12-30-13 – Champlain Spread

With poor fishing reports from many places on Lake Champlain, we made a trip to check for ourselves. We were on the water around 8 am and checked some of the normal areas that produce. With a strong breeze blowing, detecting bites was very tough. Right off, we located fish. The first fish was a small bluegill, the second fish was a small perch, and the third fish was a decent crappie. Not a bad start to the day. After that, the wind picked up even more fishing became very difficult.

We decided to make a move to a section of the bay that would be a bit more sheltered from the wind. The move proved effective for both less wind and more fish. For the remainder of the day, we hole hopped trying to stay on a decent bite. The fish seemed to be moving in a linear pattern with different size class schools cruising through. As dark grew closer, the fish vanished all together. With the cold setting in and a slight switch in wind direction, we lost motivation to stick it out until dark.

While it wasn’t the best day on Champlain, it certainly wasn’t as poor as everyone had been saying. Sometimes just a day can make that much of a difference!

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12-29-13 – Panfish In The Rain

With a few days of work behind me, I got on the road early to make the most of the day. The day was going to be warm with rain coming in the mid afternoon followed by a 6-9″ snowstorm rolling in after. I was hoping that the weather wouldn’t come in until after dark but it was unlikely.

The bite was decent for the better part of the day but it was necessary to keep moving to stay on active fish. A few fish per hole was common but not consistent. The fish were holding pretty tight to the bottom and were aggressive. Finding the weed edge of sparse to dense or just pockets seemed to be key. As the storm got closer, I figured that the fish would turn on but it went the other way.

I endured about 40 minutes in the rain with a pretty terrible bite. As I packed up my sled to leave 45 minutes before dark the snow started to fall. The flakes were huge too. The entire ride home, I was graced with very slick roads. I saw multiple cars off the road and a few make their way into a ditch. I was glad to make it home safely and with time to spare so that I could gear up for the next day on the water!

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12-24-13 – First Day Back In Vermont

After my trip to Minnesota, I felt the urge to hit one of my favorite spots and remember what it was like to catch fish. I wasn’t on the water as the sun came up because I didn’t know what the ice was going to be like but after careful inspection, we found a safe spot on.

The fish were aggressive when located throughout the day but they didn’t seem to be roaming much. With no snow cover, it seems like the fish are still pretty skittish and the weeds are the place to be. Most holes held a fish or two but they took a while to replenish after the first pass through the spread.

After working through the holes a few times, the bite got tough. With a small move to a different section of the body of water, the fishing shifted back in my favor. Similar to the first spot, after a few passes through the spread, the fishing slowed. At time point, small shifts in my location proved effective and the use of the auger seemed to wake the fish up.

I had to leave before the evening bite to make it to church on time but with the number of days that I have been gone recently made getting home easy enough. A few days of work a head before I will get back onto the ice.

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12-21-13 – 12-23-13 – Minnesota Part III

The final leg of our trip was the tournament weekend. While we had spent quite a bit of time on the water, confidence in converting seeing them into hooking them wasn’t all that high. With a few rods rigged up with presentations that had caught fish, there wasn’t much else we could do other than fish like we do every day. Day one fish species were bluegill and crappie. Eight of each. Day two was perch and crappie. Once again 8 and 8.

Day 1

With no points going into the event, we were at the back of the line with 76 other two man teams in front of us. The ride over to Wahkon Bay was around 7 miles in the dark. The slush and cold made the ride over take forever. With numerous four wheelers in front of us, the trail was pretty torn up as we rolled through. Once we reached the bay, pretty much every team in the competition was on the two weed patches that we had located pre fishing. Following the pack, we set up on the outer edge of the crowd. Right off we found a few bluegill on the camera and thought it would be a good start.

As fishing time approached, all the fish disappeared. Maybe because they moved somewhere else everyday or maybe because thousands of holes were intruding on their space! Giving it a shot for a while, we couldn’t seem to get a tight line so we plotted to move to our second location on the GPS. While people were near the mark, no one was on it. After punching some holes, we found no fish. Looking to grind out the rest of the day in the area, we sat tight after seeing a few guys pull fish. While we saw a few on the underwater camera and while sight fishing, it wasn’t until 1:45 that Andy put our first and only fish in the bucket. It was only a 9″ crappie but by the looks and sounds of it, we weren’t the only ones struggling. At the weigh in, 36 teams failed to bring in fish.  For the day two line up, we made a jump from 77th to 37th place.

Day 2

With a slightly better starting position, we thought we might get on our spot first thing. The drive was much shorter but the temperatures were still chilly. Driving out it seem as if the line ahead of us was endless but turning the corner into the fishing area, not many people were in the area we pre fished. Pulling up on our mark, we punched holes, and started camering them. With the 8 am starting time ticking closer, we stopped camering and got our rods ready. Setting the shacks over the top of the best looking holes, it was go time.

While the fishing started slow, the more noise that came in around us, the more fish we saw. Unfortunately, I caught a pile of bluegills a day late. Throughout my stellar bluegill bite, the crappie were cruising; I saw probably 15 quality fish. As it turned out, I stuck one and had one suck the head of my jig in several times. Andy had about the same luck. Earlier in the day, we set an end time after which we would go out and target perch in deeper water.

When the time came, we headed out to a 20-30 foot flat. The perch were thick and about the time your jig reached the bottom, it was time to reel back up with one on. Unfortunately, they had no size to them. At the weigh in, we had no crappie but 8 perch. Our limit of perch weighed a whopping 0.92 pounds!

At the weigh in there were some nice fish. While our weights weren’t huge it was a great experience to fish against some of the guys that we have watched on TV for years. After congratulating the winners and saying our goodbyes we hit the road to made the 24 hour drive home.

2013-12-20_08-21-59_93The drive home went smoothly other than snowy condition from when we left until we passed through Wisconsin. These slow going conditions tacked on about 4 hours to our overall trip. By the time we neared Vermont, it was close to 8pm. After dropping other guys off, I pulled into my driveway at 11:30pm and unpacked just so I could pack it back up for the next morning. Yup… You guess it. I went fishing again!

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12-17-13 – 12-20-13 – Minnesota Part II

With the crazy weather that was plaguing Minnesota during our trip, our equipment took a beating. Most nights, we had to pull out all of our jigs to prevent rust and set up our shacks so that they could dry out and not just be a block of ice on the porch. At times our cabin was quite stuffed. Fortunately, the pellet stove kept the front end of our house at a comfortable 82!

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P1040965Finding fish on Mille Lacs wasn’t a problem. It was the catching that has us stumped. We spent a great deal of time just trying to put some fish on the ice so we could get a pattern of what they were feeding on. After 6 days on the ice, we finally found a jig/plastic combo that worked somewhat consistently. We ran a white Clam Pro Tackle “Epoxy Drop” with a pinched off tail of a motor oil “Stoni” from Maki Plastics. While this caught some fish it certainly wouldn’t catch them all. They were beyond picky. Many fish would come in, put the jig right on their eye, and then swim along with it touching the entire length of their body. It was frustrating beyond belief! While out there we thought of several factors of why the fish were so hard to catch. The obvious factors were the severe cold temperatures, full moon, and decaying weeds. Another factor that seemed to frustrate us more than anything were the abundance of tiny yellow perch.

One afternoon while we were attempting to catch some fish, we set up a few tip ups for pike. Shortly after getting them out the first flag popped. About a minute later, Andy pulled a nice pike through the hole. Because of the freezing cold and wind, we didn’t measure it but we figured it was in the high 30″s around 12 pounds. During our stay, we saw numerous pike of trophy size both looking down the hole sight fishing and on the camera.

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2013-12-21_13-22-51_909Having an underwater camera was a huge factor in locating effective patches of weeds and fish. While cabbage was abundant, it seemed that the crappie and bluegills were more loyal towards the sparse patches of dense milfoil.

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12-12-13 – 12-16-13 – Minnesota Part I

The trip to Minnesota for the NAIFC Series Championship started with a slight delay that pushed our departure time back a little less than an hour. After loading up, we hit a gas station to fuel up, grab some snacks, and use the bathrooms before hitting the road. That cycle repeated a few more times until we hit Hudson, Wisconsin for a pit stop at Solar Sportsman. With about two hours left in the truck until McQuiod’s Inn and plenty of daylight left to burn, we made a few stops for bait, lunch, and sight seeing.

Arriving at the resort close to 2pm, Andy and I barely could unpack before we geared up to hit the ice. Our first trip was just to maximize our time on the water and maybe find an evening bite. We didn’t find any fish that were worth trying to catch but we located some weeds a tons of perch using an underwater camera. As we left the ice, a bunch of guys were heading out for the evening walleye bite.

2013-12-13_09-21-59_95Our second day started with a scouting trip out onto Isle Bay. We debated on whether or not we should bring fishing rods or just try to locate weeds and fish. We opted for packing just the basics so that we could leave the sleds at the cabin. We ended up fishing a little bit after we found a nice thick milfoil patch with some crappies cruising through. Right off, I pulled up a crappie and bluegill but nothing else even though we could see fish on the cameras.

Getting off the ice around noon, we made the 1.5 hour trek to Duluth for the Arrowhead Ice Fishing Winter Show. Getting to see and test out all of the new Clam products in person was pretty sweet as well as many of the other companies in the business. We also got to meet quite a few new people. After spending a few hours at the show we got back in the truck and started back to Isle. On the way, we got an invite from Keith Nelson to hit one of his favorite bodies of water for some panfish. After a slow start to our trip in Minnesota, the gracious offer from Keith was an opportunity we couldn’t refuse.

The following morning we got on the road early and met up a few miles from our destination. To say it was cold was an understatement. While us Vermonters experience some cold weather, I don’t think that many people would be out at -20. We were warned at our rendezvous point that the road in was a rough one. Never in a million years did any of us imagine that we would be driving through the woods. Like actually through the woods! As the sun started to rise we got word that it was -27. Thankfully inside of our Clam shacks was nice and toasty with our Mr. Buddy heaters going!

Nice gills and crappie were in the area and looking around with the camera was sickening. Quality fish were cruising all around! Much like Mille Lacs, these fish were tight lipped. Be it the full moon, big drop in temperature, or just an off day for the fish, we had to work for them. While sitting in the shack was warm, hole hopping was more effective for catching. For a few hours up until it was time to go, we went hole to hole looking for active fish. We all caught fish and we even took a few crappie home for some surf and turf.

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While we got to see pictures of the new Clam facility in Rodgers online when they first moved in, the pictures didn’t do it a justice. We got a factory tour from Smitty while we were en route to pick up our snowmobiles for the week. The factory is ginormous and the amount of product they had stock of was beyond any of our imaginations.

P1040967This was our cabin at McQuoid’s Inn

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