By Steve Chaconas
Saying goodbye to winter isn’t easy for ice anglers. In February, Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes were frozen solid. Minneapolis St Paul Airport, the 11th busiest US travel hub, wasn’t bad until going to another terminal. There were no signs or directions until arriving at the appropriate terminal. Walked so much, I had to reset my Fitbit. Minnesotans are a friendly lot, doncha know. “Hey Bud”, is the standard unisex greeting. Only in Minnesota, when it’s 8 degrees outside is it a fine day to take kids to the park. A short flight to Bemidji and a 2-hour birch tree-lined drive takes you to the “Walleye Capital of the World”, Lake of the Woods in Baudette.
Since 1971, the Sportsman’s Lodge on the shore of the million acre lake has lured year round fishermen with customized getaways in updated lodges and villas, meal plan options, and varied fishing accommodations. Businesses, buddies and even brides enjoy fresh air and fresh fish! After saying “I do.” honeymooners say, “Get the net.” I was committed to catching and eating walleye every day, making this a wall-to-wall walleye adventure. Sportsman’s made it appetizing to chow down on the best-eating freshwater fish. Breakfast of fried fish with eggs is a good starter. Walleye bites and sandwiches for lunch. But the specialty of the house is Sportsman’s award-winning fried walleye fillet smothered in garlic Alfredo sauce with a blend of cheeses, broiled to perfection.
Southwick Associates data shows ice fishing has grown 12% to over 2 million participants. Luxury shacks, electronic gadgets and upgraded tackle are selling like fried walleye despite a short fishing season and narrow region. Keeping up with demand for better gear, the tackle industry is giving the sport a facelift. Highly visible premier bass tournament angler Dave Lefebre sets aside his Ranger bass boat and flip flops in exchange for sleds and boots to introduce writers to ice angling. Lefebre’s lineup of 13 Fishing bass rods and reels and his Rapala bass lures are downsized for big adventures on ice. Rapala Ice Force tungsten lures, scent-fortified soft plastics from Trigger X and Gary Yamamoto are in his ice box.
Open water bass angler Lefebre rigs his Ranger with Lowrance electronics, but still relies on Marcum flashers for pinpointing fish in open or iced water columns. Bringing power fishing to ice, Lefebre keeps bait over fish, shaking while watching fish move up. Running and gunning from hole to hole, he lowers the Marcum transducer and checks the flasher for fish. Nothing there, he rotates the transducer to cover a bigger area before leaving. This “ducer dialing” tells him to stay or to head in another direction.
Staying warm and safe tops my list when sitting on frozen ponds. Packing layers, I was prepared to be a nesting Michelin Man. In our pre-tundra meeting we were introduced to the best piece of gear since the net. StrikerICE has constructed safety technology into waterproof and breathable ice suits containing Surefloat, flotation assistance technology that will float the wearer if a fall through the ice occurs. The safety factor will enhance the family ice experience, as moms will feel better about allowing children to venture out. StrikerICE suits look good, have a ton of pockets and feature a venting system to extend the season from frigid to fair.
Specifically designed for ice fishing, 13 Fishing rod actions are tailored to fishing style and reluctant cold-water fish, making bite detection and hook sets reliable and effective. The flat tipped Tickle Stick rod is no laughing matter as it allows panfish to take baits without feeling rod flex.
13 Fishing has out cast technologically neglected ice products with a hot line of cool ice reels. Better gears, lighter weight and innovations provide ice performance. Their product manager spent 15 years repairing reels, learning the business from the inside out; mistakes, shortcomings and fads have been replaced with innovation and ingenuity. With input from top ice anglers, when it comes to developing a better mousetrap, 13 Fishing is the big cheese.
Making morning 28-mile treks across the ice in tank-like vehicles, our troop of media, pro anglers, and product experts were transported to heated icehouses with seating for 6. We talked, fished, talked, fished, and found time for a joke or a hundred. High lift hooksets initiated the exciting vertical light-line fish fights through the ice. Rod, reel, Seaguar Abrazx Ice line and angler worked together to concentrate the event in the 8-inch hole. Tackle teamwork has now arrived to ice fishing. Goodbye dull, boring, and grumpy old men ice gear. Ice fishing is growing as these companies open holes in the fishing market and in the ice for a higher level of participation and enjoyment.
Potomac River Bassing in April
Lucky Craft LV-500 lipless crankbaits in red patterns on 12-pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line will cover water. Snap free from grass. In thicker grass areas go to lighter LVR D-7 lures. A faster reel like the Quantum EXO and a medium heavy cranking rod like the KVD composite rod are perfect for launching, dragging or snapping lures.
Also, when water is clearer, use Lucky Craft Pointer 78 suspending jerkbaits in clown patterns.
Mann’s Baby X crankbaits are perfect for combing hard cover or tops of grass. Use 10-pound test EDGE for maximizing depths. Mann’s spinnerbaits are also good when the water has a bit of stain. In clearer water, try 3.75-inch Mann’s HardNose Reel N Shad in white patterns. Use 10-pound EDGE for this.
For soft plastics, soak Mizmo Tubes in garlic flavor Jack’s Juice and also use MIZMO BarbWire shaky head jigs, 3/8 ounce with a 5 inch Doodle worm. Drop shot and split shots with 2/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks. Try these on 6-8 pound EDGE.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.