Targeting northern pike
It seems like we ice fishing enthusiasts all have our favorite species of fish that we target. From panfish to walleyes to northern pike ... all can be readily caught in Iowa’s waters. One of the more prolific gamefish that is often overlooked is the northern pike. Yet, no matter what we are fishing for, it seems we all run into this freight train of a fish! Anglers targeting panfish in bays with good weedbeds are more than likely to find northern pike cruising the area in search of an easy meal. Most of the ice fishing occurs in the northern third of the state, and a lot of lakes and ponds host good populations of northern pike.
Living in the Iowa Great Lakes, I have lots of opportunities to catch both panfish and northern pike. What a lot of anglers will do is target both panfish and northern pike by jigging with tiny baits for the panfish and placing a second line off to the side to entice a pike bite. For anglers who want to add another line, they can purchase a license that allows three lines per person.
Success begins with a solid game plan, which can change as the winter season progresses. Early in the ice season, look for weedbeds that will hold bluegills and crappies. During this time, options are to set up as shallow as 3-4 feet and up to 10-12 feet of water, wherever the best standing weeds are located. If you marked good weedbeds during the open water season on your GPS, these will be good spots to start the search.
A new approach: The Walleye Snare
Sounds like something a trapper would use, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. The Walleye Snare is one of the hottest presentations going in the ice fishing world. At a recent ice fishing weekend extravaganza, I happened to talk to Chad Loreth, owner of the Iowa Great Lakes Outdoors Inc., guide service. Loreth, who has been a fishing guide for the past five years, told me, “I can’t wait until this ice season. The Walleye Snare is designed and built by JT Outdoor Products (www.jtodp.com) to be the ultimate ‘dead stick’ on the market. It is going to be awesome for both walleye fishing and northern pike fishing.”
Loreth was adamant that I shouldn’t just take his word for it, but that I should check out the many YouTube videos on the Internet. “Really, Steve, you have to give Joe Bricko, owner and designer of the Walleye Snare, a call.”
So, I did my research, checked out several YouTube videos and then gave Bricko a call. This is what I found out ... I think you will find it an interesting story ... What I found was an ice fishing system.
Bricko is your typical Minnesota ice fishing nut. Of course, Minnesotans have been using dead sticks up there for years. However, when you leave the confines of the heated ice house, the intense cold makes anglers figure out ways to keep ice holes open so they can use their dead stick outside. Bricko said, “Back in the mid-'90s, I went with a friend and his grandpa up to Mille Lacs, and there I was introduced to the Mille Lacs Box that helped keep the ice hole from freezing over. Guys had made an enclosed wooden box and often times used charcoal as a heat source. However, that wasn’t very efficient, so my friend’s grandpa used a dual mantel lantern. The trouble is they were so cumbersome.”
Over the years, Bricko kept thinking there has to be a better way. Reflecting back, he said, “About six years ago, I began developing the HOT-BOX TM. Then when my dad retired as a Design Engineer with Toro Company four years ago, we really got serious. After a lot of trial and error and a lot of prototypes, we now have the HOT-BOX TM.” It’s made of lightweight aluminum with a thermo plastic base and hinged on all four corners so it can fold flat and fit into a 5-gallon pail. It uses a small propane disposable tank and a stainless steel mantel that increases its durability. It will keep holes open to minus 20 degrees.
Personally, I’ve used a dead stick for years, and there have been many times it has been the top fish catcher. However, the trouble with a dead stick for me is having the walleye or northern pike grab the bait, feel the pressure before I can grab the rod to give the fish some line. Too often when the fish feels this pressure, it then drops the bait. That or the fish will slam the bait so hard that I have no chance to even grab the rod. Even with these problems, I continue to use the dead stick because, well, it works.
With that in mind, Bricko and his dad began to develop their own dead stick rod. They goal was to have a rod that had a “loadable” tip and a solid backbone. Enter the Walleye Snare Rod, the ultimate dead stick. Bricko says, “Where the traditional dead stick requires the angler component to set the hook, the Snare rod often times does it all on its own.”
This 36-inch rod is designed as a blend of both fiberglass and carbon, which allows engineers to perfect the action of the blank. According to Bricko, the key is the nitinol (nickel and titanium) blend flexible end almost like a sensitive spring bobber inserted right into the flexible rod tip. He also notes that their nitinol blend holds its rebound effect down to minus-30-degree temperatures. The nitinol tip has an orange ball at the end that serves as a strike indicator. This system works well for both walleyes and pike. Bricko suggests using a splitshot (just large enough to keep the bait down) and either a lively shiner, fathead minnow or chub for bait.
When set up on one of JT Outdoor Products patented rod holders, the Walleye Snare Rod will slowly load when the fish takes the bait. Not able to feel any resistance, the fish repositions the bait in its mouth and starts swimming away. The rod’s flexibility allows the end to continue to bend even to the point of the tip reaching the water. Bricko says the key is, “The moment the fish starts to feel some pressure, it’s often too late and it darts away. With this rod, the darting action then ‘Snares’ the fish. The angler is often watching the rod load up at a distance as the spring bobber disappears into the hole! This gives him the time needed to get to the rod.”
To check out this style of fishing, just google the Walleye Snare and you will find several YouTube videos. I can see why Loreth is excited to try this on the Iowa Great Lakes this winter.