handful of bluegill, pumpkinseed, and two dink crappie. Frustrated, we packed up and headed to a the other side of the bay.

When we got over there, we punched holes and looked around with the Aqua Vu Micro underwater camera. We found lots of perch but only two pumpkinseed. We caught a few of the perch and headed further out in the bay to a different weed bed. The same scenario played out there so we moved yet again. We decided to fish one more weed bed before heading out for the day. By the looks on the flasher there were some fish to be had so we gave it a shot. We caught lots of fish there but they were all small. It was time to call it a day.

Before heading out, we had to meet up with a guy in Burlington. While waiting, we met up with another buddy who got out of work to fish. Somehow, he convinced us to go back to the same spot we just left. This time was a little better but not great still. There were lots of small fish in every hole but towards dark they grew in size and there were some really nice bluegill cruising high in the water column.

No pictures worthy of posting today and overall it was a disappointing day. Luckily, tomorrow is a new opportunity on very productive water! I’ll be there at sunrise to punch holes and find the fish (hopefully) while awaiting my company for the day!

2-25-12 And 2-26-12

2-25-12

We fished the last two days on the same inland pond that I scouted out Friday afternoon. We had some great success fishing for bluegill but failed miserably when trying for perch.

Saturday morning we met up on the ice just after 6am. We cut holes across a deep bowl and worked through them. Then cut more holes and worked through those as well. Over and over we came up empty handed. So we called it quits around 8am and headed to the shallows for bluegill and pumpkinseed. The perch reports we have heard this year have been pathetic.

When we got on the first weed bed, we cut out some old holes from the day before and punched quite a few more to accommodate all of us. The weeds grew very tall here. At the top they were slimy but if you punched through it they were nice and green… Great fish habitat! We caught decent sized fish in a large area for a few hours then decided to move to the second spot I found on my scouting mission to see if there were more and bigger fish.

When we got over there it didn’t take long to get on the fish! The size of the fish were better but the numbers were slightly lower. We fished around and around until the fish were harder to come by. It was mid day at this point and the weeds in this spot were very short so the fish had no where to hide for when they went inactive. When we realized the fish had moved to better weeds for a nap we packed up and headed back to where we started. The rest of the day went very well. We caught lots of fish and it picked up big time right before dark. I have no idea how many fish I caught but it was pretty consistent all day. We landed lots of bass and pickerel as by catch.

2-26-12

I didn’t get on the ice today until around noon but Bobby and one of our buddies had been doing fairly well since the sun came up. They checked both spots we fished the day before but only found good numbers on one. Until about 4pm, we hole hopped to stay on the fish finding that they were going back and forth. We were catching some really nice fish. I had one hole that I sat on for quite a while because I was catching my favorite fish… Pumpkinseed! Right before dark the fish really started pounding. We caught them at every depth from 6″ below the ice down to the bottom. It was truly the magic hour up until 5:50pm. A good day on the ice went out with a bang!

The plan is to head out tomorrow on Lake Champlain. The weather looks good up until around noon so it may be an early day. Either way, we will catch at least a few fish and that’s good enough for us!

A good mid day gill!

Doing the grocery shopping right Jer? haha

2-24-12 – Best Day Yet!!!

I didn’t get on the ice today until 1:30pm. I knew with the storm coming that I didn’t have much time before the roads got slick. A group of us are headed to this inland pond in the morning so I wanted to get a good scouting report. We have been catching bluegill very consistently but we wanted to expand our fishing zone and search out  fish that have yet to be pressured this season. All I can say is it was a success!

When I got to the spot there was an eagle eating some fish remains. This bird was there last trip as well so I tried the best I could to get a decent picture. I will bring my nice camera tomorrow and try to get a better shot if it comes around!

I punched a series of holes where I guessed the fish would be. I dropped my Aqua Vu camera down the hole and got excited for a minute. There were tons and tons of fish! Unfortunately, they were all shiners. I took a quick video that is not great quality but it shows the abundance of them that I saw throughout many of the holes today!

It took only three holes to find some bluegill and it was on. Fish after fish, I probably pulled 35 – 8-9″ gills out of the first hole. I didn’t want to educate all the fish today so I moved on. For the next 45 minutes I couldn’t do anything wrong. The fish liked every color I tried bait or no bait. I thought to myself, I must be crazy to leave but I want to go find more fish! I packed up and headed down the lake to a different spot.

When I got to the fresh weed bed I didn’t find anything but 10″ holes so I knew If there were fish I could get them. I punched holes in a large area pretty well spread out. The water was deeper than I wanted but I was marking fish so I dropped down. I quickly got the interest of a fish. It was a bass. I thought it was fun having them tear the line off my reel so I hopped around and caught several others ranging between 12-17″. They were super aggressive compared to others that I have caught this season. After a few of them I decided I should get back to my mission.

I moved in closer to shore from where I was getting the bass and I found good bluegill. The depth ranged from 3-10″ with very little weeds in the majority of the holes. This was also where I got most of my big gills. I caught one gill that was 10 3/4″ but the picture didn’t save on my camera unfortunately. The one pictured below was 10 1/4″ so it still a hog. Tomorrow, if we can find the fish, we will get some better pictures!

Recycled Fish

To pick up where I left off last night… I can’t even tell you how many times that I have been out fishing and come across trash or fish that were left by fishermen. Worm containers, knotted up fishing line, beer cans, “junk fish” (depends who you talk to- pike, perch, crappie, etc.) – the list goes on. Many times I come back with more than I went out with. I don’t know what people are thinking!

This past summer I can across Recycled Fish, a non-profit organization that promotes ” anglers living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water because our lifestyle runs downstream.” They are gaining quite a following throughout the fishing world and I hope people take something from their mission. I have done quite a bit of research on their organization in the past months and found that one of their projects looks very promising for the future of fishing. The project is known as S.A.F.E. Angling which stands for Sustaining Angling, Fish, & Ecosystems. This project focuses on new products, practices, and tackle that have a reduced-impact on the environment. Such products include lead-free lures, biodegradable baits, hooks, and angling accessories like nets and scales. Some of the companies participating in the green revolution of fishing are big name including: Berkley and Frabill. Everyone and everything can benefit from fishermen using these ideas.

Be sure you check out the Key Differences section on how Recycled Fish is different from other environmental organizations. I know many people a hesitant to support groups that advocate for the environment because usually that means limitations on us the sportsmen but I think there is a lot to take from these guys. They are fishing fools and want to promote our passion in the best light possible! They are also big on kids getting involved.

Be sure to check out Recycled Fish and purchase one of their “short rods” shirt.” The money goes to a great cause and the shirts are a riot! Lets all work together to keep the wild, wild.

Working With Plastics

Over the past two years, I have worked micro plastics into my arsenal pretty heavily. The majority of the time that I am on the ice I am running a plastic of some kind. Sometimes it is tipped with a maggot for an attractive meat scent but I would rather not do this because it takes away from the action. As with anything fishing related, what works one day may not work the next. A common mistake I make and see others doing is getting confidence in one specific set up and not changing it when the bite slows. Don’t let this happen to you!

There are several things to consider when choosing what plastic to use. Micro plastics represent their name well because they tend to have a small profile in the water but certain baits, because of their shapes, can move a lot of water. The more movement on your bait the better chance that you will trigger a fishes sensory organs. If I know that there are large fish where I am fishing but lots of aggressive smaller fish, I will use a larger bait to help weed out some smaller ones. In general, I like to go as small as possible to make it look as realistic as I can as most of the meals that panfish feed on during the winter months are tiny.

The first thing to consider is what bait to put on. They come in all shapes and sizes. Personally, I find myself using baits that have two or more tails more frequently than a straight tail. I like that they have more surface area moving. The exception to this is when I am fishing in an area that is predominately composed of pumpinseeds.  Being that their mouths are so small, I select baits that are compact. This way they can inhale it easily enough to get the hook in their mouth. When fishing for fish that can handle a larger bait, I like to scale up my presentation as much as possible. The more moving parts the better. From past experiences sight fishing, I have seen a lot of fish hit my jigs from the side or even the head. When there are tentacles pulsating off the side it attracts the fish and entices them to bite more readily rather than just blowing on it.

The next thing to consider is color. I like to contrast my colors of jig and plastic but I will point you in a different direction for the bulk of the info. There is an article on page 44 in ODU Magazine that was written by Scott Brauer, the founder of Maki Plastics, on color selection throughout winter. Its a good read that will get you started by a man who knows his stuff (also, read the rest of the magazine and sign up for their release notifications!). I have pictured some of his products below.

The final thing to think about is how to rig the plastic. If I am fishing high in the water column for suspended crappie, I like to have the bait dangling so that they feed up into it. When I am fishing more towards the bottom, I like to try to have the bait point up towards the ice in hopes that the fish are searching the bottom for a snail or a bloodworm. You can also rig them “whacky” (bass term for hooking it through the middle) which will give the bait a very good flapping action.

You can give these rigs quite a few different actions. Experiment with the bait in the hole before you drop it down to make sure that the action looks good and see how it reacts when you jig it different ways. You can can pound it, twitch it, try to hold it still, deadstick it, or raise and drop it. All methods have their own place and time. Don’t be afraid to mix them all up until you find a technique that works for the day. The last few days on the water were windy. I basically tried to hold the bait still and let the wind do the movement as it blew across my line. I detected my bites by watching for movement in the line.

When the fishing is on its a drag to have to rebait. Plastics make it possible to pull more fish out of a moving school than would be possible with live bait. Most times I just adjust how my plastic is set on the hook and toss it back down. On several occasions this winter I have caught over 40 crappies on one plastic before I had to retire it. The best day was 57! I will say that they don’t stand up so well if you are catching bass or pike. They tend to rip them up pretty easily.

Now a bit about options for tackle. In my box I keep several styles that are produced by two companies. The first company I will mention is J and S Custom Jigs. They have two styles baits that I have had a great deal of success with. The first is the “Gojo.” This bait fits my fishing style because it has multiple moving parts and the quivering action is dynamite! The thing I like about this bait is the plastic balls on the ends of the legs seem to float when put in the water. It slows the fall rate greatly. Usually fishing that bait, I find that the fish take the balls off pretty quickly as that is what they grab for first. It doesn’t change the quality of it fishes though! My favorite color in the Gojo is the clear blue glitter.

The “IceMite” series is a bait also made by J and S. These baits work wonders on pumkinseed and aggressive crappie. One huge benefit to this bait is the multiple sizes of identical shapes. When I start catching smaller fish I move up to the next size. Usually my catch rate decreases but my quality rate is increased dramatically. These baits come in 20 different colors so it isn’t usually much of a hassle to match the hatch! My favorite color for all three of these plastics is pink.

The other company that makes a quality plastic is Maki Plastics. These baits are great when the fish have a very specific search image (or really any day). The baits are very detailed and were created to replicate actual larvae pulled from the water or stomach contents. You can fish them as they are or modify the baits by pinching off a section of the body to fish just the parts that you want. The bait below is the “Maki” and is what started it all. It is killer for all species of fish but the perch absolutely love it. I fish it on vertical and horizontal jigs alike. My go to colors are white, hot pink, and black.

Probably my most used bait by Maki is the “jamei.” This bait was designed by James Vladyka of Fish Hounds Outdoors to entice the tight lipped panfish on the Connecticut River when the water is low. I have had this bait working hard for me since I got my first package! The action is great and its super compact. The tails drive the fish nuts!

I’ve had very good luck using the “Spiini” in deep water crappie situations when the fish are suspending. At the glory hole, there are lots of smaller fish around that will eat anything you drop before a big one has a chance to move in… This bait helps a bit to weed out some of the smaller ones. White and red have worked great this season so far.

By no means do I claim to be an expert on how to select plastics for a given day but the more I use them the more I learn. I know to be patient with my presentation but that I can waste a lot of time if I don’t get proactive and search for fish and give them what they want. I have used my camera numerous times to see how a fish reacts to my jig and its a great technique. No matter how many times I fish I always get something out of it! Don’t forget to put these baits in your pocket when they are no longer fishable… Lets try to be stewards of the ice!