"The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope." John Buchan

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 27th, 2013 - Ice Fishing Mantua with Alex and Jason

So last winter I had the chance to go ice fishing at Rockport with Guy.  It turned out to be very fun in many of the same ways that float tube fishing has appealed to me, casual, social, easy to do your own thing, etc...  So since then I've been keeping my "wish lists" stocked up with wishful thinking ideas for some future time.  Well this Christmas, thanks to my wife and others, I now have more of the basic items to be able to go ice fishing.  A few of the key scores are a 6" Nils hand auger, a sled to drag everything in, a chair to sit on and support my lower back, ice scoop, and a few other accessories.

Well now I have the means and also some time off from work I just need a plan to get out and use it.  So I checked with Jason and Alex and we figured the 27th would work and after some considering we decided to go somewhere new that we had seem some good reports from, Mantua.  We have wanted to visit this lake before, but never got things together to make it happen.

So we got a "relaxed" start to the day and made it up to Mantua by about 11am.  Air temps were near 28F with a very slight breeze that sat still most of the time.  We had looked at some of the info others have shared on BFT and other sites to learn about access and places of interest, but really we were heading up on a blank sheet without any specific plan other then to observe what others were doing and see how things went.  Jason made a few comments later in the day that he had set his expectations low from the start and I think that's a fair assessment for myself too.

We pulled up to the lake in a pull off just south of the 600 North exit.  We pulled off here first just to get out and look around before choosing where to launch.  As we got up on the top of the shoreline to scout things out it was clear that there were two main areas that people were targeting.  The main boat launch area was full of lots of people (most were not using ice tents) and then the south east portion of the lake was even more busy (many of these were using ice tents).  So trying to read a bit into that I kind of concluded that many of the people near the boat launch were more casual people maybe taking advantage of the ease of access the boat launch offered.  The others in the south east portion of the lake appeared a bit more serious but we were unsure of what driving access would be like to that portion of the lake.  There were a couple stray folk in the north end of the lake including one larger group with lots of kids that looked like they had been there for a while.  So after some considering we chose to just stay parked where we were and we could walk across the lake toward the hill on the eastern side and that we wanted to maybe try near there just north of the string of the fishing groups that were setup in the south east portion of the lake.

As we started across the ice a few things stood out, as we are very new to ice fishing (read up but little hands on experience), the ice was a bit odd to us as the top 3" was a milky white that looks like it was a slush layer that has frozen up (as evident by lots of food print impressions frozen into this layer).  This layer also made it really hard to understand what the core ice under it was like.  So we started to look at ice holes others had cut to get some better understanding as we worked our way out.  The core ice under the top few inches was very clear looking and also looks to be about 5-6" thick (ice was measured to be 9" thick where we ended up fishing with the top 3 being the slush crust).  Well as we got about half way from the west shore toward the east side hill we came up on a large crack/pressure ridge  that looks like it ran from the north east corner of the lake and headed diagonal down toward the south west end of the lake somewhere.  Being new to the ice I did not feel I could judge the condition of this area to know if we could cross so we made a change of plans.  Instead we headed north and east a bit and ended up about 100 yards south of the north shore of the lake and about 1/3 the way between the east and west shore ( Link to approx spot we fished ).  We found a spot that someone had fished recently (maybe in the past couple days?) and began to setup.

So my first use of my new auger went really well.  Very easy to turn and I ended up punching 8 holes through and not feeling worn out worked over in arms or in my lower back.  With only 9" of ice I know this isn't any "real" test of things, but regardless of was very pleased with how quick and easily these holes went through with the 6" Nils hand auger.  Alex had his line in first with a couple small ice jigs with gulp alive fry on the hook.  Before his line hit the bottom he had the first bites and the first misses.  While Jason and I were racing to get ourselves setup and lines in the water he continued to have bites and misses.  Finally Jason and I got lines in the water and I got my fish finder in it's hole as well (finding out that we were in about 8' of water).  Jason was using some of his smaller jigs in various colors including silver (silver proved to be the color of the day for trout), Alex had a tandem setup with red and white jigs, and I had one pole with chartreuse and black jigs and the other with green and gold jigs.

Jason I think pulled in the first fish, a perch, that was 9-10" in size and a fine fish taco in the making.  Alex was still getting bites but had not gotten the rhythym for setting the hook down yet and was getting a bit frustrated.  I had had a few bites that I had missed on my own poles before I started to get a bit of a feel for when to set.  After about 30 minutes we had each landed at least a fish if not multiple fish with the pace pretty much being that as soon as you got your line down and jigged it a time or two you would have a bite.  I had opted to put wax worms on my jigs instead of the gulp alive fry and that quickly proved to be a right move as I started to get a lot more attention the the other guys.  So everyone changed over to wax worms (or just added them onto the hooks and kept the gulp alive on the hook too) and it was game on for quite a while.

A few observations we had made during this time.  All fish seemed to be on the bottom (we were only in 8' of water so take it for what it is) and all fish marked on the finder were just off the bottom few inches.  The perch ranged from about 8" - 11"+ but were all very plump for their size ( this later during the fillet process proved to be the egg's they were all (but one) carrying.  The catch to pick up on there is that of all the perch caught only 1 was male, the rest were female.  That surprised us a bit.

Jason and Alex scored all the Trout that we got onto the ice and silver seemed to be the preferred color for trout, at least in what we had offered.

The bluegill caught ranged in about the 4" - 9" range with most in the middle though Jason did the best for average bluegill size.  We did manage 2 large mouth bass.  I caught one, my first LMB ever, and Jason caught the other.

As the day went along we started to run low on wax worms so we pulled out the night crawlers and put small pieces of them on the hooks and it appeared that wax worm or night crawlers were just as effective but both were still significantly more effective then the gulp alive fry we had tried.  Activly jigging at times seemed to be good, but just as often almost the second poles that Jason and I ran were being hit with no active motion on them.  So maybe the active jigging was more for our benefit of doing something as we waited for the next bite?  Things started to taper off somewhere between 1pm and 2pm.  We stayed out on the ice till about 3:30pm when it was time to head out.

So picking up on some previous questions folk asked as people have made reports about fishing and what was in the stomach of the fish kept I figured I'd give a look in the fish we took home as I fillet them.  The perch and the lmb both were full of what I think are baby bluegill.  Though a couple my bigger perch had baby lmb in their bellies.

The bluegill didn't have anything I could identify in their bellies, but in hind sight I think they had similar to what I found in the trout (as they had more of them too look through) and they appear to be some kind of snail.

In the end both Jason and I commented about how it never felt like it was going to turn out as well as it did when we considered how the day had gone.  One of those that kind of sneaked up on you.  Regardless it was a wonderful day to be out and again demonstrated how pleasant fishing the hard deck can be.  Alex made it clear he was more then happy to have been there and would very muck like to go again and often.  Now I just need to get my other two kids out and try to reproduce the same results in terms of getting them in some fish too.

Well time to go plan for some fish taco's, fish fingers or some other tasty option to pick for these fish. :)