The parking lot at the lake was full when we arrived, chasing a hot rumor that fish were biting. The other side of that coin reads, “You should have been here yesterday.” I believe in the adage, “When the wind is from the east, the fish bite the least,” or “When the wind is from the north, don’t even set forth.” We had a cold northeast wind blowing into our faces that gave me a bad feeling as I pulled the one-man shack over broken ice. Gary Enberg in his fishing column believes the same. “I always check the weather and it’s something you should do too.” With that east wind and unstable weather pattern, like Enberg, I knew it was going to be tough fishing.
This year’s new ice fishing village, mostly portable icehouses and a few permanent shanties, was on the lake right where it was last year. No one was driving cars on the ice yet but ATV and snowmobile tracks were cut into the snow. Our choice was a popular lake just north of Highway 8. My fishing partner was my wife Nancee’. From what I could see she was the only woman on the ice. She loves to fish and often out fishes everyone she’s with. As we walked out I observed guys not in shacks fishing. It’s not a good sign when guys are just milling about on the ice rather than focused on a hot hole with fish flopping beside them.
We went right into the heart of the portable fishing village and found old holes everywhere. Not many were fresh, most frozen from a day or two ago. Some had sunflower shells spat besides them, others dead bait, frozen minnows and waxies laying there. I found an open spot and began to set up our one-man shack with heater for my bride, as well as to eavesdrop on guys fishing in nearby shacks. What I heard and saw was not promising. They were seeing fish on camera and on flashers but fish just weren’t hitting.
With a crappie minnow down one hole and a jig and waxie down the other, the Hummingbird flasher marking fish below, Nancee’ worked the jig and watched her foam bobber hoping to see a nervous minnow. It took her about 15 minutes to catch a fat crappie for the fry pan. I was punching holes all around hoping to find the hot hole and the hot bait. I was getting lots of interference from other flashers that made reading bottom nearly impossible. I had heard that only minnows were working and that waxies were hot and red spikes on vertical spoons on each treble hook was the only way to go. I was also told that only plastics were working in just white, another guy said chartreuse, while another told me pink and green were the best. I had all of those and more so how could I lose? We ended up with 3 keepers in an hour and then had to leave. I noticed a heavy plankton bloom in the water that told me the fish were eating lake food and with a cold front moving in, they did not want my menu.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at email@example.com