no secret! Early ice is prime fishing time for Northern Pike and while
thousands of anglers prepare for the season by painting decoys and
sharpening spears, some savvy ice anglers have a different plan. Hook and
line angling for these large pike is as good as Pike fishing gets. If youíre
after a good old-fashioned line stretching, tackling these early ice Pike is
the game for you. Great action and nice fish, all around, itís the perfect
time of the year to search for that trophy Pike thatís been lurking in your
Choosing the right lake is just as important as choosing the best fishing locations on the lake. The first key to finding larger Pike during early ice will be the presence of large baitfish that inhabit the shallow water during late fall and briefly during early ice. Late season spawners like Whitefish and Tulibee (Northern Cisco) linger in their spawning areas for a brief time after ice up and you can bet that large Pike wonít be too far from the kitchen. Find the food and youíll find the fish. So planning your trip begins in the fall, before the ice forms. A little research will help you narrow down your choices. The fastest way to locate lakes with good populations of Tulibee or Whitefish is a phone call to the DNR Regional Fisheries Office or a session on the Lakefinder Section of the Minnesota DNR web site. This will help get you pointed toward the better lakes. Many of the local resort and bait shop operators know where to find Tulibee in the area and these folks can be really helpful too.
Once you locate a lake or two to target, find the preferred spawning areas so that youíll have a good starting spot for your early ice trip. A fall fishing trip is the perfect time to scout shoreline flats that contain mixed sand, gravel and light rock. These are super locations for these spawning fish. Make special note of areas that combine these elements and have close access to deeper water because these will be ideal locations to start your search. I like to look for these structures nearby locations where access is convenient. Early, thin ice might mean that youíd have to hoof it to your fishing spots, so donít waste a lot of time looking in areas that wonít be accessible by foot or at most a four wheeler.
another key to planning your early strategy will be selecting lakes that are
likely to freeze up first. For example, Red Lake and Turtle Lake are both
popular destinations for Pike in Northern Minnesota. They both contain
Tulibee, but the much shallower Red Lake will freeze earlier, maybe even
weeks before Turtle Lake. Water temperature is one key factor in determining
when fish spawn, so the deeper lakes will have a somewhat later movement
than the shallow ones. Youíll want to schedule your early trips for the
shallower, early freeze up lakes and save the deeper, clear water lakes for
your later trips. By getting the schedule arranged correctly, you can extend
this early Pike system to a month of good fishing or maybe even more.
Now that youíve laid some groundwork, getting ready to fish is a snap! A few tip ups, a jigging rod or two and for early ice, Iíd recommend a hand auger, remember those? Stikemaster has a very handy Lazer hand unit that cuts through the ice like butter. These are perfect because itís important to keep the weight of your equipment down so youíll be ready to move often and get set up quickly. Another handy item for early ice is a pair of cleats that can be strapped onto your boots. You can cover ground much more quickly with a good grip.
The system is what Iíd call "Ice Trolling" and itís an aggressive action oriented game plan that keeps two or three anglers busy all day long. Using the main drop off (the edge area where the shallow flats meet deeper main lake water) as your starting point, drill your first hole and set up tip up number one. For tip up fishing, I like to use an egg sinker as the weight. Slip it on to the line and tie on a medium size barrel swivel. From the barrel swivel, attach a two to three foot piece of heavy, clear monofilament or fluorocarbon line to act as a leader. The clear 17 to 25 pound test line helps make your presentation more natural while protecting against most bite off problems. A number 4/0 hook attached to the leader will be plenty for large fish and itís the perfect size for a large size Golden Shiner, Redtail or Sucker Minnow.
For my money, the Golden Shiners really shine (pardon the pun) at this time of year and Iíd go out of my way to get them.
|They look so
much like the spawning Tulibee that big Pike are likely to gobble them up without
thinking. I set the tip up so that the minnow is about a foot off the
bottom, but experiment with different depths to find out if high riding fish
are present and biting.
Once you have the first tip up set in place, locate another spot along this drop off, drill another hole and spend a few minutes with your jigging rod using a jigging spoon like a large Swedish Pimple, Jigging Rapala, Airplane Jig or Bucktail. I like to tip most of the jigs with a minnow head or in some cases a whole minnow hooked through the mouth.
After ten minutes or so in this location, put away the jigging rod and use this hole to set up tip up number two. Once youíve got number two in place, go back and retrieve the first tip up and locate another spot along the drop off, drill a hole, try the jigging rod first, then after another ten minutes or so, replace it with the first tip up. As you work your way along the drop off, youíll constantly be locating new structure and new fish. Repeat this leapfrog approach as often as necessary to stay in the action. Obviously, the more folks you have fishing, the more tips ups youíll set and the more action youíll find. On small lakes with good structure, itís even possible to fish all the way around to where you started. Remember to keep moving, most of the time the best action comes right away. Occasionally youíll get repeated strikes from the same hole, but more often youíll find that moving often is your best bet.
This is a perfect approach for folks who like the idea of a face-paced winter fishing trip; bring along the kids and go out of your way to keep the set up simple. Folks who try this system on just one good day become life long "Ice Trollers" for Pike. Try it and youíll become a believer too.
"Jeff Sundin is a full time Minnesota professional fishing guide and member of the Up North Pro Staff and founding member of the Northern Minnesota League of Guides"
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