Everyone looks forward to early ice but early ice isn’t always easy to gauge when it will happen. This past Sunday, I hit the road early with a few buddies in search of safe ice. With a week of cold, we knew there was a good chance that something would have locked up solid. Throughout the course of the day we checked nine different ponds, three of which were strong enough to hold us up safely.
The first pond we ventured out was was a warm water pond with nice milfoil patches. We covered about 2/3 of the water in no time with just spud bars and an underwater camera. While everything looked good, we couldn’t locate any fish. With super clear ice and a lot of surface noise, we figured we were just pushing the fish around because of the noise we were making. As a secondary method, we tried removing creepers after verifying a constant thickness throughout and sneaking around hoping that the fish had settled. No such luck. Instead we packed it up and continued looking.
A few ponds later, we were able to creep out on a medium sized trout pond. The ice was super clear which kept us on edge. We got over enough water to catch fish, but the whole situation didn’t seem worth it so we kept on looking.
As we kept heading, we finally struck gold. A medium sized, shallow pond with a mix of cold and warm water fish. The only problem was none of us had ever fished anywhere in the area. We took the time to check the entire body of water with the spud bars and vexilar for depth.. About 45 minutes later we were drilling holes and prepping our poles for first drop. We drilled better than half of the fishable water our and started fishing.
Within only a few holes, the fish were marking well but not biting. After a few dropped fish, we really focused. Maybe 15 minutes into fishing, I landed my first fish of the winter; a 4″ crappie! Good start and another body of water with crappie added to the list. As the day wore on, we honed in on our presentation and found that orange and white were the key colors. As for cadence, small pulses or dead sticking produced the most bites. We caught a good mix of crappie and perch. One pike made it to the surface but snapped the line at the last second.
As dark approached, the ice had melted a bit and some standing water was present. We decided that we had pushed our first day on the ice to its limits and it was time to head home. What a great to start to another season!
The first day in the boat for the season started early. There was a clear shot to the fishing spot from the launch with ice in most directions still anchored to shore. Once the Hydro Glow was submersed, the lines got wet. The water was was cold and it was pouring rain. Still had to try though.With another hour till sunrise, the bite wasn’t proving too good. Although I missed two good bites under the light, it wasn’t until after the sun was up that the first fish made it’s way into the boat.
Throughout the course of the day, I tried big plastics, small plastics, and live minnows. The bite was light and most bites came at the boat on a long cast. It didn’t seem to matter was was tied on as long as it was moving slow with long pauses. Most of the bites came while the bait was completely motionless. The muddy water most likely had the fish tracking the bait for quite a while.
Around 11am, the rain let up and the fishing came to a dead end. Fishing until 3pm yielded no more bites and with that long of a stretch, it was apparent that it was time to head home.
Saturday Febuary 8th brought us to round 3 of the Vermont Sportsman Hardwater Tounament Series at Mallets Bay on Lake Champlain. Conditions weren’t ideal at all, with temps in the teens and a wind chill around zero. Besides the weather, the bay was going to present it’s own challenges. The portion of Mallets Bay where this event was held, had ample room for fishermen to move around and fish plenty of water, but the fish seemed to be located on one particular weed bed which meant the fishing was going to be close quarters.
At 6 am, we were given the go ahead to start drilling holes and use our electronics but no lines in the water until 6:30. Most of the 36 fishermen all headed for that one weed bed and started drilling their holes. In hind sight, I think we drilled all the fish out of that area, as we started fishing the action was slow. Those that made slight adjustments in location were able to stumble upon the larger groups of fish that had been drilled out at first light. Dylan made a slight but significant move east and was able to connect on nice crappie that ultimately won him big fish for the day. Funny part was it was the same hole that his crappie came from yesterday! The bite was tough to say the least for the better part of the day. The fish were scattered and easily spooked when we would punch a few new holes.
Towards the end of the day, Dylan figured out that the crappie were suspending about half way down the water column and they were cruising, which means you didn’t always mark them on your electronics. Jigging at four feet would often bring a cruising crappie in and make them bite. This was a major adjustment made, as we had been fishing in the weeds for the better part of the event.
At the weigh-in Dylan checked in his 6 fish limit with two seeds, two crappie, one bluegill, and a perch giving him a weight of 3.68 pounds and good enough for first place along with his big fish prize. Bobby struggled all day to say the least not catching any crappies and weighing in a limit of seeds and dink perch for a weight of 1.78 lbs. At the end of the day, the win for Dylan was a major boost in the points moving him up to first place from 6th. Bobby’s weight caused his to drop a few positions down to 6th from third but he’s still in the hunt. The final points event for the season will take place at Laphams Bay in Shoreham on Febuary 22nd. It’s going to be a shoot out!
I had a few hours to kill one Saturday so I decided to go check on the crappies in a pond that has had our numbers lately. The weather was cold with a high of the day reaching 9 above but with the wind chill it was hovering right around zero. I have had one good day in search of crappies on this pond, which was last winter right around this time of the year so my hopes were up.
I made my way out to a point and drilled out my grid of holes working from 8 feet of water all the way out to 20. I knew that the fish were going to be mostly dormant but I was hoping by covering a lot of water I would be able to find them balled up somewhere. The pond has very little shoreline contour and the spot I chose was one of the only points that had a sharp break with weeds on the inside falling off into an inside turn of the deep basin. It’s didn’t take long to mark some fish on my FLX-28 Vexilar released this year.
I started deep and began picking up mostly Yellow Perch. I know that the crappie run with the pumkinseed in this pond so once I found them I was hoping I would find the crappie. Usually the target depth is 18 feet but all I was find in the deeper water was perch. I cut a new grid of holes along the shoreline headed towards a natural pinch point working along the edge of the weed bed. The closer I got to the pinch point the more pumkinseeds I was catching, I knew that I had to be getting close. I drilled and drilled and fished using my T7 custom rod and my Maki Plastics for four hours and was never able to find the crappie. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t, every venture out is still a learning experience.
Having been tied up with other responsibilities for the past two weekends and not able to fish I was excited to get back on the ice. I decided to make a day trip to a spot 2 hours away. We arrived at our location with decent conditions. The mercury was finally above zero for the first time in five days, and the wind at this point wasn’t an issue. I loaded my shack and made the 80 yard walk to where I would be fishing for the day.
I drilled out an area, shallow to deep. It’s always a good idea to cut your holes first thing, one it will save you time later and two, it will spook the fish only once if the fish are sensitive to sound. I started fishing the deep hole to begin with. The vex was marking fish in 16 feet of water all through the water column. First drop produced a small crappie, second drop, small crappie. One thing that I have noticed about this spot is that these fish school in relation to size most of the time. If you’re catching small fish you’re in a nursery school of fish. I made a move to the next hole working my way out of the deeper water up towards the shallower shelf. Right off the bat I hooked into a heavier fish, bass. OK; well now I know the bass are set up waiting for those small crappie to make a mistake, I made another move, this time more drastic. I found ten feet of water, fish were stacked on the bottom four feet. First drop was a beautiful 13″ crappie. Next few fish were all decent in size, bigger than before. We continued to work the 10 foot range and were able to produce several decent fish through out the course of the next few hours.
As the morning went on the wind picked up and it became difficult to fish outside of our shacks. As the sun went higher the fish slid shallower. This is something we have noticed before while fishing setbacks off the main river. The fish tend to seek out more cover even if it means going shallower when deep holes are present. Large weed flats are great places to find active fish during high light conditions. Another important thing to note was that the fish were not tolerating a presentation for long. I was constantly changing my jigging cadence and my Maki Plastic to keep the fish interested. These plastics teamed with a Bentley gold colored tungsten jig worked well for both the deep and shallow water applications we used today.
All in all it was a good day, unfortunately I wasn’t able to “fish” the way I wanted to as was confined to my shack for comfort. It was a good day learning a few new tricks and applying some older ones to be successful.
We’ve all had the days when we arrive at our favorite fishing spot and realize that we have it all to ourselves, on this day that wouldn’t be the case. We arrived at one of our favorite spots greeted by calm skies with little to no breeze and temps in the 20’s, perfect day to be on the ice. Unfortunately, the recent cold temperatures had given the tip up fishermen enough confidence to haul out the hard sides and set up shop for the season. A few members of our group were able to arrive at day break and punched out an area as a way of “claiming” a spot.
The morning bite was hot, everything was right, the water was coming in, we had overcast skies, fish were active. We spent the first couple of hours chasing the school’s of pumpkinseed, bluegill, and crappie along the edge of the main channel adjacent to the thickest weed line. Early ice at it’s best however; Early ice also means everybody and their brother is itching to get out. The amount of tip ups in the ice was off the charts. This is not a big setback and every inch of the channel was spoken for. We were not able to fish our spots the way we normally would have.
A lot of people also brought on another dilemma. Noise. Once the morning had gone and the activity picked up we noticed that the fish were gone, well at least we thought so, we actually ended up learning a lot about this particular spot on this day. We found that instead of running to deeper water when levels dropped and noise picked up, that the fish actually moved shallow and found the thickest weed patches to surround themselves with. This made it a little more difficult using the electronic but we were able to pull some nice bluegill and pumpkinseed out of the thickest weeds while the sun was at it’s peek. Fortunately for us the fish stayed close and slid only 20-30 yards away from the “area” we had settled in.
As the sun got lower in the ski and the commotion let down, we noticed that the fish slowly worked themselves out of the weeds and back towards the edge of the channel. The fishing was fast times, chasing the feeding fish up and down the banks. Moving to stay on fresh and active fish, the rest of the night stayed successful with a stead increase towards dark.
The bite for the last 45 minutes consisted of mainly bluegill and crappie; favoring more heavily towards crappie. As we worked through the rows of holes we found that the fish were attacking our jigs as they worked down the water column. Anywhere for 2-5′ below the ice was stacked with crappie and occasionally a bluegill as you neared the weed edge. It was the time when we could do no wrong. The fish weren’t pick as long as it was moving.
A run like that was the best possible way to end a nice long day on the ice!
With ice forming slowly in Vermont, it’s a risk going out alone. Luckily, we had a crew of four for this trip to a new body of water. Prepared with rope, picks, and floatation devices, we felt the odds were on our side. Knowing the general contour of the body of water, we started our search deep. It didn’t take long to find some fish on the flasher that mimicked the pattern that a crappie will normally follow. They were suspending over deeper water and on the move.
As we started fishing, the fish that we were pulling through the hole ran on average 8-9″. It was a pod of all crappie with a few shiners mixed in. We fished all plastics without ever putting a single maggot on for the day. The keys to catching fish were Maki Plastics and Micro Spoons and Jigs. We fished the Spiiki and Maki from Maki Plastics with red being the best color and the STB Grub by Micro Spoons in the Sunrise color.
As we picked through the fish looking for some of the better sized specimens we managed to pull a few that hit the 12″+ mark. We also hit a new size class that incorporated some of the smallest crappie we had ever seen! With fish in the 3-4″ range our rods weren’t bending much…
Seeing fish like this put a new spin on what we thought we had previously known about crappie in our area. Usually a fish after it’s first year will be about 6″. With the slow growth that comes in the winter, it is hard to imagine that these fish will put on another 2-3″ over the next few months when they will hit their one year mark in the spring. Maybe there was a late spawn or even a second spawn. The underwater world always keeps us guessing!
Check out some of our footage from our trip on our YouTube page in the Christmas Eve Crappie video!