Ice Fishing… in Style
Oct 7th, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Oct 7th, 2010 at 12:00 AM
This may not seem like the right time to talk about ice fishing so soon after the Midwest’s long, hot summer. But take a tip from walleye fishing pro, Dave Underhill, that now is exactly the right time to talk about hard-water fishing if you want to be ready when cold weather arrives.
For one reason, the location of fish species like walleyes, northern pike, and panfish in December, January and February mirrors their locations in summer. Now is the time to reflect on where you found fish in June, July and August.
“Anything we do in the summer,” says Underhill, “we are logging for winter.”
For another, it’s time-consuming to get the right gear together to increase odds of success and to insure your time on the ice will be safe, comfortable and fun. For Underhill, who is also general manager of South Dakota-based Distinct Builders, this means he’s selling lots of four-season RVs and trailers known as The Lodge Recreational Vehicles and Fish Houses.
The term ‘ice shanty’ doesn’t apply to these mobile motel rooms on wheels. Distinct Builders is the only certified manufacturer of fish house-related RVs by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the governing association that insures quality control for wiring, over-the-road travel, ventilation, safety and more.
Not only can ‘Lodges’ be used in warm weather, they can be driven onto the ice, lowered to the slick surface and turned into the fanciest fish house you’ll ever see. Heated by forced air just like home, fishermen can stay toasty inside while they fish through trap doors in the floors. The interior is pine. They look like rooms in a resort somewhere.
“We are the Cadillac of ice shacks,” said Underhill.
Ice anglers can watch jigs work on an ice cam projected on half of the 32-inch flat screen TV mounted in the Lodge, while they also watch a movie or NFL football on satellite broadcast on the other half of the screen.
There’s more. They can cook in a fully equipped kitchen and sleep on comfortable beds.
“Plus,” says Underhill, laughing, “there’s plenty of room left over for a recliner for the guy who drinks a few beers and decides it’s too far to walk all the way over the bed.”
Ice fishing has come a long way since Underhill was introduced to the sport at age four in Minnesota. A tarp house was built with anything that might keep the frigid wind off a fisherman. They used chisels and single-blade augers to cut holes. The work it took wasn’t too conducive to moving very often and there were accidents. He still chuckles when he remembers how he caught his sister’s ponytail in the auger once. The ponytail had to be sacrificed.
They used jiggle sticks for fishing rods. Some brilliant inventor came up with a reel made from a coffee can with marbles that could be mounted to the shanty so it would make a racket when a fish took a bait. It was the forerunner of today’s rattle reels which can be mounted in the Lodge. Heck, there’s even a gizmo that will jig your jig for you. You can select the speed, leave it in a rod holder and go back to playing cards. If you have tip-ups outside, each one can be assigned a number that flashes on a signal board inside so you know exactly which one has a fish on. It’s especially helpful on chilly nights.
“Then you just send your son out,” laughed Underhill. “Just tell him to watch out for the 10-inch holes we don’t have covers on. They usually come back without a boot. Or send one of your fat buddies. You’ll usually have to chisel his leg out of the hole. We give him three minutes and then go look for him.”
Because mobility is the key in ice fishing, the smaller Fish Houses can be moved easily from spot to spot with an ATV or larger vehicle, if the ice is thick enough. Eighteen inches of solid ice will hold a full-sized vehicle, Underhill said. Just be sure you know where current might create thin spots.
On home lakes and reservoirs, scouting begins every summer when productive spots are entered as waypoints on a GPS. A navigation/mapping chip helps even more to pinpoint the small structures – the deep drops off of points, the isolated rock piles and humps that hold walleyes and other predators. In bowl-shaped lakes, even a drop of a foot can be a gold mine.
Even if you’re familiar with a body of water, stop at several bait shops on the way to get the latest information on where fish are biting and what baits are working best.
If ice is too thin for the Lodge, park it in any campground or even a Wal-Mart parking lot, unload your ATV or snowmobile, along with portable ice shanty, from the storage area in the Lodge and head out on the ice. If the snow cover is light, divide the lake or reservoir into sections and split up your group to check out spots until the most active locations are found. Meet back at headquarters to discuss the next step.
“The guy who comes back with the best fish is special,” said Underhill. “He doesn’t have to drill holes, cook supper or go outside to get a tip-up.”
If the ice is thick enough to support the Lodge, take it to the best spot, drop it and start fishing. You can always use the portable shanties to scout more locations or to fish spots you know are good close by.
Crappies, bluegills and walleyes can be found in the same places early in the ice season. In lakes, check green-weed edges in 4 to 14 feet of water. Look for points and inside turns, especially those that lie in transition areas from sand to mud where the forage base will be richer. In reservoirs, check the points and breaks into old river channels.
Later in the winter, check the sharpest shoreline breaks to the deepest part of a lake. Walleyes don’t have to move as far to feed, a perfect situation for a fish that wants to eat without working hard to do it. Conserving energy means survival to a fish, especially during the cold months. Focus on mid-lake reefs on bigger water.
Crappies will often be suspended over structure. Perch will be on the bottom. Sonar units, like Humminbird’s new Ice Machines, are invaluable.
Effective depth depends on the place. Some are 30 feet deep and some are 100 feet deep. Time of day plays a role, too. Walleyes cruise shallow flats early in the morning. They return at night, though they may not be as shallow as before. Go deeper on structure during the day.
Use a variety of baits. Crappies like small jigs and plastic trailers or wax worms and maggots. Bluegills like tiny jigs with the same baits. Depending on size, spoons are great for more active panfish and walleyes early and late in the season.
Rattle Reels can be rigged with 4-pound-test ‘leaders’ (tippets) for crappie and perch, 8-pound for walleyes and heavier if you like northern pike.
Rest assured, the RVs won’t sink even if they break through the ice. Enough insulation is blown in to make them float.
Take time, now, to turn your thoughts to ice fishing and you’ll soon be fishing the hard water in style.
It only looks like Ted Takasaki battled this monster pike up through a hole in his hotel room! Fishing inside a Lodge by Distinct Builders of South Dakota (www.ice-shack.com), ice anglers will find the ultimate in comfort, including split-screen TV with half showing your lures under the water and half showing the football game! Also, as usual, Ted offers general ice-fishing advice here that will help you set up the Lodge over a hot spot.