No Sled

     I don't use a sled for ice fishing.  First off I don't carry a lot of gear when I go ice fishing, I sold off my vexilar, camera, gas auger, and shanty years ago.  Just didn't need it.  All that stuff just slowed me down when I was trying to move to find the fish.  Never been one of those drill a hole and let the fish come to me kind of guys.  So what do I use to take out my bucket and hand auger?
Barrel and Harness
     A harness, a barrel harness.  As a lot of people know I am a shorebound angler.  I am also an avid canoe and kayaker.  Why not just fish from the canoe and kayak?  Well most of the time when I want to go fishing I have no interest in loading up the canoe.  For that matter I don't really enjoy unloading the kayak either.  I like to paddle, just don't like all the prep.  So now that I have wandered off topic, what is a barrel harness?  When canoeing you need a waterproof container to store food or clothes in.  The barrel seals up water tight and takes one hell of a beating.  To make it easier to carry the barrel on portages several manufacturers make a special harness.  I use the NRS Paragon harness, that I bought locally at Rutabaga Paddle Sports.  The cost is similar to the cost of a decent ice fishing sled.  The difference is I get use out of the harness system year round.
Ice Bucket and Harness
     The NRS Paragon Pack is the most versatile packing system I have ever used.  It has padded shoulder and back straps, and a lumbar support suspension system.  It is really comfortable to carry and fully adjustable.  The expandable straps adjust for items up to 50 inches in circumference.  This harness can adjust to hold everything from the barrel, ice bucket, pelican cases, and dry bags.  The side pockets on the waist belt make carrying small items convenient.  Plenty of room for a snack, smokes, or chapstick.  Another nice feature is that the attachment points for canoe/kayak paddles work wonderful for holding my hand auger.  It is reinforced at all the common wear points (bottom, sides, straps).  Since this pack is designed for canoeing it doesn't retain water and dries quickly which is handy when dealing ice and slush.  The designers over at NRS have always made nice products.  After 2 years of constant use I have had no issues with it what so ever.
     So as you can see, with the use of this pack I have no need for a sled anymore.  I can walk out on the ice with my hands free.  I can also hop from hole to hole with all my gear.  No walking back to move my stuff when I find a hot hole.  The weight is comfortably positioned on my back so I am not bothered with wrist strain from dragging a heavy sled across the lake.  This system works well for me, but I am a bit of a minimalist when out on the ice.
Heading out on the ice

     Tight Lines.


Ice Fishing with Friends

     My buddy Pat invited me out ice fishing on Sunday.  He was going to Squaw Bay on Lake Monona with his friend Brian and son Lee.  Now let me give you a little bit of back story.  Pat and I have a history of ice fishing.  We always have a lot of fun, but to be honest we don't catch many fish together.  The fishing is always eventful.  Lost skimmers, freezing temps, puking kids, just not lots of actual fish.
     As we headed out on the ice we knew we were in for a tough bite.  Middle of the day ice fishing can be really slow.  Plus being on a heavily pressured metropolitan lake didn't help our chances.  As Brian started drilling the ice, Lee took to cleaning out the holes.  Now for those of you that don't regularly take kids fishing.  Cleaning out the holes with a skimmer just may be the most fun thing you can do on the ice.  
     The weather was overcast, but at least the wind was calm.  This time of year the bluegills seem to get rather finicky.  We targeted shallow weed to mud transitions.  Through trial and error we found that dead sticking ridiculously small jigs was the only way to catch to these fish.  While rigging the rods, Lee reminded me that despite all the times we had been out ice fishing, he had still not caught a fish through the ice.  I was shocked when I heard this because Lee is one of the best youth anglers I know.
     As we hoped from hole to hole, Pat and Brian started to pull out the bluegills.  Suddenly we hear Lee say, "I got a bite!".  When I looked up from my bucket I saw his Frabil ultralight bowed over and bouncing wildly.  He was smiling ear to ear as he hoisted it up.  A nice bluegill, his first through the ice.
     It ended up being a great afternoon on the ice.  This time of year in Madison the fishing can get tough as the local bluegill population starts to feel the angling pressure.  Remember that it is important to have fun, and that downsizing your jigs can help ensure panfishing success.  Please remember to limit your catch, not catch your limit.  Also if you get a chance, take a kid fishing, you won't regret it.
     Tight Lines.

Wading the Wisconsin River, Chasing Smallies

     It is really cold outside, like -13 degrees.  I am stuck inside, hanging with my kiddos.  As I wander through photos and memories, I am reminded of so many great times casting a line.  Musky fishing, pike fishing, chasing summer catfish.  Lots of stories for sure, but one stands out as my first real adventure.
     It was mid summer and the heat and humidity was making everybody suffer.  Hanging out at a little pond near my house my coworker said "We should drive to Portage and fish the river".  He was so nonchalant about it that I almost ignored it.  "My dad has a place right on the river" he said.  "We could wade out by the island and catch some smallmouth bass".  I thought this sounded great, I had never fished for smallmouth.  He assured me that they fought like tanks.  Tough stocky river fish, the kind of fishing I had seen on tv.  So we loaded up the jeep and headed north.
     Now I had never waded before so I must admit, I was a little nervous as we pulled in the driveway and drove down the trail to the river.  My buddy recommended that we load our gear in backpacks so that our tackle trays and snacks would stay dry.  We rigged up with some medium light rods, 8 pound test line, and some of the smallest tubes I had ever seen.  In my mind I thought, "how could such a little lure catch the bronze monsters he talked about?"  Well he was the expert, or at least he had done this before.  As we headed down to the water he said, "All you have to do is wade out to the edge of the island and cast out to the current".
A beautiful Wisconsin River Smallmouth
     The first few steps were a little nerve racking.  The riverbed was all sand and silt and it shifted as you walked.  As we got closer to the island I could see the current he was talking about.  The water was slack all around us, but it was moving on the outside edge of the island.  As I rounded the bend I watched as Matt made a long cast into the current.  He paused to light a cigarette and boom, he hauled back and set the hook.  The line started screaming off reel, and he let out a big old yell!  He maneuvered that fish into the slack water and held it up.  I had to try this for myself.  
     As I made my first cast I would love to be able to tell you that I pulled out a monster.  I didn't, in fact I had to watch as Matt and his brother caught fish after fish.  I just wasn't getting something right.  Finally he said "You have to cast your line out as far as you can, up current."  Ok, up current then.  Well I made a few casts and then I felt a hit...missed it.  Tricky little buggers, I thought to myself.  Next cast same thing, missed it again.  Then it happened, I hooked up!  As I fought to get my drag set, I lost it.  At least now I had a taste.  I knew what to do and soon I was deep into a fight with what I was sure was a monster.  Maybe the next state record!
Not a record smallmouth
     Well it wasn't a record, almost wasn't a fish. Hahahaha, at least I caught one.  I was on the board and having a blast.  Only problem was that a storm was coming in.  I was totally oblivious to the fact until Matt said "last cast".  He was serious, the storm was right over us and we were swinging carbon fiber rods around.  He told me that the river changes fast during a storm so we needed to get headed in.  I waded out to the edge of the island and made my cast.  I felt a slight knock on the line.  Nothing major, but something was definitely there.  I set the hook and it took off like a bullet.  The fight felt it lasted forever.  I am sure it was just a few minutes, but you know time is relative and what not.  Each time the smallie got close enough to lip, he would take off again.  These river fish really were stronger than the lake fish I was used to catching.  Finally I landed it!  I was proud of this fish.  I had caught a decent smallmouth bass.  As we walked up the shoreline the rain started.  While we waited out the heavy stuff under the trees we talked about all the fun we had.  Matt told some great stories about growing up on the river.  Stories that made me wish I had grown up on this river.
     Tight Lines.


Ice Rod Bucket Holder

     I like to keep things simple on the ice.  It is already cold and I don't need anything overly complicated when I am out there.  Now as we all know, occasionally you need to set down a rod.  Maybe you want to tie another jig on the line?  Perhaps you need to put on another layer?  You may even be jigging with one rod and want to deadstick a second rod because the bite is slow?  So what do you use if you don't want to set that rod on the ice?  What about a rod holder that fits easily on the side of your bucket?
Bucket Rod Holder, This one is made by HT Enterprises.
     I found this rod holder at my local tackle shop.  They are easy to rig up, and hold the rod securely.  You can even bend them since they're made of a simple metal wire.  I have been using my rod holder for 3 seasons now and find that it is the most commonly used item I own when ice fishing (besides the ice rod).  I like to use this rod holder as a second set of hands.  I can set the rod in it when I am tying on a different lure.  I also use it when trout fishing the harbor with my baitrunner reel.  Open the rear drag switch, set the rod in the holder, and just sit down.  Since the rod is right below me on the bucket, when the fish takes the spawn sac the reel starts to click.  All I have to do is pick up the rod and set the hook.  No need for an automatic fisherman.  Another handy way to use this rod holder is to drill 2 holes in the ice.  One for jigging and one for deadsticking next to the bucket.  Now I can sit and jig for active fish, while still having a chance at the less active fish.  With the rod right next to me on my bucket, my peripheral vision can pick up the movement from the spring bobber on the deadstick rod.  It allows me to stay focused on jigging with out having to worry that I won't see the deadstick rod in time to keep it from going the down the hole.
     Give this handy little rod holder a try.  They are really inexpensive, sturdy, and well designed.  I think you will find lots of little uses for these rod holders.  And if you see this sticker covered bucket when your out, feel free to stop over and say hello.
     Tight Lines.

Fox Lake Crappie Fun

Fox Lake Crappies
     It was a beautiful day on Fox Lake here in Wisconsin.  I met up with friends for some crappie fishing.  As we started out on the frozen lake, it was over cast and cold.  It was a perfect day for experience fishing.  I say experience fishing because I don't use shanties, or flashers.  I enjoy the crisp winds and the whole, "Man vs. Nature" thing.  I want to know that the fish I catch are earned.  The crappies were moving in waves.  Absolutely no fish, to a school of fish in a flash.  To say the bite was slow would be a lie.  The bite was quick, just the windows of opportunity were small.  Downsizing to a size 10 Bro Bug from Northland Tackle with a few spikes worked well.  If you hooked into one, get that lure back into the water fast and you would catch another.  If you didn't get a second bite you had a good hour or so until the next wave of crappies came.  I had a good day and was able to help send my buddy and his girlfriend home with enough fish for a good meal.
     Tight Lines!