"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Ice Fishing Tips
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

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 folks. 

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 often: 

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 your own. 

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. 



All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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