Through the Ice

As I write this, I am warming up fireside from spending all day on Lake Hopatcong, tired and spent from a day drilling holes and chasing flags on the hardwater. Most level headed people righteously question the sanity of a hardcore ice fisherman, and they may be right, but those not in the know don’t understand the payoffs involved. Total tally of my day fishing? – 21 jumbo yellow perch to 15 inches long, 32 chain pickerel up to 3.5 pounds and two pig largemouth bass.

Traditional ice fishing revolves around setting tip-ups out and chasing orange flags when they get tripped by the fish. A general tip-up rig for pickerel and perch includes Dacron backing line on the reel tied to a 40-pound Spro Barrel swivel, then a 24-inch section of 8 to 12-pound Ande Fluorocarbon leader for regular panfish and perch fare, but up to 30 to 40-pound leader if targeting pike and muskies, with a size #6 to 3/0 Gamakatu Octopus hook on the end. A size B to BB split shot is set just above the barrel swivel and a live bait such as a shiner, perch or panfish hooked just behind the dorsal fin is bait. Baits are usually set a foot or three of the bottom as gamefish patrol the weedlines.

A more active approach to ice angling involves jigging with stunty little rods and ultralight reels. A good match is a Mags 28-inch Power Noodle rod, fixed with a Daiwa Crossfire 2500 spinning reel. Spool up with 8-pound Trilene XL monofilament. Jigs run all over the board when targeting perch, bluegills and pickerel. Common lures include Rufus Jr jigs, Rapala Jigging Raps, Buckshot Rattlin spoons, and Rat Finkie jigs. You can tip jigs with “mousies” or “spikes”, which are glorified names for maggots, yup maggots, but the panfish love ‘em.You’ll find yellow perch school up in packs and where you jig one up, you’re sure to find more. Generally, drop the jig to the bottom and work it a foot or two off the bottom with a super subtle twitch of the rod tip. Pickerel will take a more aggressive presentation on a larger Jiggin’ Rap, as it swims around in circles with a subtle lift of the rod.

Pick yourself up a pair of Korkers as well to get ground and sure footing on the slick surface of the ice. A day out ice angling is not for the faint hearted, but the rewards are solid. Bundle up with the right gear and bring plenty of hot coffee. Now, go chase some flags.

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