Article Contributed by
Clear winter ice, 8-12 inches thick, means Winter Fishing Fun!
While Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring, for the sake of the hot ice fishing at Chautauqua Lake this year, hard water anglers hope this favorite critter of February is wrong.
Walleye, bluegill, yellow perch, crappie and even musky, have been on a steady winter diet of angler offerings. The weather from very cold to well above freezing temps has not affected the winter bite. Much of the ice this year is clear and runs from 8 – 13 inches thick.
Walleye fishing from Long Point to Dewittville on the north shore has been excellent, with most fish running from 3 to 8 pounds. Anglers are catching them outside the dormant weed beds in 12-13 feet and as far out as 40 feet off the ledges of the bigger holes in the north basin. Dig a hole, drop the jig, and then move around until you locate active fish. A sonar unit, electric auger and pop-up wind shelter can make the day even more fun. Anglers catching fish are using sensitive, lightweight ice fishing rods such as the St. Croix Mojo and Legend Black.
Jigging Rapala lures (size W5 or W7) have been especially deadly this year, though vertical jigging spoons such as the Johnson Darter, P-Line
Laser, Glow RPM lures (Rotating Power Minnow, size 3) and the Stingnose Minnow (½ to ¾ ounce) are among hottest walleye lures. Lure colors vary by the angler using them, with black/silver, blue/silver and other colors too, some opting for hot glow and clown colors. Go figure.
There are a myriad of methods to try when fishing with ice-jigging lures, but short repetitive rod snaps attract the fish, followed by very short jiggles, then stop (that’s when the fish strike), this is the usual tactic. Very effective this year. For variation, alter the jigging frequency and ripping height from a few inches to a few feet. Also try switching from dropping directly to the bottom, to raising your lure about 2 feet up, before snapping and jigging. This can provoke vicious strikes from fish that see your offering from a distance, so hang on to your rod.
For crappie and yellow perch, stay inside the summer weedline and fish 6 to 12 feet of water. If you don’t find them in there, move to the outside weedline and try again. Ice fishing jigs with small minnows or wax worms have been the favorite panfish bait. The best bluegill fishing has been on the Mayville end with occasional bonus crappie in angler buckets as well.
Skip Bianco at Hogan’s Hut Bait & Tackle says, “Live bait has been flying out of the door. Small shiners, medium emerald shiners and fat heads, Rosie reds too, everything seems to be in high demand by winter anglers that use live bait. Spikes and wax worms are popular too, as are meal worms and night crawlers.”
At Chautauqua Reel Outdoors Guide and Tackle Shop, Mike Sperry says, “Our annual February walleye contest, co-sponsored by Affinity One Credit Union, has brought in some nice fish most every day – many plump walleyes. Jigging Rap’s and Thundermist jigs have been hot, some anglers tip with a piece of wax worm, grub or a minnow piece for natural scent and flash.”
When you can’t find live spike grubs or wax worms, the artificial Berkley Gulp Maggots, Berkley PowerBait Honey Worms and Uncle Josh preserved wax worms can help fill your bucket.
Don’t forget that nearby Bear Lake (141 acres), Cassadaga Lake (102 acres) and Findley Lake (292 acres) offer the same species of winter fish for your winter fun. When the wind blows from the northwest, these smaller lakes can be more comfortable than Chautauqua Lake (13,156 acres).
When ice fishing, remember to keep safety first. Never let your guard down when walking out on the ice. Fish with a buddy when possible, carry a spud bar checking for safe ice as you walk out, especially on fresh or refrozen ice, and carry a spike lanyard around your shoulder just to be extra safe.