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
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
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
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
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
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).