Early Ice: A Quiet and Productive Period


It was midmorning when I stopped to pick up my longtime fishing companion, Charlie Simkins. Although the air was cool, this particular winter day didn’t have quite the bite to it we sometimes feel this early in the season. After a short greeting, we loaded Simkins’ gear into the truck and we were off. Our goal for this particular day was quite simple: we were going to look for “walkable” ice. We wanted to get that first-ice fishing trip under our belts.

Our options were somewhat limited though.

The late start to the winter had kept many lakes open longer than normal. However, there are always a few lakes that tend to freeze earlier than others. Our plan was to check out these bodies of water first. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at a popular winter-fishing destination not far from Simkins’ house. To our surprise, there was one lone four-wheeler on the ice, and nothing more. A quick examination of the shoreline indicated that a number of people had been walking out.

With PFDs on, we began the trek out to the deep basin where we typically fish. We stopped a couple of times to check the ice’s thickness; four to 5 inches greeted us every time.

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Once at our chosen location we began the process of searching. One of us dribbled water on the ice while the other ran the Vexilar. By placing water on the ice for the transducer, one can easily shoot through the ice and get accurate readings of the water column without drilling holes.

After locating the suspended fish, we drilled out a dozen holes. Then we used our standard gear of 2-pound-test Berkley Micro Ice, tiny drop jigs and Maki plastics. It didn’t take long for us to have panfish flopping on the ice. The early ice is one of my favorite panfish fishing periods of the year. Between lack of pressure and cooperative fish, it is hard to beat the first few weeks of the season.

As we roamed from hole to hole looking for more aggressive fish, we kept up an intermittent conversation. Our casual comments took us in many directions, but they actually focused a great deal on the lack of activity on this lake.

In a couple more weeks we both knew what it would look like at the location we were at. The ice then would be holding 40 to 50 fish houses and it would be a hotbed of activity, including at midday. But we knew now was one of the beauties of early ice—not only does a person get to enjoy the tug on the line from feisty fish, but it is also quiet and peaceful with little pressure from other eager anglers. This time is a chance to fish the ideal locations that I tend avoid later in the season.