"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Without Ice, Still Plenty Of Open Water Fishing 
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

The warm trend that Santa brought in has played hob with ice fishing in most of Hoosierland, but that only turned the damper a notch toward closed in the flue of winter angling. There still is plenty of fishing out there.

Yes, the warm spell (I once had a journalistic boss who hated the word) has rendered ice unsafe on most standing waters from one end of the state to the other, notwithstanding the fact that some northern-tier diehards still are catching some fish.

But with other angling opportunities that the unseasonably warm weather is creating, it is a shame not to pick up other types of angling gear and head for the water. Catch fish and be patient--we will have more ice.

In the interim, you can almost name your species and have a shot at catching the prime ingredient for a great fish dinner. Din-din, naturally, is the magic word by which I measure the value of outdoor activities, including fishing.

So what kind of fish do you want to catch? It could be any one--or all--of the so-called sunfish species (this includes the black basses), but suckers start thinking of spawning at this time of year and that translates into feeding (biting). Then there are the big catfish (notably channel cats), and steelhead on Indiana’s four streams connected to Lake Michigan. 

So there is no dearth of angling opportunity when there is open water.

Open-water fishing during the cold months for bass, bluegill and other members of the sunfish tribe seems to be better on smaller standing waters (say farm ponds or small watershed lakes) than on larger bodies of standing water. I am always a bit leery at saying anything will not happen when prognosticating on Mother Nature's children because they reserve the right to prove me wrong.

Generally, though, for open water fishing at this time of year I prefer smaller waters and slow moving baits, either natural or artificial. The metabolism of fish slows when water temperatures dive in the fall, and for this reason slow-moving, deep-running baits tend to be best. The jigging Rapala lure (with or without hook dressing) is a good bet. As for live or natural baits, the leftover ice-fishing bait will be just fine.

On a warmish winter day a few years back I went to my favorite farm pond for some open-water bassin’. There was some open water on the shallow end of the pond, but the deep part still was covered with skim ice.

I fished the shallow end without success, and the more I looked at the ice-covered deep water, the more I wanted to wind an artificial across the ice and see what happened when it dropped into the water.

I started tossing a purple one-fourth ounce Gapen’s Hairy Worm onto the ice over the deep water and skidding it slowly across the thin, clear ice.

Soon I missed a taker, but nailed one on the next cast and landed several bass before hooking one deep (had to keep it) and quitting.

Generally I favor standing waters for the sunfish tribe, but there is no law of nature that prohibits angling success on streams and rivers during the cold months. You don’t hear a lot about it, but the big cats (including channels) tend to hole up (a bit like deer) during the cold months. Like other fish species, channels are slow, but they still will take live and natural baits--frozen soft craws are a good bet.

Then, of course, there is the white sucker. I like garden worms best for suckers (gobbed well on the hook), but your leftover ice bait will take old puckermouth, too. As their mouths suggest, suckers are bottom feeders. Thus the way to connect with this species is to fish tightline (straight up and down) with just enough weight to take the bait to the bottom and keep it there. Suckers feed on gravel or sand bars at the edge of channels. (More on sucker fishing will be found by searching “sucker fishing” on www.bayoubill.com. For more on sucker fishing, check my column for January 20, 2003, also located on this website.

So how about those steelheads? The action is not fast yet, but Indiana’s four streams connected to Lake Michigan are free of ice now and some steelhead--both Skamania and fall-run fish--are being taken. 

These streams are Salt Creek, Little Calumet River, and Trail Creek on the west side of the stat (Michigan City) and the St. Joseph River of  (South Bend, Mishawaka areas).

All columns, essays, and photos 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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