Four Tips For Early Season Fishing Success

Is your favorite lake still frozen? You can either go stare at your ice hole, or find some open water. I’ll take the latter.

Tip 1: Be mobile. Sometimes a small change in elevation or latitude is all it takes to go from ice to open water. For the past couple of weeks I’ve done just that – driven south and then fished the warmest water I could find within those areas.

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A couple hours in the car and a few degrees is sometimes all it takes fend off cabin fever.

Tip 2: Pick a water that warms first. I know I alluded to that in Tip 1, but it is worth stating twice. The first waters to lose their ice will offer the first opportunities for openwater success. From there, find a pattern that you can repeat on other waters as they thaw and warm.

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Note the trailing vegetation. Working lures over a shallow weedbed resulted in numerous February largemouth.

Tip 3: Be willing to use a combination of live bait and artificials. Some days your artificials will outfish the livies, and sometimes it’s the opposite. When possible, use them simultaneously on two different rods to cover more water and recognize a pattern.

The addition of livebait created the opportunity for this mixed-species, solo, double with a shiner and a jerbait.
The addition of livebait rod into the spread created the opportunity for this “mixed-species, solo double” with a shiner and a jerbait.

Tip 4: Be flexible on your target species. Choose waters with multiple species of gamefish or large panfish. Bass and crappies, bass and perch, bass and pike are all great early season combos.

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Not part of a typical combo, but the presence of blue catfish added this bonus on a bass lure.

Better, Greener, Cheaper

Want to catch more fish, and reduce your impact on the environment, and save money at the same time? Use o-rings when you wacky rig.

Each of your stickbaits will last longer. This directly helps your tackle budget. With each bait lasting longer, you’ll also spend more time fishing and less rigging. Baits rarely come off the hook on a strike or a head shaking jump, therefore, fewer baits are accidentally introduced into the environment.  It’s cheaper, more efficient, and greener. If you’re not doing it already, it’s worth a look.

Here’s a step by step intro to o-rings and wacky rigging.

Take apart a a dried out pen or Sharpie. Keep the large tube. Discard the rest.
Take apart a dried out ballpoint pen or Sharpie. Keep the large, tapered tube. Discard the rest.
Slide an o-ring on the skinny end of the pen tube.
Slide an o-ring on the skinny end of the pen tube.
Insert your stickbait inside the pen tube. Slide or roll the o-ring up the pen tube and onto the stickbait.
Insert your stickbait inside the pen tube. Slide or roll the o-ring up the pen tube and onto the stickbait.
Fold the stickbait in half an move the o-ring to the center point.
Fold the stickbait in half and move the o-ring to the center point.
Slip your hook point under the o-ring. There is no need to hook into the bait. In fact, your baits will last longer if you do not.
Slip your hook point under the o-ring. There is no need to hook into the bait. In fact, your baits will last longer if you do not.
If you prefer your hook to be perpendicular to the bait, use two o-rings overlapping to form an "X". Slip the hook under both o-rings where they intersect.
If you prefer your hook to be perpendicular to the bait, use two o-rings overlapping to form an “X”. Slip the hook under both o-rings where they intersect.

Fish Decoys: Frosty Folk Art

Spearing fish through the ice is not a common practice in most of the US. In fact, in many places it would be illegal and/or impossible to try. For those unfamiliar with the process, here are the basics. The sport takes place inside an ice shanty or darkhouse. The darkness affords a clear view beneath the ice. A large hole is cut in the ice – much larger than a little, round tip-up hole. The decoy is a hookless lure suspended through the hole to attract predatory fish within range of a spear. Although I’ve never done it myself, I’d imagine the decoy also helps gage distance and size of the fish. When suitable quarry, usually a large pike, comes within range, it is harvested with the thrust of a spear.

Michigan carver Mike Maxon made this stylized brown trout.
Michigan carver Mike Maxon made this stylized brown trout.

The spearing process is interesting, but that’s only half of the story. The other half is the artistry and craftsmanship. Handcarved from wood and heavily weighted with lead, each “fish” is carefully crafted for the correct balance and appearance to attract predators beneath the ice. Some are made by fishermen who carve, some by artists who fish, and some come from craftsmen inbetween. No matter the origin, each is an expression of creativity and ingenuity.

What could be more creative than a baby beaver?
What could be more creative than a baby beaver?

Decoys made by noted carvers may fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars from collectors, but that is not the best measurement of value. The true value lies where form and function are partners, and is measured on a sliding scale of satisfaction rather than dollars and cents. That satisfaction can be reaped by the the fisherman, the collector, or the carver himself.

How about a bunny?
How about a bunny?

 

Drop Shotting: When Less is More

Small baits
Fishbelly Hawg Shads in 3.5 or 2.8 inch sizes are about as good as it gets when it comes to minnow imitating drop shot baits. The right size, great action, and unbeatable colors set them apart from the competition.

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Small Hooks
A size 2 Gamikatsu Drop Shot hook is my “go to” hook for drop shot rigs. I’ve used other hooks with great success as well, but consider the “Gami” the best of the bunch.

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Size 2 Hooks from left to right: Gamikatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot, VMC 7356 Sure Set, VMC 7119 Spin Shot.

Small Movement
Keeping your movements short and subtle will entice more strikes than a exaggerated jigging motion. Jiggling the rod tip a few inches on a semi tight line works best. Try to use the weight as an anchor and just shake the line and lure for the most natural movement.

The slow, subtle movements make drop shotting perfect for shallow water sight fishing.
Subtle movements and delicate presentations make drop shotting perfect for shallow water sight fishing.

Small Hookset
No need to haul back hard on a drop shot strike. Just reel down tight and sweep the rod firmly and steadily until you’ve got a good bend in the rod. The sharp exposed point of a little drop shot hook plants easily and stays planted.

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The ease of hook set makes the drop shot system adaptable to many types of tackle, including ultra-light spinning.

What’s Old is New

At one time my passion for collecting antique fishing tackle rivaled my passion for fishing itself. Times change; interests change, often in a circular path. My once prized collection is now better described as wall ornaments and a box in the basement. Time to find new homes for some and repurpose others.

Finding new homes – a couple Deckers on their way to another collector.

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Originally from Lake Hopatcong, Decker later moved his office to Brooklyn.
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White seems to be the most common color for Decker lures. A bland yet reliable choice.

Repurposing – these rough condition, rotary head topwaters will move from the bottom of the collector hierarchy to the top of the experimentation hierarchy in 2016.

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Before returning to active duty, these oldies will likely receive a repaint.

 

Soft Jerkbait Rigging Basics

What could be more appropriate for an intitial entry than a tutorial on rigging one of the most versatile baits in your fishing arsenal? Here is a step by step guide to rigging the Hawg Shad – the king of soft jerkbaits. For the demontsration, we are using a 5″ Hawg Shad and a 3/0 EWG hook.

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Insert the hook point into the nose of the bait at a 45 degree downward angle.
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Push the hook point through and out the “chin”. Hawg Shads have two V’s on the chin formed by the gill detail of the bait. I like the hook point to come out between the two V’s.
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Rotate the hook shank, so the point in on the top side of the bait.
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Note where the hook bend crosses the bait. Push the hook through at this point from belly to back. When complete the bait should be straight and the hook point should lay on the back of the bait.

In its basic form of an EWG hook and no weight, the Hawg Shad will dart and glide like a distressed baitfish. The near weedless rigging allows the angler to probe fish holding cover with little fear. This simple rig is one of the deadliest shallow water presenations for smallmouth, largemouth, northern snakeheads, pike, musky, and just about any other gamefish you can think of.

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