Ice fishing can be a challenge, for sure.
Even if you know where the fish are and at what depth they are suspending, the cold water temperatures often make them too lethargic to eat — even with a jig or minnow literally right in front of their face. This is a survival mechanism, as fish are cold-blooded and go into an almost hybernation-like state in cold waters to keep from expending more energy than they take in.
From Dec. 31 to Jan. 2, I hit the heated dock at Lake Shawnee, fishing both indoors and outside through holes in the ice, but to no avail.
On New Year’s Eve, I fished in the evening from inside the dock, with a heavy layer of ice covering most of the lake outside. The air temperature inside was a comfortable 60 degrees or so, a welcome reprieve from the minus-15 degree windchill outside.
I used Top Secret jigs on small, pink Mr. Crappie jigheads and larger, chartreuse Blakemore RoadRunner jigheads, and a combination of PowerBait Crappie Nibs and lure spray to try to attract a bite. I fished about three hours that evening, but to no avail. I even broke a hole in a thin spot on the ice and dropped a jig in, but the hole almost instantly froze back over in the frigid arctic air.
I came back the next evening with a bucket of minnows, hoping that some live bait would turn my luck, but the heated dock was closed for New Year’s Day. The ice by that time was too thick to break without drilling with an auger, but I did get to see several large flocks of snow and Canada geese come in to roost on the ice overnight. I would guess there were several thousand geese by the time I left at sunset, with many more likely on their way.
I took my bucket of minnows home and stored it in my bathtub to keep them overnight. I returned the next morning around 11:30 and put in a pair of poles. I had purchased some Mr. Crappie crappie bobbers that rattle with even the slightest movement and some Gulp Alive! minnows, as well. I fished until about 6 p.m., with just one slight bite that was barely noticeable. Another angler dropped in a portable fish finder and said there were a ton of fish suspended in the 4-7 foot range in the 39-degree water, but no one was able to coax any fish to bite.
I later saw a cool photo posted on Facebook by Dustin Hobbs, who tournament fishes for crappie on the Kansas Crappie Club trail. He caught a big white crappie ice fishing at another lake, and when I told him of my bad luck at the dock, he agreed it was a tough spot to fish.
“That place is tough,” he wrote. “I used to watch them watch me on my camera. Someone needs to drop a bunch of brush in there. AGAIN.”
Apparently, some catfish anglers removed a bunch of cover from the spot.
For those readers hoping to learn the secrets of ice fishing, don’t look at me! However, a great opportunity is coming up next month.
David Harrison, of Lawrence, promotes fishing from Kansas to Washington, covering the plains and high mountains for all species. He regularly contributes to the In-Fisherman magazine and Colorado Outdoors, with occasional publications in the North American Fisherman and FLW Bass magazines.
Harrison will present on ice fishing in February at the Topeka Boat and Outdoor Show at the Kansas Expocentre. The show runs from Feb. 2-4.
Harrison wrote in a description for the event that he will talk about the reasons ice fishing is a great opportunity to study your favorite spots and catch more fish than from a boat. He said ice fishing also is a great reason to travel out of Kansas in the winter, as well so he will cover those opportunity and touch on ice safety and the equipment that’s used to ice fish.
“I moved from Colorado to Northeast Kansas in March 2016,” he said in his biography, which was emailed to me by event organizer Phil Taunton. “The last two years have included a bunch of new experiences, stories, comparisons, and adventures. This talk will cover the successes (and failures) from learning to fish new bodies of water as well as new species. Details on how I used sonar and underwater cameras to learn about crappie, competing in my first Kansas bass and walleye tournaments, plus catching my first white bass and many more will be covered.
“I will talk about what information really helped me learn these waters and what lures were effective. The wide range of topics will benefit the new angler as well as the seasoned veteran. If there is time, I will cover travel opportunities for Colorado waters including, bass, walleye, trout, and lake trout.”
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism this week offered the following safety guidelines for those hoping to hit the ice this winter:
— Wait for at least 4 inches of clear, hard ice before walking on any ice-covered waterbody, and 5-7 inches of ice is necessary to support a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle. It usually takes several days of calm weather with single-digit temperatures to make safe ice, and the only way to measure ice thickness is to make test holes as you go.
— Always fish with friends. Pack a rope, ice handpicks and a throwable flotation device with your gear.
— Use an auger to drill a hole in the ice. By Kansas law, the hole can be no larger than 12 inches in diameter.
— Ice cleats make walking on smooth ice easier.
— Falling into frigid water can be a deadly mistake, as hypothermia can overcome an angler within minutes.
— Motorized electric or gasoline-powered ATVs, work-site utility vehicles, golf carts and snowmobiles may be operated on ice-covered department waters only for the purpose of icefishing from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. Vehicles shall enter onto the ice only from boat ramps and posted points of entry.
The KDWPT says that the appearance of the ice can give clues to its integrity, as new, clear ice is the strongest, while white ice may only be about half as strong. Warm, sunny days can melt the surface and “honeycomb” the ice, which will weaken it, as well.
Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and roosting geese all can affect ice strength, according to the agency.
Also out on the ice, Richard Iliff spotted some unique tracks on the pond at Iliff Commons and asked my opinion on what they may belong to. The tracks were in a single, straight line and had four long, clawed toes on each paw. He said the paws were four inches in diameter, which is fairly large for a paw print.
I’m certainly not an expert tracker (or even a good one), but after doing a little research, I made an assessment. The fact they were so large and that they were registered (when the back paw goes into the paw print of the front claw to reduce noise and make it easier to walk in snow) led me to think that it could be a cougar, but I’m hesitant to jump to conclusions. Foxes also register their prints, but a four-inch diameter is a bit large for a fox.
“Uh oh,” Iliff said when I mentioned my suspicions. “That would fit with what a walker thought he saw walking across the dam from a distance a month ago. But he didn’t believe his eyes.”
With my grandma’s neighbors having seen a cougar in their North Topeka neighborhood in the past year — their dogs were even killed by the big cat — it’s possible this could be the same cougar.
However, as I said, I’m no expert and I would love to hear readers’ opinions on the photograph.