Then came a thaw that thinned the ice, followed by another fair freeze, and another thaw. Right now the ice is pretty iffy, but it's only the beginning of February, so very likely we'll have another spell of cold weather and ice fishing can resume on safe ice. But ice fishing in the shank of weather is a little different from fishing the beginning.
Early on the bass and panfish, especially in farm ponds (which freeze first) will be in the deepest water they can find. They might still be there, but if you don't find them with your first drilled hole or two, it's because oxygen levels in the deepest parts have diminished. If you have no luck deep, then head for mid-depths or try fishing suspended well above bottom. You'll still find them sooner or later, then you follow Standard Operating Procedure
First move is always to step out on the ice just three feet or so, and bore a hole. If the ice depth turns out to be just three inches or so, I'll turn around and go home. If four, even five I might still not fish unless it's clear, hard ice, and if I choose to fish with ice that thin, I'm not ashamed to haul along 100 feet of light rope, then tie one end to a sturdy shoreline bush and the other around my waist. I consider ice fishing the most dangerous of all outdoor sports, and since I usually fish alone, I take no chances.
Gear is simple. I tie a quarter ounce sinker on lines end, and above it a short side line with a half inch jigging spoon attached and adjusted so the spoon rides a few inches above the mud. About a foot above that I tie another side line with a second spoon to take any fish that are suspended a foot or less above the bottom. My colors don't vary much. I like a white spoon on one line and a green or yellow one above, and while bluegills and other species will eat maggots, mousies and commercial baits, I favor waxworms above all others and bait each hook with one. To be honest I've caught bluegills more than once on colorful little ice flies, and even tiny jigs, but the spoons work best for me, so I use them
Then it's time to drop the rig to bottom, adjust a quarter sized float so it's half submerged and will sink at even the lightest bite and begin jigging gently with a twitch the tip a few times, then wait, and twitch again. If fish are there, I'll have some within ten minutes, and if not I'll move and bore another hole, maybe moving a little shallower yet.
When fish start hitting the ice, I drill a second hole about five feet from the first, adjust my seat between, and begin jigging one rod then the other. The second rod is rigged like the first, but with different colors of spoon. If I catch more on one color, I'll switch another spoon to that color. Often enough within an hour or two I'll have all the panfish I want to clean, and am ready to head home. A simple business that falls far short of rocket science, but it works for me year after year.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• Some deer hunters in the Huron County area build their own food plots to attract deer each year either growing field corn or various green herbs from alfalfa and clover to winter wheat. But according to an article by Gerald Almy in a recent issue of Field & Stream Magazine, hunters can produce bigger deer on their food plots by not only adding the usual nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but also trace elements that will produce healthier bucks with bigger antlers, such minerals as manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt and more. He recommends getting a thorough soil analysis, and adding anything missing to your soil. That's good advice.
• Hocking Hills State Park is the most popular park in Ohio with an average of more than 2 million visitors per year. Soon the Park will have a new visitor center, a 11,500 square foot facility with two levels holding multiple flush toilets,an information kiosk, a gift shop, and all of it handicap accessible. Visitors will be able to see trail conditions and difficulty levels prior to going out on the trails. It adds up to being a first-class visitor center to parallel the ODNR's most visited state park.
• Spring is just around the corner and one of the first signs can't be seen or heard. This sign is highly odoriferous and quite unmistakable, the scent of the striped skunk, a common Ohio fur bearer. Skunks begin their mating season in February and March when males become very active and go in search of females in their dens. These critters will travel several miles each night in search of receptive females, which ups your chances (or your dogs) of meeting one.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.