My Favorite Fish: Whatever is Biting!

I was headed to Fulton County in Illinois to fish the Herman Brothers strip pit lakes, and I was chasing after my favorite fish—bluegills— through the ice. But not just any bluegills; these were stocked hybrids. These fish are true trophies, and like fishing for any trophy, it would be a catch, photo and release deal. In this part of the state, you get one month of fishable ice; then it’s over.

The water was shallow—under 8 feet and clear. You could see bottom, and/or watch the action on an underwater camera. The presentation needed to be precise: small jigs, light line, no noise and being able to detect light bites.

There were two hot tickets that day: old school spoons and tiny tungsten jigs. By old school, I mean hand-soldered and painted spoons like Demons, 2-Spots and Rockers. These tiny offerings, tipped with a waxworm or a few red spikes, would flutter-fall to bottom, and wiggle-jiggle with slightest movement of the rod tip. If you set the hook on the initial strike, you’d miss the fish!

On that day, giant bluegills were caught, and friendships were made at the Herman’s Giant Goose Ranch. (Check it out; they offer many unique fishing opportunities all year long.)

A few weeks later, I was sitting on a bucket next to my buddy, Jesse Quale of Green Water Walleye Guide Service, on Petenwell Flowage in Wisconsin. We were fishing for my two favorite species: white bass and crappies. Petenwell fish relate to submerged trees. Whether these trees are a submerged forest, or simply fallen trees that have drifted with the current, when you find the trees, you find the fish. That’s why you hire a guide: to learn the subtleties of a new body of water.

These fish are aggressive, and will attack erratically-jigged spoons and lures when the fish are hot and schooled up. Bigger is usually better; I’ll fish with RPM size 3 balance baits and 1/8-ounce Pro Glow Slender Spoons, sometimes even going up to the jumbo ¼-ounce Slender Spoon. Having a locator/GPS is key on this body of water, because you’ll want to look for spots on the GPS map, mark them and then be able to return to them. You’ll also want to be able to spot your jig on the locator to watch the fish react to it, so you’ll know how to adjust your presentations.

Now, these crappies and white bass aren’t active all the time; sometimes you’ll find them, and they just come up to the lure, give it a sniff and then back away. That’s when you pull out the tiny artillery! Grab a lighter rod with a 4.5mm Chekai jig and a few smooshed waxworms, gear down to a 1/16-ounce Slender Spoon or a size 8 Demon spoon globbed up with bait, and you’ll be back in business.

As the season wore on, I headed over to Green Bay to fish with guide Bret Alexander of Alexander’s Guide Service to fish for my favorite fish thru the ice, whitefish. Whitefish are great because they school up and can be readily caught—once you find them. They put up a good tussle on a light rod, and are fantastic when smoked. When the whitefish are running…so am I…up to Green Bay!

The whitefish technique is pretty simple: You’ll need a 3/8- to ¾-ounce weight or B-Fish-N H2O jig on the bottom, plus a dropper or dropshot number 6 hook or two on up the line (12 to 24 inches). Then, add a red Wedgee to the hook, and a glob of red spikes. There is current on the bay; that’s why the weight on bottom varies. The jigging motion is a pumping action to get the jig to pound bottom and attract the whitefish. Bret has a bunch of hard shacks that he keeps on prime areas, as the whitefish migrate throughout the ice season.

That day around 4 pm, the bite slowed, and Bret suggested that we set for his favorite fish, walleyes. Unbelievably, the walleye was also my favorite fish; who would have thought? We set up shallower, rigged up with RPM size 5s, and hooked into a few lunkers. Green Bay has some very large walleyes!

Once the doldrums of winter set in, it was time to head to Green Lake, Wisconsin to team up with my pal Justin Kohn of All Seasons Adventures Guide Service, to fish for my favorite fish thru the ice: lake trout! With a depth of 237 feet on Green Lake, you want to make sure the ice is solid! On this day, we fished in water deeper than 100 feet, and tore into some lakers that averaged 8 pounds.

The hot lures were 3/8-ounce B-Fish-N Tackle H2O jigs with a white Pulse-R plastic tail, 3/8-ounce Vertiglo Lightnin’ Spoons, and ¼-ounce Slender Spoons doubled up to make a ½-ouncer. Take the hook and split ring off one spoon, attach the bottoms together with a split ring, and the tops with a snap, and you get a heavy enough weight to slide to bottom quickly!

On that day, we let Chekai out of the box, so it could catch a few, too. You don’t have to head to Canada to find lake trout; you just need to head to Green Lake with Justin Kohn!

So, let’s review my favorite fish: bluegills, crappies, white bass, whitefish, walleyes and lake trout. But you know, I love catching perch, largemouths, smallmouths, rainbow trout, brown trout, catfish, burbot and pike through the ice, too! So I guess when it comes to picking my favorite fish through the ice, my favorite really is the next one tugging on my line!