The ice fishing situation across southern Wisconsin this year is the polar opposite of making jambalaya. When the andoulie sausage, bluegill bites and rice from that Zatarain’s box come to a rolling boil, you are 25 minutes from splashing on Tiger Sauce and chowing down.
But sometimes the phone rings or some other distraction prevents the mix from coming to a rolling boil, and dinner gets put on hold. This is exactly the situation we’ve faced across southern Wisconsin since mid-November.
Monona Bay was almost locked up a week ago. But then a south wind blew the ice away. Ice has returned as you read this. We have finally reached the antithesis of boil.
It’s time to go ice fishing.
The arctic high-pressure system now in place will cause fish to lose interest for a few days. Angler interest also falls off quickly when fish aren’t biting and near-zero chill is in the air.
Don’t be in a huge hurry to try out the new gear you get for Christmas. Wait until the clouds start to gather with impending snow. The barometer will be falling rapidly. Fish will be eager to bite—and more important, Mother Nature will have a couple more days to make ice.
Anglers have been sneaking out on sheltered areas of Lake Koshkonong for a week already, catching some very nice bluegills on Marmooska Tungsten Gem lures with animated plastic. They have been out on Lake Wingra, Rock Lake and the “grade” up on Lake Wisconsin, too.
These areas all locked up just before Christmas back in 2015, several days prior to a big freeze that greatly increased angling options across this part of the state. When clouds start to roll in Barber’s Bay, Lake Kegonsa will be a good place to officially kick off fishing’s fourth season—especially if you have a fondness for big bluegills.
Aim for shallow water
At first ice, look for fish to be holding in water less than 5 feet deep. Although my Vexilar FL-28 clearly identifies fish targets in less than 5 feet of water, the Vex and those St. Croix ice rods will likely remain in the truck for at least another week.
The best weapon now is one of those 48-inch graphite sticks with a small reel on the butt and 1-pound test fluorocarbon running up through the hollow rod blank to an ultra-sensitive spring bobber.
Big bluegills in shallow water can be incredibly light biters, bumping your hook and moving on before your brain can tell your arm that that blip on the electronics means it’s time to set the hook.
With a 4- to 5-foot wand you can let out enough line to fish the entire water column while keeping an eye on that spring bobber for the slightest bend.
For at least another week, heading out with gear you’re not afraid to lose is a good idea. A hand auger, one of those rods and a few lures is really all you need.
If you take an ice dipper, tape an extension to the handle so it can be used like a landing net. This is much easier than bending over with a 48-inch rod trying to ice a fish.
Don’t be too meticulous in removing slush from the hole. Fish in shallow water are wary. A totally ice-free hole above your lure is akin to a thug shining a flashlight on a $10 bill and urging you to pick it up when you can see he’s holding a baseball bat in the other hand.
A little slush in the hole won’t impede the bite and the presentation appears much more natural to a fish that is about to sample ‘food’ that he’s never seen before.
If a 6-gallon bucket is a standard component of your ice fishing gear, wrap 30 feet of quarter-inch nylon rope around the bucket where grooves hold the handle.
The difference between a great day in the outdoors and unintended baptism is exactly one step.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at email@example.com