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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : outdoors : fishing
October 20, 2017

3/27/2014 5:38:00 AM
Late ice and the need for contrast
Late ice is a good time to set a lake surface aglow while in pursuit of crappies.Craig Turk photograph

Late ice is a good time to set a lake surface aglow while in pursuit of crappies.

Craig Turk photograph

Craig Turk
Outdoors Writer/Photographer

I like the late ice period for ice fishing, but when will it actually arrive?

By now, most years. But is it late ice? I’m not so sure. It seems to me like the stuff plans to stick around for a while.

I want to participate in the late ice period. I didn’t get a turkey tag, so I’m free for the whole season.

I hear the access to some lakes is improving after a recent thaw-freeze cycle so I am hopeful that at some point I’ll be able to navigate with relative ease onto a lake, where, hopefully I’ll soak in a few warm rays of spring sunlight.

I hear rumors of 48 inches of ice, but I’m pretty sure that includes substantial snow cover. Anyway, if I get out, I’m more than happy to let someone else drill the holes. Even if it takes a little trickery.

I can rub my shoulder, offer a manly groan and say offhand, “Hurt my rotator cuff. Yup. Doc says I shouldn’t use my arm for anything that takes more effort than setting a hook on a fish. Really, I shouldn’t even have dragged my sled out here. To be safe, I should probably tie it to yours for the walk off later. Boy, I wish I could drill holes. I love it.”

One should perpetrate such a ruse rarely, unless one has a very large supply of ice fishing partners. And few people do – especially heading into April.

Many begin to disassociate themselves from the ice and snow when they feel spring should be making progress.

I usually continue to be willing to partake in ice fishing, even when the calendar suggests there should be open water and easily walkable woods.

I like the contrast of two feet of ice and warm days. I also like to eat bluegills and crappies, and sometimes they provide great action under the spring ice.

The longer days have often kept me on the ice fairly late when the season grows long.

Often, upon the arrival of darkness, I’ve submerged my green fluorescent underwater fishing light and continued to fish. It can be a productive way to get crappies.

I submerge the light in one hole, packing snow into it to hold the light, which floats, down. Then I set up around it. The light causes the ice in the immediate are to glow an erie green. It’s really a neat effect.

I’ve often wondered what this must look like from an aircraft. A radioactive spill of sorts, perhaps? 

One of the lakes I fish for spring crappies is right alongside a highway. Cars are more apt to slow as they pass my position if I’m using the light.

I’ve also used the light in my home during power outages. From outside on these occasions, the house looks quite haunted.

The old-fashioned way of fishing like this includes a lantern set on the ice. That can work, too, but the green light has certain advantages.

The green light is 12-volt and draws little juice. It runs for a long time off of a Vexilar battery. But it does affect the Vexilar if they’re drawing from the same battery, I’ve found.

I recommend one for your fishing arsenal, and not just for ice fishing. These lights are especially nice if you like to pursue trout on lakes that have been stocked with them. Attach a weight to submerge the light. Mine has 25 feet of cord, but I generally submerge it just below the surface.

It has one big advantage over hanging a lantern over the side of your boat – you don’t eat nearly as many insects while employing a submerged light.

I have many fond memories of late ice. I remember crappies biting so fast I couldn’t keep all three of my spread-out lines in the water. Meanwhile, Cheryl, who still ice fished at the time, was outfishing me with two jig poles that were side-by-side.

I once convinced Cheryl to accompany me to a small lake that yields some big bluegills just before and after sunset during the late ice period. I had caught a 10-incher there on a previous outing, which piqued her interest.

She tagged along and caught a 10-1⁄2-incher among a nice catch on a beautiful evening. My guiding skills don’t always shine through thusly, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

More often, the nut eludes me.

One fine April day, I found nice action on Rhinelander’s Boom Lake, pulling a number of crappies through the ice near a drop-off I had accidentally pinpointed with a Vexilar. I was fishing alone, enjoying a nice day.

Wanting to share my good fortune, I invited my brother Chris along the next day. An afternoon thunderstorm was in the forecast, and my expectation was that the fish would feed in front of it.

We put a number of hours into it, enduring winds that repeatedly knocked over our tip-downs and caught only four crappies.

And we pushed our luck, watching a nasty storm brewing to the southwest, which never compelled the fish to feed heavily.

Finally, we decided we had to depart, with several hundred yards of slick ice between us and our vehicles. We shuffled off, keeping watchful eyes on the sky.

As soon as I climbed into my truck, rain started and my cell phone was ringing. It was Cheryl, who was home watching the radar and wondering if I was out of my mind.

I immediately recalled many summer outings when Cheryl was with and jagged bolts of lightning criss-crossed the sky as we fished far from the landing, but did not bring them up.

If I’m stupid on my own, it’s different.

“Chris had the radar up on his phone,” I explained. “We knew when to leave.”

Admittedly, only the availability of Star Trek transporters would have made the exit timely. I drove home through a torrent.

But, like I said, I enjoy the contrast. Ice fishing and a thunderstorm don’t typically team-up. It was beautiful.

I might not have put us on active fish, but the reluctance to leave brought another sort of action – mostly for me.

Chris lives right in Rhinelander, while I had to head north on Highway 47 to reach my humble abode.

I have a message for Ma Nature: Bring it. But remember the need for contrast.

Craig Turk may be reached at cturk@lakelandtimes.com.

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