The ups and downs of fishing

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Recently, friend of mine, Tim Milner and I went bluegill fishing on West Okoboji. (Photo by Steve Weisman)

I donít know about you, but each time I head out fishing, itís a learning experience. Sometimes, things go so well and the fish bite so consistently that I think I know what I am doing. At other times, everything that can go wrong does, and I wonder what is going on. Yet, these ups and downs are what keep me coming back for more!

Recently, friend of mine, Tim Milner and I went bluegill fishing on West Okoboji. Milner and I taught together for nearly 25 years in Estherville, and since his retirement, many of you have probably seen him working behind the counter at Fishermanís Factory Outlet. Anyway, Milner had not been out yet this winter, so he was really looking forward to the trip.

I felt pretty comfortable about where to fish, since my son and I had been out several times and had had pretty good success. However, the first two times Milner and I went, we were awful, one time keeping four fish and a second time only one fish. Itís not that the fish werenít there. Our flashers marked fish off and on each time. It was really frustrating when they would appear on the flasher, sometimes moving up and down with the bait and often just hovering right there before disappearing. Bottom line: The bluegills flat out whipped us.

A few days later my son and I went back out and kept 12 nice gills all over 8 inches and two nice perch. We also caught another 20-25 bluegills that were 6- to 7 Ĺ-inchers. Plus, a friend of mine asked me where to go, so I gave him four to five different spots on West Okoboji. He picked one and later that day texted me a picture of his limit of bluegills. So, my confidence was somewhat restored, and I was ready to take Milner out for a third time this past Saturday morning before the big storm rolled in. We did do better and caught 20 or so, but only seven cleared that 8-inch mark. So, it still wasnít what we really wanted. It was a unanimous vote when decided that we were our own worst jinxes!

Part of the issue is the fact that everything has been done with electronics. I am so used to sight fishing and being able to literally see the bottom just like a huge TV monitor. When I can sight fish, I can see how the fish respond and can adjust to their actions. I can see if my lure is maybe twisting or even going around in circles. Itís all there. However, when I must rely on the flasher, itís about relying on my memory and what the flasher is showing. Oh well, that is what keeps me coming back for more!

Be careful: Use common sense

Even though the recent cold weather really made ice, we need to remember that not all ice is created equal. Plus, ice is always moving, contracting and expanding. Seams and heaves will appear where there were none before. I was on the north end of West Okoboji on one of those recent warm days and the ice shifted and a crack came through from a long way away. I could actually feel the ice shake and the water was bouncing in the holes as the ice moved. I know that the ice has heaved up along Crandallís Beach and Marble Beach on Big Spirit. I have often thought as I sit on the ice, what a scramble it would be if the access I entered the lake suddenly was impassible. Where would I go to get off?

Thane and Tanya at Kabeleís Trading Post have been doing an outstanding job of giving as current of an ice update as possible. Check out their Facebook page. You might have heard about or seen the photos of the four-wheeler that went through the ice under the bridge by the trestle between East and West Okoboji on Saturday, Jan. 13. That was followed by a snowmobile being pulled out of the seam that runs north to south outside of Emerson Bay this past weekend. On Big Spirit, a pickup went down off of Jackson Point and then a seam opened up from Cottonwood toward Anglers Bay. Thankfully, no lives were lost. Bridges mean current and shaky ice conditions and seams, well you know the answer to that one. Be careful of those areas!

After the recent snowstorm, things will be even dicier with the snow covering all of those troublesome spots. Of course, this snow came right before the annual Winter Games. I visited with conservation officer Steve Reighard, and he expressed concern, especially for people not familiar with the lakes and just coming for the weekend. His recommendation: Use extreme caution and stay away from bridges and where seams have shown up. However, many of the seams are now covered with snow, making them difficult to see except for some discolored snow.

Deep water bite

You have probably seen the four-wheelers and even vehicles out in the 50- to 60-foot water on West Okoboji or perhaps even been out there yourself. The perch bite has been relatively good out there. A reminder: Keep the fish you catch out of these depths. For the most part, they will perish.

The perch bite on Big Spirit has been pretty difficult. Lots of 5-7 inchers with very few good-sized perch, every once in a while, but not very often. This will be a great year class in a year or so, but I wonder where those 10-plus-inchers have gone that we caught this past summer and fall?

Trash on the ice

Take care of the trash! With lots of people on the ice now, make sure we pick up our trash before we leave the lake. My neighbor was out fishing last week and as he picked up his stuff to leave, he noticed a pile of trash left on the ice about 30 yards away. He went over and found several empty Gatorade containers that he picked up. If we would all do that, our lakes would be much cleaner and lake homeowners would be much more positive about ice fishermen!

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