Recent cold temperatures have frozen most of the lakes in the northern part of our home state of Minnesota, so webmasters Andy and Corey headed out to cash in on some of the great early-ice action to be found on remote wilderness lakes. Crappies and pike were the main target. From past experience, we decided we needed waxworms, crappie minnows, and sucker minnows for bait. Alas, there's a dire waxworm shortage in northern Minnesota - probably because ice-up came so early this year that it caught bait-shops off-guard. So we bought fake waxworms and decided to try them out.
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It was a beautiful winter day - if you stayed in the sunshine and out of the long blue shadows that the pine trees cast on the lake. We were the first humans to walk out on this lake this winter, and our tracks crossed virgin snow. But many animals had come before us and left their tracks: foxes, otters, bobcats, and wolves had walked on the lake before us. We even the saw the wing-imprints where an owl had snatched an unlucky creature from the windwept lake. There were 4-5 inches of clear, black ice, hard as iron, plus a light snow cover. The snow was just enough to give you traction so ice-spikes were not needed. We breathed a sigh of relief and got fishing. We located a few scattered fish, but no big schools. Finally after catching a few crappies, we found a good concentration of willing biters.
And we found them. They were schooled up, 30 feet down in 45 feet of water, right where they should be. My first decent-sized black crappie was a nice kickoff to the 2013-2014 ice fishing season. We started out with minnows and dropper-jigs, but the fish were aggressive and this level of subtlety was not needed.
Andy hauled in some good ones as well. We switched to jigging spoons and jigging rapalas, which were tipped with fake waxworms. The bait didn't seem to help or hurt us. Maybe it made them hang onto it longer. Or maybe it was purely psychological - I just feel more confident jigging a lure through the ice when it has something smelly hanging off one of the treble hooks.
Whether or not the effect was psychological or actual, the jigging lures worked like a charm. The crappies would swallow the lure as you were trying to drop it down to them, so most of the time all you had to do was open your bail and let out line until it stopped. When you tightened your line, there was a big crappie hooked. I used a small jigging spoon to catch this nice crappie, which was about 13 inches long.
And this one fell for Andy's jigging rap. We caught crappies from this school until we had enough for dinner and then some. As the sun began to set, I decided to go grouse hunting in a nearby forest area - but came up empty. I had a tipup set for pike all day and hadn't gotten a bite. We really wanted to ice our first pike of the season, so we made plans to return to this spot the next day.
The next day was cloudy and cold, with a brisk wind out of the west. We ignored the crappies and got geared up for pike.
Andy started out by catching a 3-pound fartknocker before I got on the ice. We kept the tipups operating in hopes for bigger specimens.
This was the last of the three small pike Andy landed on tipups early in the day. Then - after a long dry spell - a flag went up! It's the rule in tipup fishing that you always get a flag when you are as far away from your tipup as you have been all day. In this case, Andy had a long run to get to this tipup - which had been completely emptied of all its line! The fish was tugging on the spool knot when Andy got there. He hoped for the best and started pulling ...
A respectable pike was on the end of the line, and an out-of-breath Andy expertly landed it. This was a really beautiful fish; the photo doesn't do it justice.
Finally, with no more pike action happening and the shadows getting longer, we went back to crappie fishing and filled out our limits before leaving for home and work. I didn't get to land my first pike of the ice-fishing season - but winter is long in the northland. It was a great outing on a fun lake. Ruffie joined us for the harvest shot at the end of the day.