Almost the end of a dismal season….
by Shane Christiansen
With the temps getting warmer, I have usually in the past wished that ice fishing season could last a little longer. This year, I do believe I am happy it’s coming to an end. While this season was a season full of new toys, it was also a season filled with disappointment.
If you have been ice fishing this year, you as well have noticed all the weather fronts that have passed thru the midwest. All those fronts seemed to have come mid to late week, really putting a damper on the bite for the weekend. And with my busy 6 day work weeks, it just hasn’t left much time to produce results to speak highly of.
Spent a lot of time traveling and having fun on the ice, but not really doing much “catching”. Only a couple times this winter seemed to be non-stop action, one time being at the Southwood Conservation Area, when switching ponds proved to be the most successful decision all year. Fishing on the west pond all morning was just sluggish at best, however moving to the east pond at noon proved to be valuable that day, as big blue gills and crappie were racing for anything in the water.
Another successful day was the first annual Yellow Bass Bonanza in Clear Lake, Iowa. The tournament and events were fun and amazing, just a great time with great people. And the fishing was fun as well, however my problem at the tournament was catching yellow bass. Seemed like the crappie in that lake were bullies, only allowing me to get 9 yellow bass that day, but limiting out on crappie very easily.
Or even Deer Creek in plymouth county, where blue gills just hammered anything in the water, but not much size to them. I caught well over 2 limits in 3 hours, but not much in the bragging or keeper range. But most of this year has been the season of disappointment, even the trout at Bacon Creek have been finicky…
At the beginning of the season, I spent alot of time testing new products, like Northland Bionic Ice line, as well as my new Marcum LX-9 sonar/dvr/camera unit, 13 Fishing’s new Black Betty 27″ UL combo & new Black Betty 6061 geared inline reel & new GIB ice fishing bag, and some lures new to me – the Custom Jig’s & Spin’s slender spoons.
Trips to Spirit Lake Iowa, Clear Lake Iowa, Bitter Lake in South Dakota, Deer Creek in plymouth county, and the Ice Extravaganza in Brainerd Minnesota, were all great times spent with great people trying to put fish on the ice. From great temps of sitting on the ice without a coat, to -50 degree wind chill and no shack at the ice extravaganza, I think I can say I have had a great variety of adventures this season.
My only regrets of this season was the lack of great results to help write about the products I tested this year. So instead of writing separate reports on each, I figured I would write a general summary and hope for better times in these closing weeks, and get a head start on getting ready for open water season……
Starting off with the Northland Bionic Ice line ( www.northlandtackle.com ). I will be the first in line to say how much I love northland products, from the gumball jigs to their impulse plastics, to their ice lures, but this line needs some work in my honest opinion. Using this line on my Black Betty setups proved to be a pain, as it iced up very easily as well as coiled up on my inline reels. Even ice fishing in my warm shack didn’t improve the results on the coiling effect. With as much success as I have with all of Northland’s other products, I almost have to wonder if I happened to find a couple bad spools? I suppose every company has to have at least one product in their arsenal that doesn’t perform up to high standards, and if that’s the case, this would be it, since everything else I have from Northland I truly love to use. Final verdict – Stay clear of this ice line, no matter the bargain!
Switching out my Northland Bionic Ice line, I went to Suffix Ice Line that i received with my Marcum LX-9 purchase promotion. This line has proved itself to be strong as well as good at not coiling up or icing up very often. I would rank it right along side with the micro ice line I have used. Another cool thing about the suffix ice line is the available colors. I was able to use the orange line with my Black Betty 6061 geared inline reel, and color match since the reel is black and orange. So not only has it proved to be good on catching fish and not breaking, it’s cosmetically appealing for those that want your gear to be as sexy as the person using it.
My first day using my new Marcum LX-9 was great, out on Spirit Lake, Iowa. Fishing in 18 feet of water, the perch bite was so lite that my new camera on the LX-9 was a god-send. The camera helped me fine-tune my jigging skills when it comes to perch fishing, seeing how they react to certain movements and such. While there wasn’t much size to the perch that day, it was still a great outing, and to top it off, I got some footage of a nice northern pike staring down my offerings. But not everything with the LX-9 has been a dream this year. The original software that was released with it had bugs and caused the unit to lock up about every 2 hours. The release date for the unit itself was pushed back a couple months as well, which even made me frustrated, since I had a nice chunk of change invested ( $1199.00 retail price ), and since our ice season started before they released the unit at Christmas. Altho I know in the past Marcum has had issues with meeting their release deadlines on new products, I had expected better of them this year since they combined forces with the fishing giant Rapala. They are well past that issue now, as well as releasing 2 new software updates to fix the bugs in the system, that have proved again why they are a leader in ice fishing technology. In some sort of redeeming way, they took the extra time in the beginning to make sure that their updating process would be stream-lined, and has proven to be easy and fast – just load the new update on the included micro sd card and power up the unit – SIMPLE & EASY!! Also, the guys at Marcum ( www.marcumtech.com ) have been a pleasure to work with on any questions I had. My main thanks with my questions on the LX-9 has to go to James Holst of In-Depth Outdoors ( www.idofishing.com ). James has went above and beyond what any manufacturer could ask for one of their sponsored members, from finding out behind-the-scenes information, to finesse tricks on any Marcum unit. With his insight and testing of the new LX-9, he was able to guide many, including myself, to better results with our units by sharing his wealth of knowledge on the product from in-depth questions to even simple fine tuning like switching over to 6 color mode for more sensitive readings. I highly suggest giving his website a shot, even if you don’t own a marcum, as his tips and tricks have helped many to get better fishing results.
13 Fishing ( www.13fishing.com ) really proved this year it was gonna leave a mark on the ice fishing community. With so many new offerings this year, my wallet still hates them, haha. Whether it was adding their touch to what we use by offering great combos like the white noise, white out, or wicked, or bringing new offerings to the market like inline reels Black Betty & Black Betty 6061 geared units, or their GIB ice fishing bag to haul all your gear, they definitely proved they are a major player in the market. Every rod i touched of theirs seemed to have a great feel in the hand, as well as a blank that could detect even the lightest of bites. Using the Black Betty 27″ UL combo was a blast, as long as you were in waters less than 15 feet deep. A nice tall reel seat gap allows gloved hands to fit in between the rod and reel nicely, allowing you to keep your hands warm in the outdoors and keep on fishing. The inline reel design of the Black Betty helped make sure that line twist was kept to a minimum, however with that deisgn has a drawback of not having a geared retrieve nor a open spool release. So when you need to drop down into deep water, you have to either pull the line out by hand or reel backwards, which is a trick to learn when the bite is fast and furious, hence why I recommend not to fish deeper than 15 feet. Their Black Betty 6061 is a step up, and tackles that issue with a free spool option. Simply push a button on the side and your line drops thru the water faster than I have seen on any open face reel. They also incorporated a geared retrieve system in this unit, so retrieving the line is alot faster than the 1-1 ratio of Black Betty. The drag system on the Black Betty 6061 is currently in redesign stage after seeing that it needs improvement, but it has been a non-issue with the fish I have caught on it. It does seem a little bulky for a reel, but to me it fits nicely in the hand. If I were to change anything on the unit, I would add a line spooler that helped make sure the line was evenly placed on this wide spool. As for the GIB ice fishing bag, it is a very nice offering that protects your reels and tackle quite nicely. While it may not be a hard sided case like some of the other companies offer out there, it certainly isn’t as heavy either and it will protect your rods from the elements quite nicely. Would it protect your stuff from getting ran over by a truck? No, but neither will the hard plastic sided cases either….. The storage on the GIB bag is second to none. Enough pockets to carry all 6 of my 3500 series plano trays, as well as more quick tackle boxes included inside the bag. One could easily carry their tip-ups in the outside pockets as well! My only 2 suggestions on this bag would be to make it thicker so i don’t have to adjust my reel crank in when packing up, and to make it more right-hand retrieve friendly, as only one of the 4 pockets inside allows my crank handle to face me when opening the bag. While that might not be a big gripe at all since it is intended to protect your rods, it just seems more cosmetically friendly to open the bag and see your crank handle staring right back at you…. All in all, I would have to say 13 Fishing’s venture to expand in the market has proven to be successful for them, as well as for us ice fishermen. I cannot wait to give their open water rods a try this spring!
Last but not least, Custom Jig’s & Spin’s slender spoon ( www.customjigsandspins.com ). What can I say about this spoon other than simple but powerful. What I thought would be my go-to lure for walleyes and perch has now become my go-to lure for search & destroy mode, when I need to attract attention. Blue gills, yellow bass, perch, crappie, walleye, northern, trout, they all love this lure. The simple flutter it does while falling attracts all the fish in, and depending on what you are using for bait on it’s treble hook, make it irrisistible to the fish. I never thought there was a universal lure for ice fishing, but this might be the exception. While it might not be the answer EVERY time, it sure is the answer for attracting them. I eventually set up my medium stick with one of these gold/glow slender spoons just to use for an attraction for bringing the fish in for a quick go-to, and then jig with a small tungsten if they don’t like the spoon. It definitely is a must-have in your arsenal, even if you only want to use it for bringing the fish in. I am glad I found this lure, and have slowly started to build my collection of them.
Hopefully in the last couple weeks of this ice season, I will be able to test out my new TUCR ( tuned-up custom rod – www.tunedupcustomrods.com ) 32″ precision that I had handcrafted to match my Black Betty 6061, all black with orange string to tie on my eyelets. She’s a real beauty, very sensitive, and a pure work of art. But as well all know, the proof is in the pudding, and I can’t wait to find out if this rod is a new fad or a new hero to ice fishing….