Last Kick at the Ice Fishing Can

The 2016 Ice fishing season had to be one of the shortest on record. December was a bust and January crept in so slow that you just knew it couldn’t last. Even still, I managed to creep out on the ice, poke a few holes, and strike it lucky a bunch of times before the February show season began chewing up my weekends.

In early March my friend Jason Cox drove us up to one of his favourite lakes in the Ottawa Valley region. I know this lake well as my Walleye club has a competitive event here every summer, but this was my first time fishing it through the ice. Joining us for the day was my youngest boy, who loves being on the ice when the weather starts to warm up, and of course, Moby my Burnese / lab guide dog.

We took out the two Frabill flip-over’s. Three seats and wind-breaks for everyone. It was the beginning of March and only 14-inches of ice managed to form.

Lots of Perch entertained my son while Jason and I put down larger bait in hopes of tagging a large Pike or Walleye. Always fun fishing with tip-ups especially now that I’ve started using BlueTipz wireless bite alarms that send a private message to my iPhone or BlueTipz receiver announcing each time there’s action. Otherwise, I’m working the Frabill straight line combos that I’ve come to appreciate so much.

Whether it’s the Frabill multipliers or the single action reels I use for fishing 2lb test, they all have their place. Both allow me to get my line down to the exact depth faster than possible when using spinning gear. The free-spool multipliers are lightening quick, and the single action reels for lighter line and shallower water let me strip off the exact amount of line each time – eliminating the guess work.

Good day for sure. Lots of bites, warm nourishing sun, and great company. Moby had a great day too meeting and greeting the ice shanty dogs that had already laid claim to the lake for the season. Funny how dogs always seem to think they own the entire ice surface for as far as they can see.

Origins and current Applications of The Hunter-Gatherer Jig Angler

Ever wonder where the term “Jig” came from? Hunter-gatherers have been fashioning fish attractors using feathers and fur for thousands of years. These artificial baits would be jiggled on the end of a short strand of catgut. Fish that drew near to investigate would be speared. It wasn’t until much later that hooks were introduced. Early hooks were assembled with several fine bones or thorns tied together in the shape of a “V”. The use of various metals to add weight and flash came much later. Interesting to note, it was primarily women who did much of the early jigging and spearing of fish.

Jigs may seem simple in concept, but the myriad ways they can be dressed and used are countless. From size, weight, shape, colour and the use of hair, feather or plastic attractors, all manner of adornments have been added to enhance their appearance. The endless variety of jig configurations can now make the task of picking one over another daunting.

Just as one wouldn’t use a hammer for every repair job around the house, jig style and presentation method differ widely according to circumstance. The following factors need to be considered when selecting the ideal jig for a specific application. Consider: water clarity, light levels, local forage, current and depth, fish temperament, time of year, and fish habitat and structure.

The kick I get from buying new tackle still boosts my spirits. However, experience and a sore shoulder has taught me well to avoid the temptation of preparing for all conceivable scenarios, as it only leads to a seriously over-weighted tackle bag. Jigs may be small, but in no time can add up to be quite the “boat anchor”.

An easy way to keep a lid on over-stocking jigs is to limit purchases to a handful of colours. Instead of matching every conceivable hatch, go with natural colours for applications in open and relatively clear water, Black with a touch of something more vibrant for low light or heavily stained conditions, and rattles only for low visibility situations. Colour is often the least most important factor. Well-loved jig heads pounded virtually free of paint still often get the job done.

To avoid falling into the trap of becoming a “Jack of all trades and a master of none”, take the time to learn how to present jigs under different conditions. Presentation styles range widely from a simple lift and drop to sudden rips, and everything in between including: dragging, dead sticking, swimming, snapping, popping and twitching. Jigs can be fished directly below the boat or through a hole in the ice, pitched / flipped around visible cover, or fished blind by long-bombing them into open water.

More vigorous horizontal retrieve techniques meant to quickly cover aquatic territory have me reaching for outfits spooled with fluorocarbon line and fast action rods. fluoro sinks the fastest of all lines, and provides the straightest possible connection between the rod tip and your jig.

Deeper more vertical and slower presentation styles that demand rapid and instant hook sets increase the need for feeling subtle bites. Shorter extra-fast rods spooled with braid get the nod. The non-stretch properties of braid give a direct tactile connection to the jig below the boat / ice.

Lawrence holding 2 bass caught while fishing on White Lake

Lawrence holding 2 bass caught while fishing on White Lake

Ultra-light applications generally mean close-in work; making cheaper monofilament lines perfectly acceptable. Micro jigs used with ultralight outfits haven’t the weight to influence line stretch or sink rate, and even a basic ultralight rod will be able to transmit subtle bites without line stretch interfering. Besides, the bit of stretch in 2 or 4 lb line gives that added insurance against breakage.

In general, jig-rod actions almost always lean towards extra fast of whatever power will get the job done. The soft tip aids in detecting bites without imparting unnatural tension to the fish. It just doesn’t feel right to fish when tasting or feeling small bits of potential food with their mouths to encounter resistance associated with something far larger. Jig rods should also have a stiffer backbone ¾ up the blank for hook setting and to turn fleeing fish before they exhaust themselves beyond recovery.

A fast or moderate fast rod comes into play when actively swimming jigs horizontally. Fish first swipe at fleeing pray before making it a meal. The first strike is meant to disable the pray. The second and third strikes are signs of the fish actually eating. A rod with some give allows the jig to be slowed significantly by the first bite without it moving forward as if it possessed bionic strength.

The correct weight of a jig for each application is determined by current or drift speed. Generally, fishing as close to vertical is preferable as it affords maximum control over the jig without having to worry about dragging the lure into snaggy structure, or conversely, the jig drifting harmlessly just feet below the surface.

Penetrating heavy structure calls for heavier weights, as does clear warmer water. The first to break through to where the fish are residing, and the second to tempt active fish into reacting quickly without first having the opportunity to thoroughly size-up your offering.

Under almost all conditions fish will strike a jig as it’s dropping on a slack line. Too much tension, or any tension for that matter, will cause the jig to pendulum back towards the angler as it sinks; imparting the jig an unnatural look.

As a person who SCUBA’s I’m constantly reminded just how little cover there is in vast areas of lakes and rivers. It’s still possible to find fish in these open areas, but count on them being in continual movement. They expect their pray to be doing the same. When fishing over structure slow it down and even pause, but when the lack of tactile feedback from your rod is telling you there’s not much down there, keep moving to improve your odds of crossing paths with actively feeding fish.

Lastly, retrieving a jig back to the boat may seem simple enough, but requires the application of basic geometry. The following holds true whether snapping, jigging or swimming jigs horizontally.

A jig cast out and then raised with the rod tip is going to have more forward momentum than vertical lift. Dropping the rod tip the same amount you just raised it isn’t necessary. Follow the jig down by getting to know the sink rate, and then repeat the motion just slightly ahead of the jig to avoid line tension. As the jig draws closer, use less lift and more follow. By shortening the degree of lift with each stroke, your jig will exhibit a more consistent retrieve profile. By the time the jig arrives directly below, the movement of the rod tip on the lift and drop should be the same. This way when you do get bit you will know exactly how far your jig was above bottom at the time; allowing you to dial in your retrieve and eliminate waste.

Watching your rod tip to maintain a steady retrieve will work against you. Close your eyes and try visualizing what the fish are seeing. Do this, and I’ll guarantee you will become far more adept at imparting a consistent retrieve, even if others observe the movement of your rod as changing with every stroke.

The evolution of jig fishing in the past 100 years is truly impressive. While the concept may seem simple and traditional, learning to fish jigs effectively under a wide variety of conditions has become an art in itself. Take the time to expand your jig fishing skills and embrace a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Feel the Bite Fishing Videos and Accessible Media Inc.

Accessible Media Inc. broadcasts over cable TV and satellite into over 5-million Canadian households. Andrew Morris, one of AMI’s young innovative producers, contacted me and asked if I would film a series of 2-4 minute TV interstitials for AMI TV. Interstitials are like commercials in that they are played between regular program offerings, but different in that they are primarily for conveying information and not to sell. I agreed, and came up with 20 possible options. We settled on 14.

Over a period of six days I filmed 14 Feel the Bite interstitials – often as many as three in a day. Each interstitial includes me and my guide dog Moby exploring a different way of fishing for a variety of fish species, and conveying general information about fish, their biology and habitat, and environmental pressures that are impacting on their viability. We also included stewardship tips.

The interstitials are now available for your viewing pleasure via YouTube. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did doing the researching, writing and filming. Visit www.LawrenceGunther.com to access the shows directly, or search on YouTube.

AMI TV and Feel the Bite teamed up to produce 14 TV shorts focussing on sustainable fishing using every type of watercraft imaginable

AMI TV and Feel the Bite teamed up to produce 14 TV shorts focussing on sustainable fishing using every type of watercraft imaginable

Catching Largemouth Bass for Christmas

The 2015 winter season just never seemed to be in any great hurry to come. With only five days to go until Bass season closed, my buddy Dave Steen and I decided to give it one more try before he put the boat away.

It was December 10 and, of course, the docs had already been pulled. It meant my having to hold Dave’s Ranger off the rocks while he went and parked his truck. It worked great up until the rope slipped off the foot of his trolling motor and the wind began blowing the Ranger out into the lake. I had no choice but to wade in after it. The water temps were 38 degrees and I only had the one pair of socks and shoes, didn’t stop me though.

We found a nice stretch of moderate depth water just outside of a large bay that held fish, and boy did it hold fish. Largies from 2-3 lbs were ready and willing to snack one more time. Over the next five hours we moved around a bit, caught a bunch of fish, and then called it quits with just enough time to get Dave’s boat to the marina where it was scheduled to be put to bed for the winter. Drop-shot and blade baits were the answer. Nothing to radical, just enough action to peek their interest.

Great, if not a bit chilly, day on the water for sure. We could have kept the boat out for another week (LOL).

Fishing for Rainy-Day Walleye

I always think the fishing is going to be really good when the weather app on my phone is announcing cloud and rain. This especially holds true when the foul weather comes hard on the heels of a stretch of blue sky days. The trick is to get on the lake just as the weather is changing, or at least that’s my theory at present. Who knows what I’ll be writing about weather-wise next time – the theory is sort of a work in progress.

My Walleye fishing partner David Mingie and I hit the local lake on a mid-August day for another of the Ottawa Region Walleye League’s tournament events. There were seven teams braving the forecast – 14 other guys who probably support the same weather/Walleye theory as mine, or just maybe a bunch of guys who fish no matter what?

We launched the Ranger 620 Fisherman FS, fired up the Evinrude E-TEC 250 HO G2, and shot down to the other end of the lake, you know, where all the fish are.

This new G2 has a noticeable extra kick on the hole shot that a guy can really feel, even in the passenger seat. One of the other features I really like with this new motor is the automatic controls for the trim. I no longer have to instruct new-be operators to drop the engine all the way down, or how high to trim up for maximum efficiency and ride comfort. Even if I don’t operate the boat myself because of my lack of sight, I’ve been around boats all my life and I know my Rangers having owned several models now over the past six years. Its true Rangers have a well-deserved reputation as a “point-and-shoot” boat, in that they unfailingly go where you point them; however, I’m a bit of a stickler for getting the trim right, and with the new G2 auto-trim feature, I don’t have to worry about having that discussion with operators any more.

We had a spot in mind to start, and our plan was to begin with bottom bouncers until we found some Walleye. Beginning in a range of water that was between 18-and 25 feet in depth, we each chose totally different patterns of worm harnesses. My choice was a bright Perch pattern on a large Colorado blade that took every gram of my 2.5 ounce bottom bouncer to hold down at our trolling speed of 1.5 mph. David tried something different, or at least that’s what he told me (LOL).

The bottom of this lake is fairly featureless. For the most part it’s a soft featureless bottom, but when you can find those subtle rises that represent a more rocky hard consistency, you have found the fish. The trouble is these harder bottom areas are shaped more like runways then humps, so you need to follow them along until you find the section that the fish have decided to inhabit for the moment.

It took some time, but we finally narrowed down an area where we were catching Walleye. The problem was that they were still scattered and all 12” clones – good enough to get us on the board, but five of these yearlings would only add up to 60” – hardly a winning total. Never-the-less, after plucking four of these volunteers from the bottom, we moved on to find their parents.

About two hours into the day we finally managed to hook up with a decent walleye. We were still bottom bouncing our worm harnesses when I felt my line stop. By that time we had already caught and released a number of jumbo Sunfish and 2-3 lb catfish, but this felt different. I asked Dave to stop the Terrova trolling motor, and that’s when I felt the first headshake.

Slowly I began gaining back line. There were a few minutes there when things came to a stop, but with some gentle pressure, I was able to resume reeling. Dave had his line in and the net at the ready. Sure enough, we managed to net our first big Walleye of the day. A decent fish of 19’ with big shoulders. We put her on the measuring board, snapped a quick pic for the record and another for bragging purposes, and let her go safe and sound.

We now had our five. We needed to cull some of those 12” fish off the score sheet. Dave dialed the I-Pilot on the Terrova back up, checked our track on the Lowrance and set a waypoint, and we were off.

Not 15 minutes later I had a second decent fish on the line. This too felt like a good Walleye so Dave slowed the Terrova, set his rod into one of the two new flush mount stern rod holders Ranger now includes in the FS series build, and got ready the net. I only had the fish reeled in about half way when Dave noticed his rod tip bouncing pretty hard. Yup, double header.

Not sure how we managed it, but we were able to net my Walleye, which measured 20”, snapped a quick pic and let her go. All while Dave was reeling his fish in, and what a beauty. I got her in the net and we were amazed. Not just because of the double header, but the size. Dave’s Walleye measured 22”.

The lake we were fishing lies within a 45 minute drive of Canada’s capital, Ottawa. The lake also has three different RV campgrounds, one of which has over 300 sites. Add to this natural/urban mix a bunch of cottages, and one might wonder how such decent Walleye manage to survive potentially significant fishing pressure?

Personally, I think the new bag limits have helped. The rules state a fisher can keep up to four fish under 14” in length and one fish over 18”. This means fish over 14” and fewer than 18” must be returned so that they have a chance of growing up and becoming breeders. Funnily enough, we didn’t catch a single Walleye that day that fell within the range of fish that had to be returned. For whatever reason however, the population of Walleye seems to be improving. Or, Dave and I just seem to be getting better at catching them. It wasn’t our first time putting together a decent bag of fish on that lake.

We had brought along some minnows that cost us a bit of coin, so we decided to give them a shot. We drop-shotted them while drifting for the next hour. We caught a good two dozen large catfish for our efforts. Dave picked up a Pike along the way, and off one deep point we stumbled into a school of large Green Perch that all measured over 11” inches – the size of Perch that would make great eating if you had decided to harvest them when they first made an appearance, which we didn’t. The only species missing from our day’s adventure were Bass, so I had Dave zip over to another point that was being churned up by wind-driven waves, and managed to tag a couple Largemouth on swim jigs in short order.

Days like this are memorable. Strangely enough you don’t remember how much or hard it rained, or how cool the weather got. No one died of hypothermia and the Ranger’s bilge pumps kept the deck water free. By the way, that new rubberized spray-in deck covering Ranger is now using in the cockpit is fantastic. Good traction, easy on the knees, and a snap to clean up. Drying out the boat also takes a lot less time. Oh yes, Dave and I managed to win the tournament in spite of our still counting two of the smaller Walleyes in our five best fish.

Fishing Streamers for Giant Rainbows Using Touch

As my wife, two youngest, our two pups, and I were well into the second week of our 9-week 16,000 km tour of the western portion of the United States and Canada, there was no way we could drive by Denver Colorado without paying a visit to my good friend Lance Glaser. I first met Lance while co-organizing a fishing event with him in Miami for the No Barriers Summit. We took over 60 people with disabilities fishing, and then Lance arranged to take me out after the Summit concluded for a day of Tuna and Shark fishing. Our paths next crossed when Lance organized a team of competitive fly fishers with disabilities to take part in the America Cup International Fly Fishing Tournament. Five days of intensive perfect fly fishing adventure. This time my family and I were to be guests of Lance and his wife Pat at their home in Brekenridge. We got there just in time for the July 4th celebrations.

One of the first activities Lance had us participate in was a Trout Unlimited sponsored kids fishing derby. My two youngest and I spent a half day trying to tease newly stocked Trout from a large pond along with 70 other kids. My son won a Trout Unlimited cap for his efforts, and my daughter a box of artificial flies. Later that night Lance was hard at work tying up articulating streamers for a surprise he had in mind for me, but his session at the vice quickly turned into fly tying lessons for the kids. They were absolutely amazed by the endless variety of Lance’s fly tying materials, and how he was able to craft both large and tiny creations on hooks. In spite of all the questions, Lance still managed to put some articulated streamers together for our use the next day.

The next morning we went around and picked up a local fly fishing guide and good friend of Lance’s, Shari Topping from Cutthroat Anglers. I had the pleasure of meeting Shari during the America Cup. Shari agreed to join us for a day of fly fishing on a private ranch.

Lance is friends with the owners of this 3,500 acre ranch and has received permission to host fly fishing sessions on the property that involve people with disabilities. Today I would be the only such guest, being completely without sight myself. It’s not uncommon for Lance to organize days on the ranch with as many as 40 Wounded warriors at a time.

My goal was to catch a giant Rainbow, Cutbow or Brown on a streamer using a sinking tip fly line and a six weight fly rod. The only assistance I wanted in realizing this goal was direction on where to stand and cast, and a hand with the netting. For me, streamers or nymphs represent the most likely techniques for fly fishing independently. Dry flies and indicators all require sighted assistance to alert me to the take. I wanted to catch trout using my sense of touch alone. Lance had a slight variation in mind.

Lance already knew I could catch fish. He also witnessed me catch quite a number of decent trout in the past. What he had in mind this time was the capture of a true giant. Something weighing over 20 pounds. Sure, I said, bring it on, all the time thinking why does he always have to complicate things? But, fishing with Lance is always an adventure, and I knew if anyone could pull it off it was him.

I don’t know how many pools and ponds brimming with decent trout we passed by before finally arriving at a spot Lance had in mind. It involved a small point next to strong current. The goal was to work the streamer around the point where the current broke. The trick was that it involved a 50-foot cast next to heavy brush. On my third try I managed to get the streamer into Position to Lance’s satisfaction. I just started working the streamer over the point when the line stopped dead. I set the hook and the fight was on.

The trout I had hooked was a long silver Rainbow that was doing everything it could to put current between itself and me. Amazingly enough, I managed to turn it every time it came close to leaving the pool. By no means did I tire the fish before Shari managed to get it into the net. The fight could have lasted a lot longer, but the goal is to release the fish alive and not to explode their hearts. I have to hand it to Shari for doing such a great job with the net. Unfortunately, when I went to join Shari in the water to hold the fish for a photo, the fish was way more than I expected and leaped from my hands before Lance was able to snap a pick. He and Shari estimated the fish to be close to 25 pounds. It was like holding a torpedo. I was in shock, but quickly managed to snap out of my dismay.

We then marched past numerous other holes and pools stopping only briefly to fish very specific sections, all while ignoring the numerous other fish that never measured up to Lance’s expectations.

Finally, we stopped at a pool that had a large log as a feature. My job was to bring the streamer alongside the log within six inches. It meant a 40-foot cast into the current up-stream and timing my retrieve so the fly would come along the downstream side of the log that lied perpendicular to the current. On my fourth cast I made contact with the brute that called the log home. It was the alpha fish in the pool and occupied the most desirable lie. And, it was huge.

The first thing this trout did was leap over the log, I thought for sure the fight would be over, but nope, the fish swam up-stream before turning after about 75 feet and then coming back downstream along the opposite shore. I then had to turn it, again, bring it back across the river, and into the quiet pool behind the log to be netted. The trout was having none of it however and doggedly stayed out in the main current, but to my luck, never going too far in either direction before turning each time.

This one Shari also netted after I backed up the bank. Being a bit more prepared, and Shari assisting with the lift, Lance got the photo. This fish wasn’t nearly as silver as the first fish, but was incredibly deep in the belly. It too weighed over 20 pounds. I had never held such a large deep-bellied trout in my entire life.

We caught other fish that day. Lance and Shari would set me up on a pool and then move left and right so we could all fish in sight of one another. I’m pretty certain I was able to master the art of working large #4 streamers on sinking tip line in fast current. What a day in deed made possible with the friendship and commitment of two great friends.

 

12th Ottawa Girls Guides go Fishing with the Ottawa BASS Masters

A 24-hour rain delay didn’t stop 48 members of the 12th Ottawa Girl Guides ranging in age from 5-16 from taking part in a shoreline fishing event I organized with the support of the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters. The girls were equipped with rods, floats and tiny jigs, and were taught the fishing basics by 12 fellow Bass Master club members.

The bite was hot and it didn’t take long to go through Five boxes of 18 large worms. All manner of panfish were caught and released along with a half-dozen or so catfish. It may have lasted 1.5 hours , but plenty long enough for each and every girl to catch fish — many a half dozen or so each.

I led a short Q/A session at the end that was quite lively with the girls sharing their experiences and observations. Club members Tony and Julie Morin organized a prize table that included five rod-reel combos, three tackle packs and a bunch of hats. Each girl also left with a pack of miniature tube jigs and an original Eagle Claw cork float.

Thanks go out to the Ottawa Bass Masters for making this event a success, and to the Dows Lake Pavilion for the use of their shoreline and discounted parking passes.

Alone or in Groups, the frozen St. Lawrence Offers both

Think about how much water spills over Niagara Falls. Add in a couple dozen more rivers and that will give you an idea of the volume of water flowing down the St. Lawrence River. Now, ask yourself if you would ever consider ice fishing on the Niagara? The answers probably no, but guide Todd Beckstead has made it his business to safely take ice anglers out on to the frozen St. Lawrence.

Whether you prefer your water soft or hard, there’s no shortage of opportunity to catch all manner of species on the St. Lawrence River. How the day unfolds can be just as interesting, including opportunities for fishing together with your friends for jumbo Perch, spreading out to jig over fast moving deep water for monster Walleye, and everything in between. Known for its excellent Large-mouth, Small-mouth, Pike, Walleye, Musky, catfish and Carp, the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Islands on east to Montreal has been producing record sizes and numbers of fish for decades.

The river was expanded when the St. Lawrence Seaway was developed in the 1960s that saw the installation of a series of dams and locks to facilitate the passage of large ocean-going ships. This deepening and broadening of the river has resulted in its now possessing dual personalities. There’s the fast-flowing current along its deep channel that ranges from 10 to well over 50 meters in depth, and then there are the numerous broad flats hosting a mix of sandy bottoms and weed beds complete with shoals that extend from land for hundreds of meters. Throw in a network of submerged roadbeds and building foundations, and it all adds up to wide-ranging habitat supporting an even greater variety of aquatic life. While it’s true many of the animals that call the St. Lawrence home are relatively new-comers, (invasive), thanks to tougher environmental regulations and a significant reduction in industrial activities along its shorelines, the native species are managing a comeback. The escalating quality of fishing has not gone unnoticed as made evident by the increasing number of local, national and international fishing competitions now staged annually along both its Canadian and U.S. banks.

We caught up with Todd Beckstead exchanging news with the owners at “Bite Me Bait and Tackle” in Morrisburg. While the store may be a relative new-comer, this well stocked fishing store offers a surprisingly wide range of equipment and bait. Todd is intimately connected to the pulse of the St. Lawrence, and while his passion may be fishing, his three-part guiding philosophy is founded on ensuring clients are safe and secure, everyone is having a good time, and fish are being caught.

The bulk of our day was spent fishing for jumbo Yellow Perch. This is the type of fishing that actually gets better the closer you fish together. With four of us comfortably arranged in a Frabill Thermal Headquarters 4-6 person pop-up shelter and four good-sized holes drilled, it wasn’t long before Todd had called over the first Perch of the day.

Fish whisperer is one term that could easily be applied to Todd. Nothing humans can hear above the ice, but made startlingly evident time-and-time-again as Todd dropped down a large five cm long rattle bait to attract the Perch. Within seconds no fewer than six Perch would be clustered around the bait five-meters below taking turns launching attacks on this unknown potential food source. Having triggered their feeding instinct, Todd would quickly retrieve the bait resulting in the Perch dispersing to seek alternatives. The rest of us would simply twitch and hold still small offerings of two cm long minnows or live maggots on size 12 1/32 oz. jigs. Within seconds of the dinner bell’s ringing coming to an end, double and often triple headers would result.

Thanks to countless Zebra Mussels the water of the St. Lawrence is almost crystal clear making it easy to witness directly the different ways Perch strike. Some Perch choose just to watch, while others cautiously taste the minnow or maggot to satisfy their curiosity. And then there are those who rush in to slam your bait. Twitching is usually all that’s needed to trigger the strike, but occasionally letting the bait rest on bottom does the job.

Sonar and colour video displays are not essential kit. Use shorter rods and seating that keeps you positioned erect so you can easily observe what’s taking place through the hole at your feet. The dark interior of the Frabill and the natural light that was penetrating the surrounding 20 cm of solid ice made viewing the scene below almost magical. The way our four 10” holes were positioned, it also made it possible to observe the action taking place beneath your neighbours. Real life gaming with four players – doesn’t get better than that!

Perch seem to roam ceaselessly. Whether to stay warm or two seek out schools of silver shiners and Big Eye that make up their regional diet, one need not wait long for perch to appear below. Prolonged spells of extreme cold will slow down their metabolism and activity levels; conversely, a stretch of milder weather will trigger intense action.

Marauding Pike weighing upwards of 10 kilos can quickly send Perch fleeing for the shelter of near-by weeds. That’s when you hope the large 20 cm long Sucker minnows rigged on tip-ups come into play. Placed well away from our Frabill shelter, the tip-ups provided a welcome break from sitting hunched over holes.

My BlueTipz Bluetooth wireless strike indicator worked flawlessly in alerting me to incursions from Pike. A small light-weight transmitter clipped to the flag of my Frabill XX tip-up instantly triggers an app on my smartphone to notify me that the flag is up. The warning will sound for a minute before turning off and automatically re-setting.

Twice I was sent scrambling. The first time my sucker was relatively unharmed but Pikeless. A bleeding wound to the Sucker’s back resulted in a scent trail. Less than 30 minutes later I was back running for my tip-up and hand-lining around 30 meters of line. Two good runs later I lost the brute at the hole. We did manage to make visual contact with the Northern just as she spat the sucker though, and Todd estimated its size at between three to four kilos. Good fun never-the-less and what I like to think of as a quick-and-easy hook release at the hole. More importantly however, is the lack of a visual photographic record that would have otherwise prevented me from expanding on this particular epic battle in future.

A second quick release scenario I managed to execute in broad view of my fishing companions was a sizable catfish that shook off and slid back down the hole. Todd came close to attempting a recapture by hand, but thought twice given the kitty’s stingers that would have no doubt found flesh. I’m guessing that after the Pike incident, he was on to my ways and wanted to ensure that this time there was a photographic record.

Lots of Perch and a few monsters to boot. Good times were had by all as we hunkered down and enjoyed the warmth of the roomy insulated shelter made toasty with two small heaters in spite of the sunless, frosty and breezy conditions. However, 3: p.m. came and it was time to pack up and prepare for round two of this two-part day.

Everything went back into the trucks, and out came several tiny sleds, a couple buckets, minimal tackle, rods and a manual auger for round two. We headed out by foot beyond the bay and on to the recently frozen main channel of the St. Lawrence to try our hand at intercepting a school or two of monster Walleye as they executed their evening patrol.

The ice was crystal clear making it possible to look straight through and see perfectly the depth and bottom structure below. After positioning ourselves using a series of complex geometric calculations, as well as the conveniently placed marker buoys, we drilled our holes in the 15 or so centimeters of clear ice.

We brought with us no shelters to protect ourselves from the 30-kph winds out of the east as erecting and anchoring anything on the glare ice would have taken about as long to accomplish as we intended to stay. The evening bite here lasts about 90 minutes, and is attempted over 15 meters of water in a five kph current.

Offerings that are a minimum of ½ oz. in weight are essential to execute a vertical presentation. Multiple hooks and numerous smaller minnows are recommended to avoid having to reel up and re-bait during a very short window of opportunity. If they manage to get one of your minnows, you know you still got a few more down there to work with.

Fishing together in a single shelter is also not an option due to the current’s effect on the lines and the size of fish being pursued. It’s imperative to spread out to avoid tangles that could easily end everyone’s chance to ice trophy Walleyes.

Keeping our back to the wind was the only way of preventing frostbite to our face and hands. Todd cautioned however, that the instant that contact was made with a fish we move to the up-stream side of the hole to allow the easterly current of the St. Lawrence to do the work of tiring the Walleye and to facilitate fish extraction through the ice. Walleye here can range upwards of eight kilos.

“Winds from the east, fish bite least”, was our undoing that day. The minus 35 degree wind chill made things slightly uncomfortable and may have influenced our decision to head back to shore fishless slightly before 5:30 p.m. — the end to our window of opportunity. After a day of non-stop fish captures, a punishingly cold fishless couple hours out in the open wasn’t the end of the world. It does however; make me anxious to return to the River to finish what I started. Caution will be taken however, as the Fast moving water like the main channel of the St. Lawrence isn’t somewhere I would want to venture without the expertise of a seasoned guide. Wouldn’t want my fishing trip of a lifetime to turn into the last trip of my life.

To get a hold of Todd Beckstead to arrange your own adventure, try the following:

Tel: 613-643-2067 or toddbbeckstead@hotmail.com.

Family Fun on Ice

When weather conditions are right and the bite is assured, I gather around my family and begin the up-hill struggle of convincing them just how much fun they would have if they went with me ice fishing. Not always an easy sell. Remembrances of prior frigidly cold fishless days always seem to get rekindled, and before long the family on mass is preparing to have me committed for even daring to raise the possibility of their re-living such experiences.

I’ll be the first to admit that convincing skeptics to try again what they already judge to be wasted and even potentially dangerous time on the ice is no mean feat. But, throw a heated ice shack into the equation, and its possible to melt even the most frosty opposition.

Thanks to my good buddy Yannick Loranger from Ottawa River Guided Fishing, a toasty shack set over top bountiful waters was on order for the day, and he delivered. Walleye, Sauger, Perch and Pike all made an appearance over the course of the evening.

Kids moved in and out of the heated shelter freely and took advantage of fishing opportunities both indoors and out. Mom and elder teenage sister were kept toasty by the gynormous propane heater while catching their own flurry of fish.

When quitting time rolled around there were even some who wanted to stay the night. (I have to admit that sleeping in one of Yannick’s mega cabins was my idea.) In the end though, logic trumped passion, and dad and kids were loaded into the truck for the 45-minute drive back into the city.

My hope is that memories of these good times will push far to the back past memories of less favorable outings, so when March roles around we can do it all over again under the spring sun. Hey, part of being a parent and angler is exposing one’s family to the positive benefits of fishing, even if some less positive aspects are involved. I always say that if nothing challenging happens, it’s not an adventure.

On Ice with Your 4-Legged Friend

Whether or not to bring your 4-legged best friend for some on-ice fun can pose some ethical issues. Sure it’s fun to have your dog with you, but will the pup manage the cold?

Face facts, for most of us are dogs have grown use to indoor climates and don’t necessarily grow the sorts of heavy winter coats their ancestors once sported. Even for me, I don’t really need to take my guide dog for the blind ice fishing. I never go alone and can get along fine without him. But, he just has so much fun — never mind that he cries like a newborn babe if I leave him behind. So, this is what I do to make sure we all have a good time on the ice.

Dogs seem to do better on snow then on clear ice. The snow is an insulator. Glare ice is not. If the conditions are snowy and the wind is low to no, I don’t worry too much, unless the temps are dipping way down there. Then you need to worry about ear tips getting frost bite, or those delicate parts down below that on many dogs are highly exposed. Shelter and some sort of blanket is a must on such days.

Keeping dog paws dry is important. Wet slushy days can quickly turn into ice balls forming between the dogs pads making it impossible to walk. Besides, who would want to walk around with wet feet in the winter. New rubber booties like “Pawz” available at many of the pet stores work wonders, and are relatively inexpensive.

Keep an eye on your pup during the set-up phase of the day. Nothing dogs like more than to mark territory, and for some strange reason this includes the sleds and gear of your buddies. Trust me when I say your pup’s attention to detail is never received with the same pack mentality spirit in which it’s offered.

Amazingly enough, some dogs just have the knack of stepping into ice fishing holes. Front entry portable ice shelters are particularly troublesome in this regard as they present twice as many chances for our 4-legged friends to soak a paw. The new side entry shelters from Frabill reduce the odds of paws dunking considerably. Their generous size also offer cozy corners where blankets can be spread and dogs can take a break from the wind and cold. Just try to maintain some separation between the pup’s tail and the heater. Amazingly enough, dogs don’t seem to have the capacity to register the smell of their own fur on fire.

Dog’s with solid think coats of fur have an advantage. My pup is a mix between a Lab and a Burnese Mountain Dog, so not only is he fine with water in summer, but he’s got enough coverage on him all-round in winter to withstand the coldest temps. All that fur goes the way of the Dodo Bird every spring when he gets his first shave of the season down to a quarter inch.

Have fun, but remember, while these friends will give their lives for us they almost never complain when things are going bad for them. Pay attention, use common sense, and take preventative measures like making space inside the shelter and bringing a blanket. Dogs can hear amazingly well and don’t feel the need to see out, which makes them easy company in shelters even when the windows are blacked out.

I’ve enjoyed the company of guide dogs for almost 29 years now, and I wish each one would have lasted my life span. It’s up to each of us to treat our dogs with respect as they grow from pups to adults to seniors, and to make sure their relatively short time with us is both enjoyable and safe. That’s also why I feed my pup food prepared by Eukanuba.