I waited a lifetime to brave the cold, new world of ice fishing, but only a year to do it again! Scheduling busy writers and our host, pro bass fisherman Dave Lefebre, to show up along with safe ice was tough. A four-week window was set and literally solidified only a week in advance, in time to make travel arrangements. This time, I prepared. Hiding my razor for a few months made me look like I was ready and hopefully warmer. Dipping my hands in frozen peas at the grocery store toughened my digits for Lake Erie single digits. Packing to perfection, I loaded my carry on suitcase with layers of warmth.
The moment of truth began with hitching a ride to the edge of the Shenandoah Mountains to join outdoors writer Jeff Samsel. A quick lunch and a long 7-hour drive and we arrived at Dave’s Erie shore home. A bonus for me is spending time with his wonderful family. His kids are charming and his wife Anne takes great care of us, preparing great meals and packing awesome lunches! A few other writers, Pennsylvania native and freelance writer and guide Darl Black, Todd Ceisner from bassfan.com and Jack Hanrahan with Erie Daily Times were there to work and fish, fish and work, and fish!
Apparently the early bird gets the ice fish too! Lefebre had us heading out early to Lake Erie’s Misery Bay, not a misery when it comes to fishing as long as you are dressed appropriately. But, before stepping out on the frozen and slippery ice, we all strapped 32 North STABILicer cleats to our boots. This took seconds while providing all-day no-slip security! A StrikeMaster electric auger made quick work of the 9-inch ice! All we needed were some limes and tequila, to go with the shaved ice. Finally, time to fish! The most important piece of gear was the Marcum flasher, showing our lures as they dropped and enabling us to see fish enter our area. A shake or lift and the fish moved up to eat our very small lures!
Ice Force baits weigh 1/100 to 1/16 ounce and were tied to 1-pound test Suffix Ice Magic Line, finer than hair and very difficult to see and even harder for tying knots in the cold! There are several colors and shapes. The VMC Tungsten Tubby is a huge ice bait advancement. The small profile, with a heavier weight, achieved deeper depths faster, down to 40 feet in most cases. The Marcum units displayed where most of the fish would appear and how to taunt them into biting. With a little twitch you could see the fish move up. If the fish didn’t move, more agitation was needed. Sometimes fish gave us the cold shoulder, ignoring our lures for a while. This led us to hole hopping! Once we located fish, we would drill many holes and visit with our electronics. If fish were seen, we would try to catch them. No fish? Move to another hole! Sometimes it took a lot, others times not much, to fool fish into biting. With no fish seen within the coverage of the unit, bigger movements would bring fish into view. Bluegill moved up slowly, yellow perch a bit faster and the trout came through like torpedoes. The challenge was to keep the lures just out of reach of the fish to get them to commit! We fished with perfectly balanced ice specialty rods and reels from 13 Fishing: White Out, Wicked Combos, and our favorite the Tickle Stick…the most innovative with micro guides and a flat side for perfect flex! The rods made landing a 6-ounce fish an exciting fight, and the larger trout and bass a memorable experience. We gave the rods a steady workout with loads of bluegill, perch, crappie, and a few largemouth bass and trout.
As if catching fish in January wasn’t enough of an exciting treat, we were treated to ice quakes! Sitting in our small hut or on the open ice, a muted mumbled sound emanated from a distance, getting closer until sound was accompanied with rumbling and soon the ice quaked, rattling gear and forcing water up through our fishing holes. No matter where I was during these episodes, I was on the move with no particular destination, much to the amusement of our host and fellow writers.
Why would guys travel from comfortable warm homes to venture across frozen water to sit in the cold and fish through a hole in the ice? It’s because, even in freezing cold weather with memories frozen in time, fishing builds warm friendships.
Potomac River Bassing in March
Fish are moving shallow! A variety of moving lures will work! In clear water, try Lucky Craft suspending Pointer 78 jerkbaits on Quantum EXO spinning reel with 8-pound test GAMMA Copoly! They cast a mile and can pick off aggressive fish. Using Mann’s Classic 3/8-ounce willow/Colorado spinnerbaits with white skirts on 1 pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line will work on areas close to deep drops.
For creek mouth points and flats with deep water close by, use a Lucky Craft LC 1.5 RT with rattles to cover shallow areas with riprap and wood cover. Use casting gear with 10-pound test Copoly line
It’s also time to unleash Mizmo tubes with an insert head on spinning gear with 8-pound test GAMMA Copoly line. Start targeting docks near deeper water, as fish will use them as current breaks. These can be fished anywhere along with Punisher ¼ ounce hair jigs. Fish baits slowly and spray with garlic Jack’s Juice fish attractant. For the hair jigs, try 15-pound GAMMA Torque braid with 8-pound Copoly leader.
At the end of the month, try Lucky Craft lipless LV-500 in areas with emerging grass.
Written by: Steve Chaconas
Capt. Steve Chaconas, Potomac bass fishing guide, BoatUS “Ask the Expert” (http://my.boatus.com/askexperts/bassfishing/)
Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.