Some of you may remember from previous years that my calendar is organized a bit differently than other’s. New Year’s Day for me falls on whatever day I am on the ice for the first time each ice fishing season. That first day on the ice is the beginning of my new fishing season, my new year. With the mild fall and early winter this year, New Year’s Day fell only a couple days before I needed to hang my new In-Fisherman calendar on the wall.
As is often true with first ice, we found conditions varied greatly from one part of the state to another, even from one body of water to a nearby waterbody. My family and I left southeast Nebraska after Christmas when most waters in that part of the state were still liquid. Traveling west and then north into north-central Nebraska, we found winter in full form with significant snow cover and 8-9 inches of ice. In between those points on the map we found no ice, an inch of newly capped ice, and 3-5 inches on some interstate lakes. We found fishable ice, but we also found the need to be very careful (Ice Safe, Safe Ice).
Santa delivered a new toy under my Christmas tree (K-Drill)! My son and I are looking forward to putting it through its paces this winter! Thanks, “Santas”!
We caught a lot of fish, mostly in the sandhills, but also on an interstate lake. Daniel and I did not dry off any of the big fish we were looking for, but we managed to catch & release some nice bluegills.
I have a number of home-made jigging poles that I have used for years. They are relatively long, fiberglass blanks where the line runs through the middle of the rod to line-holding reels on the end. Admittedly, they are tools for fishing relatively shallow water as the reels are NOT used to present baits or to play fish. The reels hold line, but they do not revolve, the line is fixed, when fishing. I call ’em “sandhill jigging rods” because they work great on the relatively shallow water of Nebraska’s sandhill lakes. Those rods excel at catching panfish and predator fish up to a few pounds, but when hooked, fish any larger than that usually result in nothing more than a few moments of adrenaline followed by a sad story about the one that got away. Over the years, I am betting dozens if not hundreds of sandhill lake northern pike have eaten various panfish jigs on my sandhill jigging rods and then busted the line. On a good day (or would that be a bad day?) that might happen a dozen times.
So, whenever I or one of my partners lands a large fish on one of the sandhill jigging rods it is an accomplishment. I watched my Uncle Ivan ice a 12-15-pound carp one time on Big Alkali using one of his “sandhill jigging rods”. That is still one of the greatest angling feats I have witnessed in person. On our New Year’s ice fishing trip this year, I managed to land a pretty, healthy, 29-inch pike on one of those jigging rods. That was the highlight of this trip, and I would tell you a trophy indeed (What Is a Trophy?).
That is not a large pike by any means; in fact I have seen pictures of MUCH larger pike that have been pulled through ice holes on Nebraska waters already this season! I will see if I can dry off a much bigger northern before this winter is over!
Another unique thing about that “big toothy” through the ice, is that it came less than 3 weeks after the last big toothy I pulled out of the water this fall (Lemonade).
I love it when I go right from open water to ice-fishing in the late fall/early winter, and vice versa in the spring!
As of right now, ice conditions are still “iffy” in some parts of the state on some waters. Certainly, there is a whole lot of Nebraska where you can safely ice some fish right now, but whatever you do, everytime you venture onto the ice, make sure it is safe! I also know that there are some waters in the state, mostly larger bodies of water where you will not find a lot of safe ice. Be patient, I believe there is some colder weather in the forecast again.
And remember, if the oceans can be over-fished there is not a body of water in Nebraska that cannot be over-fished. Many of our fisheries, panfish fisheries especially, experience significant fishing pressure and harvest during the ice-fishing season. If you keep going back for a bucketful of panfish, day after day, as long as they are biting, a fish pox on you! Take what you can eat in a meal of fresh fish, no filling the freezer, and keep the sizes and species of fish that can withstand some harvest. Large fish of any species including especially panfish are hard to catch not because they are so smart, but because they are so rare. Those 9-inch and larger ‘gills, 12-inch and larger perch, 14-inch and larger crappies should have pictures taken and put right back in the hole (Pigs on Ice)!