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First Day Fish

With the holidays and everything, I skipped a blog post this week.  Kinda hard to blog from a bucket on the ice deep in the Nebraska sandhills.

Sue me.

Unfortunately, I am back in the office now, let me give a quick adventure report from the past few days.

My New Year’s Day and the calendar New Year’s Day corresponded this year.  Unfortunately, the first fish I could catch through the ice this year, the beginning of my “New Year”, did not occur until Jan. 1.  Most years my “New Year” happens sooner than that.  Actually, my son and I intended to dry off the “New Year’s Fish” on the day designated as New Year’s Eve on the calendar, but 40 mph winds and near-blizzard conditions canceled those plans.  As always, weather trumps everything.

Anyway, I observed the new year by going on a first day hike. . . yeah, you bet. . . a first day hike on the ice!

I am proclaiming this fish as my New Year’s fish:

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No, that was not the first fish I pulled through the ice; I actually caught several other fish before that one, but I thought that 12 1/2-inch perch was worthy of being labeled the “New Year’s Fish 2019”.

My actual first fish through the ice was a yellow perch, maybe 4 inches long.  My cousin caught the first nice perch:

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Of course my son caught the biggest, this one right at 14 inches!

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Now that is a New Year’s Fish!  What a beauty!!!!!

I spent a couple, three days on the ice and actually the panfish bite was tough.  I will always tell you that first ice produces some excellent fishing, you want to be on it as soon as it is safe, but sometimes I believe it actually gets a little better after there has been ice for a few days, maybe a week or so.  Especially when it takes so long for our waters to finally cap over, I believe the fishing might get better after some time for the water conditions to stabilize under the ice.

However, the bass bite was off the charts.  We caught dozens of bass up to 17 inches or so everywhere we fished.  In fact I felt a little bad, that we were disrespecting the bass because we wanted big panfish, so I held one up for a quick picture.

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Most of the largemouths were 13-15-inches, and as I said the biggest topped out around 17 inches or so.  But, we caught dozens of them and they are a lot of fun to catch through a hole in the ice.  One evening for the last hour or so of light, the bass went crazy and my son, cousin, his wife and I caught bass almost as fast as we could drop our lines in the water.  Sometimes I talk to bass “purists” who refuse to play the ice-fishing game.  Whatever.  Seriously, under no circumstances could they have caught 13-17-inch largemouth bass as fast as we did through ice-holes!  Believe me, we lost track, but I am betting we caught 40+ bass in an hour that evening.  It was a hoot!

Big bluegills are a goal for us every winter.  We hunt 10-inch bluegills on the ice the same as we hunt muskies on open water.  None of those fish graced our holes this trip and in fact most of the bluegills we caught were far smaller than that, and even they were tough to catch.  However, my son dried off an 8 1/2-inch sunfish that was something special.

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Take a closer look.  That is not your run-of-the-mill bluegill.

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That fish was a pumpkinseed X bluegill hybrid, a cool and purdy fish!

My son has been wanting to catch a pumpkinseed; now he can say he caught a fish that was at least half pumpkinseed.  It has been years since I dried off a pumpkinseed from Nebraska waters; the other thing cool about that fish is that my son caught it from the same water from which I caught a pumpkinseed years ago!

Pumpkinseeds are a more northern sunfish species and you will find they are more common in some of our neighboring states to the north and east.  However, out in the Nebraska sandhills there are a few waters where the odd pumpkinseed shows up now and then.  I would tell you that if you are intentionally targeting pumpkinseeds, Box Butte Reservoir is probably your best bet, but there are a few sandhill lakes where you could scratch one too.

It was great to be back on the ice, at least for now.  I hope it lasts, but I do not know.  I will tell you in the sandhills we fished on from 5 to 9 inches of ice, and pretty much every waterbody I saw was capped over.  However, I did see one that had a patch of open-water in the middle even after our recent cold spell.  I suspect waterfowl may have been keeping that open, but even on that waterbody a person could have been on the ice no problem as long as they stayed away from the open patch.  Regardless, always, always use the spud bar and be careful!

No fish were harmed in the making of this blog post.  All were caught and released, all are still swimming.  Yes, even the perch, and yes, especially the big perch!

I was thinking on the drive home, remembering my Dad and Uncle Ivan, two of my most favorite ice-fishing buddies.  They are both gone now, but I got to spend New Year’s Day, a glorious day, on the ice with my cousin, his wife, and son, some of my other favorite ice-fishing buddies.  Ice-fishing runs in our blood, literally.  We wanted to dry off more of those big perch, but that was alright, it was a great day, and it is going to be a good year!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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