When the jovial old gent with white beard and red suit laughed his belly
shook like a bowl full of jelly, and out came lots of ice for Hoosier outdoors
It wasn't the best possibleYuletide gift for thin-skinned bowhunters
who had not yet bagged their deer. Nor did it cause waterfowl hunters to
wax poetic. But for hard-water anglers, it was just what the doctor ordered.
That is another way of saying that ice fishing, true to form, started
on Christmas day in the natural-lake studded northeastern part of the state.
Since that time it has spread throughout the state.
True, there is not much safe ice on the larger standing waters of central
and southern parts of the state, but farm ponds and smaller impoundments
of these areas are providing some fishing for those who are cautious.
However, a telephone check of Monroe and Patoka reservoirs Monday revealed
little ice and not a lot of hope.
While nighttime air temperatures have not been breath-takingly low even
in the northland, there is safe ice on even the larger lakes there now,
and crappies seem to be providing the bulk of the action for those
who fish Rapala ice jigs. No. 2 (three fourths of an inch long) and No.
3 (only slightly larger) seem to be best sizes. However, other small
ice jigs fished with or without bobber and baited with bee moth larva,
mousies, or other maggot-like larva, also are producing some good catches
of bluegill, perch and other panfish.
Ice has been very clear and very smooth on the smaller water--so slick
it can be dangerous. So clear, indeed, that the daytime fishing has been
slow. The recent snow that swept across the state is taking care of that.
Unfortunately, the cover of snow may cut off light and life to aquatic
weed beds, and the ensuing decay, which tends to deplete oxygen levels
in the water, could bring later problems for fish populations.
Still, with air temperatures climbing into the mid-30s these days, it
is difficult not to enjoy basking in the sunshine while the bluegills think
it is night and time to go looking for something to eat.
All of this brings to mind some ice-fishing questions that we get most
Q: What is the best bait for ice fishing?
A: This is difficult. Bee moth larva (alias wax worm), mousies
(favored by many northern anglers), and golden grubs are three of the most
used baits for ice fishing. They will take just about any fish that swims
in Hoosier waters. But there are many other grub/maggot type larva that
will take fish, my favorites being the hickory nut worm, and the golden
rod gall. Few bait shops, if any, sell these baits; you have to collect
There is, of course, another angle to this answer. Over the years I
have learned (at least I think I have) that size may be more important
than the type of bait. My experience tends to indicate that small pieces
of red worm (say pieces just large enough to punch onto the hook of a tiny
ice jig) may be as good as any of the maggots . But I cling to the notion
that light colored bait is better than dark colored bait. What I am saying
is that a whole red or garden worm may be snubbed while a very small piece
of the same may take fish.
Q: What is best, a rig with tiny bobber or a rig without?
A: Most dedicated ice anglers--including your reporter--prefers
a small (fingernail-size) bobber that will slip up and down the line, even
if it is not always used as such. I like a bobber because it permits me
to consistently hang my bait one-half to an inch above the bottom. But
if fish are being taken at some other level, I can be certain my bait is
at the right depth by simply checking the position of the bobber. However,
I have known successful anglers who did not use bobbers, but simply jigged
their baits at varying depths. They say descending baits bring bites.
[Click here to see Bayou Bill snake a big bluegill
from a farm pond. . . Warm, sunny afternoons are excellent times to fish
. . . Fish bite best just before and just after dark.]
MORE ON LICENSES--Last week's column on hunting/fishing license fees
noted that a law adopted last year provides for a $2.75 hunting-and-or
fishing license for veterans who have service-connected disabilities.
Eligible veterans are wondering how they can get this license.
Here is what we have learned: Any license vendor can sell this license,
but few have it on hand. In addition to other license vendors, the license
can be purchased at some DNR properties (it would be best to check this
with the various properties by phone), or at Indianapolis offices of the
Department of Natural Resources.
The applicant must have an "award letter," or "statement of benefits"
to qualify for the license which covers both hunting and fishing.