As deer season draws to a close my mind always turns to ice fishing. This year's unseasonably warm December has slowed ice development and after a long wait, we finally have enough ice to get out to some of our spots. Yesterday my son, Andy, his wife, Abby, and I hit the ice for the first time this year.
This is Abby’s second winter living in Wisconsin, she grew up in Shelby, North Carolina. She loves ice fishing and frequently out fishes all of us. Also joining us was Andy’s friends John and Ben Hendrikson. Ice fishing for us has always been a family and friends activity. With three lines per person allowed, we had a spread of 15 tip-ups out on a big bay on Nepco Lake.
We used a spud bar to sound the ice while walking out to our spot, the middle of the lake along the channel still has open water. From what I am hearing from friends is that any lake or flowage with even a little water current has open water or thin dangerous ice. These are the types of conditions that fishermen need to be very cautious. Sound the ice with a spud while going out and carry hand-picks that you can use to pull yourself out if you fall through.
Our target was Northern Pike but we also catch Walleye and Bass on occasion on Nepco. We set up our tip-ups in a way that we can appeal to multiple species in hopes that whatever swims past will eat our offerings. We also spread our tip-ups out over the different water depths to try to find where the fish are active. Yesterday the hottest tip-up was in a shallow 4’ deep spot adjacent to a steep drop to 10’ of water. We found most of the fish yesterday were only in 3-5’ of water. We caught several Pike, the largest was 27”, one Largemouth Bass, and Abby hoisted a 30” Muskie out. Muskie season is closed so it was immediately released after a quick photo.
Here are my hot-tips for tip-up fishing: When rigging tip-ups it is all about making the presentation as natural as possible. I start by spooling a standard green or black 50# braided tip-up line that terminates at a barrel swivel. To alleviate the problem of using heavy steel leaders to protect from being bit off I tie on 24” of 20# Firewire Crystal or 20-30# fluorocarbon as the leader. It holds up to the teeth of the pike but is light enough to be hidden from the finicky walleyes. Using this technique requires retying when the line begins to fray but we find we catch more fish using the lighter leader. I tip it with a red #8 or #6 treble hook. Yes, you can catch and hold big pike on small hooks. For bait, I use a medium 3” shiners hooked at the front edge of the dorsal fin. Then I pinch off most of the tail fin to inhibit minnow from setting off the tip-up and make it easier for the fish to catch it.
To increase the bite move inactive tip-ups to areas that are seeing some action and walk around and check them every 30 minutes or so. Pull it up to make sure the minnow is still on and everything is functioning. We are always amazed how after we make a lap chacking tip-ups how some flags start flying.
Ice fishing is a great family activity and there are some phenomenal waters within a close drive of the Owen-Withee. Sportsmen’s Lake, Otter Lake, Mead Lake, Miller Dam Flowage, and Holcombe Flowage all have great fishing. Jackie at O-W Sports and Liquor has all the gear you need and can provide the current fishing report. Grab some family and friends and hit the ice for some fun family time chasing tip-up flags. Good luck!
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