I was able to get back on the ice this weekend. Was only able to slip out for a relatively short trip with my daughter, but man, did it sound good to hear the crunch of ice creepers on ice again!
First of all, let me tell you why we were able to fish only for a short time. After my last ice trip a couple, three weeks ago, I knew I needed to replace the battery on my depth-finder. I have an old Hummingbird flasher that I use for ice-fishing. I bought that unit in the bargain cave at the Kearney Cabelas for $99 a long time ago. I have gone through at least 3 or 4 batteries with that unit. Well it was time for another one, but I was not going to buy one until I knew I was going to need it–no sense in buying a new battery and then waiting until next winter for ice. Then it got just cold enough last week that a person could hope for safe ice again, so I needed a new battery. You can probably guess where I am going with this story, but then I could not find one. My first stop was “Battery Patrol”/Interstate Battery here in Lincoln where I have purchased the past couple of batteries. They always set me up with the perfect battery, deep-cycle, closed cell, long amp-hours, and right dimensions. I walk in there last week and they get on the computer and nope, ain’t got any, will not have any for 4 months. “FOUR MONTHS!!!!!! There ain’t no way we will have ice in 4 months”. So then I searched all over Lincoln, tried 4 different places, from sporting goods to automotive parts, and I could get a motorcycle battery that would work, but not exactly what I wanted.
All along I knew my buddies at Scheels in Omaha had exactly what I wanted. I knew because we were there recently and I thought about buying a battery then, but I put it off (big mistake). So, before we fished on Saturday I made the run back to Scheels in Omaha, bought the battery I wanted and upgraded my battery charger. Threw in a new charge indicator just to top it off. Believe me, I support everyone that sells fishing tackle, usually buy something every time I walk into any one of the stores, but I have to throw out a special thanks to Patrick, Chris, Kyle and the rest of the fishing staff at the Omaha Scheels–you guys know your stuff and it shows! Thank you.
Once we finally got on the ice and got holes drilled, the first fish was a 10 1/2-inch crappie–Ah, everything is once again right in the world!
Since I mentioned it, let me say a word or two about depth-finders on ice. Believe me, I am old enough to tell you that I ice-fished for a long time without the depth-finder and some of you young “whipper-snappers” may not believe it, but we caught a darned lot of fish “back in the day” without no new-fangled depth-finder. What it takes to be successful on the water, whether the water is liquid or solid, is not determined by how much fancy equipment you have nor how much money you can spend. The best tool you can use for finding and catching fish is the one between your ears. There are still times, especially when I am ice-fishing shallow water, when I may not use the depth-finder at all. What I do to catch fish is the same with or without the depth-finder–stay versatile, try new things, keep experimenting, and most importantly keep drilling holes, stay mobile until you find the fish. Some days that will happen on the first hole and some days it will not happen until you fish hole number #312.
If you are just getting into ice-fishing, please do not think that you necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars for a depth-finder. You can get started, catch fish and have a great time without having a depth-finder. But, if you get hooked, if you are on the ice enough to see a need for a depth-finder, well then yes, I will tell you that a depth-finder on ice is a tool that will help you find and catch fish. No doubt about it, if you can afford it, and if you ice-fish enough to need it, you should have one. Eventually my old Hummingbird will give out, and when that happens I will likely blog about the new depth-finder I buy for ice fishing. I am very sure I know what depth-finder that would be right now, but I am not going to tell you. All I am going to say is that there are several depth-finders on the market now that are made for ice-fishing. Those depth-finders are made by several reputable companies and if you spend what you can afford I am sure you will have a quality product.
You can look at my pictures and see how I modified my old Hummingbird for ice-fishing. I built the box myself from a design I found in an old In-Fisherman issue. I did purchase a puck-type transducer from Hummingbird and then attached it to the flex arm you see in my pictures. A small bubble level sits on top of the “puck” so I can get it level and shoot the transducer “beam” straight below my hole. All the ice depth-finders on the market now have a float and a cord that attaches exactly in the middle of the transducer and they are level, shooting straight down as soon as you drop them in the hole. I waste a little bit of time with my old unit leveling-up my transducer, but it is not much. I am also sure that the performance and multiple colors of the modern ice-fishing depth-finders would be a lot nicer than my old Hummingbird, but hey, I spent $99 on it, I have used it for many years, and it still works just fine. It has helped me catch a lot of fish. When the time comes to replace it, I will, but until then it is hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a new unit that will at best get used only 3 months each year.
If you wish, I have some more rambling on using a depth-finder on ice here:
The fish were not committing suicide, but my daughter and I managed to catch the one crappie, some bluegills and Emily got into a flurry of channel cats at sunset. She caught 3 channels, 16-18-inchers, and lost one other. You might recall that I predicted the bite might be tough if we got safe ice again, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/01/super-cool/ . We fished the deepest water in the pond; the fish were there, but many of them were picky and had to be coaxed into biting. Horizontal jigs tipped with wax-worms seemed to work best. The fish were sitting close to the bottom.
I have an electronic thermometer with a long cord that I have been experimenting with on the ice for the past several winters. The water is not necessarily as cold as you might think it would be below the ice; I will save that for another blog post another time. On Saturday I found the temperature was uniform from top to bottom, exactly what I would have expected following the open-water and mixing we have had recently.
Let me finish my rambling with some comments on ice safety, again. On the pond we fished I found the ice to vary from 3 inches to 5 inches. It was safe everywhere we went, but I walked nowhere without carefully checking ice thickness. Yes, I wore the life jacket and ice picks until I was sure it was safe. Normally, on a small pond the ice thickness will not vary much, but with the stinkin’ mild winter we have had, there are areas that had ice and thickened last week and then there are areas that just recently froze over. I saw other ponds over the weekend that had areas that appeared to have no more than a skim of ice on them. We have some safe ice in eastern Nebraska right now, and from the reports I have heard thicker ice “out west” and “up north”. Unfortunately, there is warmer weather in the forecast, again, Grrrrrrrr. I believe the ice I was on Saturday will last for awhile, but there was not much extra. This is going to be one of those winters where a person just has to be especially cautious every time they get on the ice. Again, if you want to be bored with some more of my recent rambling on ice safety, go back and read this, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/12/hold-horses/ . Be careful and if you are not sure it is safe, walk away from it. Believe me there is no one that wants to be on the ice more than I do, but there have been times when I just had to walk away. It ain’t worth it.