I have still been on the ice every chance I get and again have had a chance to roam the state a bit. . . .
Yes, ice conditions are variable. With the stinkin’ mid-winter rains we have had, ice conditions in southeast Nebraska especially have not been nearly as good as many of us would like. The run-off has softened the ice around shorelines and in some cases other parts of several waters. In addition, our pits and interstate lakes throughout the state have enough groundwater flow that the ice on those waterbodies is never as thick as you would expect. You especially should be careful of the ice on the west end, northwest corners of any type of Nebraska pit, all the time. In the past week or two I have fished ice in Nebraska where there was no worry, a foot or more, and I have fished ice where I am sure I could not get back on it right now. Always, always be careful every time you walk onto the ice, wherever you are, make sure for yourself, do NOT just take someone else’s word for it!
The bite sometimes lags a bit in mid-winter. There can be lots of reasons for that, the coldest water of the year, snow cover on the ice, or any one of several dozen other excuses for not catching fish. We certainly have not had a lot of snow cover on the ice this winter, and have had some relatively mild weather, but on many recent days I have found that a person has to work to convert those “lookers” into biters.
I believe another reason the bite gets tough in mid-winter is because of fishing pressure! In the worse case, a lot of those first-ice biters have gone home in the back of someone’s pickup. At the least, all of the ice-fishing activity can make mid-winter fish particularly wary and tougher to catch, especially when they may not be aggressively feeding in the first place.
Regardless, I am going to fish hard because you never know how long the ice season will be. I spent a little time in my beloved, beautiful sandhills again. Those waters are some of our best yellow perch habitats in the state. I always marvel when I pull one of those golden beauties through the ice!
The panfish bite was not easy while I was in the sandhills, I kept drilling holes covering water, but have come to believe that sometimes the best thing you can do is go “old-school” to scratch some fish. The sandhill lakes for the most part are relatively shallow with an abundance of aquatic vegetation; big panfish many times are swimming literally right under your feet. In what I believe to be a high percentage area, I have found that by turning off the depth-finder, grabbing the ole, long jigging rods, and then sitting down and working the baits, I can eventually attract some fish and get ’em to bite. Besides that, I never tire of watching that bobber pop under when a big panfish takes.
Another strategy–sometimes if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The panfish were picky, but the pike were tearing it up! A big pike through an ice-hole is darned fun too! Of course I broke off a pike or two while jigging for panfish, but then I got one onto the ice. It was not a big one, 31-inches, but anytime I manage to win a battle with a pike on a jigging pole, it is a fish worthy of a photo!
Some of you “internet scouters”, look close, you can see the bait I was using to catch that fish. You might be able to on the perch up above too, but I am betting you will have a harder time figuring that one out (HINT: I make ’em myself).
Oftentimes the mid-winter bite gets tough because the fish looking at your baits really are not very large–there is a reason you just cannot seem to hook ’em. Again, that might be because of fishing pressure and those small ones may be the most abundant fish left. I will keep crawling up on a soap-box and telling folks that big fish are hard to catch not because they are so smart, but because they are so rare! That goes especially for panfish! If you want big ‘gills, big perch and big crappies to catch, you would be much better off keeping a few small- and medium-size ones for a meal of fresh fish, and turn the big ones loose! Seems as though most ice-anglers have that just backwards, but I will keep preaching it!
So, maybe a guy has to get away from the crowd to find some big panfish in mid-winter. My son and I hate fishing in crowds, anytime. On a particularly busy Saturday, on a very popular eastern Nebraska ice-fishing destination, Daniel went off away from everyone else. He pretty much caught what everyone else was catching, but “lo and behold” he managed to catch & release a bluegill that was much bigger than what anyone else caught, an honest-to-goodness 10-incher!
On another trip, avoiding the crowd, he was surprised by one of these:
There ya go, that is my report of my most recent ice adventures around the state. I do not believe that is the end of it, I believe The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades!