Iowa Midwinter Ice Fishing
It wasn’t hard to see why Dave Wilson plunked his ice tent down, just around the corner from Lake Macbride’s main boat ramp. Around him, the ice was pock-marked with refrozen holes, drilled by ice anglers in the days before.
Still, in 15 feet of water, about 40 yards from shore, he had little to show for his Wednesday morning effort. “A few bluegills,” reported Wilson, pointing toward the Aqua-Vu camera sitting on a plastic bucket beside him. “The water seems a little murky. I don’t know if that’s affecting things. Usually, though, I can see both my jigs.” As Wilson, of Central City, twitched the closer fishing rod, we pick out the jig, but not the one just two feet to the right.
A few yards away, Robert Heims, of Cedar Rapids, seconded the assessment. “Just a few little bluegills. I’m waiting for the crappies,” said Heims. “I can see the crappies once in awhile just swarming under the jig. They just won’t take it though.”
Each angler has had decent success in earlier outings this winter. Wilson followed the old adage, ‘if they’re not biting…move,’ a few minutes after I talked with him, towing his set up out towards the middle of the lake. “Crappies have been hitting the last couple weeks,” relayed Paul Sleeper, DNR fisheries biologist, based at Macbride. “(Anglers) have been getting a lot of little bluegills, too,” he said, holding his fingers about five inches apart. “There are a lot of them on Macbride that size.”
Of course, any plans for fishing Macbride have to factor in the prospect of a lake drawn down seven or eight feet for construction. That brushpile or downed tree that you hammered last winter might be above the water this year.
In the middle of winter, ice fishing can be hit or miss. After a flurry of activity just as the ice freezes, fish settle into a more dormant state as the water temperatures stay just above 32 degrees. That’s when a little more strategy sometimes pays off.
“There really isn’t a bad time to fish, even in midwinter,” professes Mick Klemesrud, information specialist-and avid ice angler-with the Department of Natural Resources. “I would recommend going at first light and then last light of the day. Fish will bite all day, but you’re going to have most production in those ‘low light’ hours.”
He has hit several lakes around central Iowa in the last couple weeks. “In midwinter, you want to look to deeper water and structure,” says Klemesrud. “If you’re in a lake that has about 30 feet of water, you are going to want to look at 20, 22 feet of water as the area holding fish; about 2/3, maybe 3/4 of the maximum depth of the lake.”
As for structure, you take what you can get. It might be the outside of a creek channel; where the contour drops a couple feet. Deep brush, pallets or stake beds are also spots that will hold fish; looking for water that is a degree or two warmer than the stuff closer to the ice…and where smaller baitfish or other snacks will be seeking cover.
On Bussey Lake, off the Mississippi River, above Guttenberg, the ice fishing action is a bit more predictable. Dredge cuts in the backwater lake point anglers toward the fish that pack in during the winter to get out of the current. About 20 ice shacks were up the other morning. Just as many anglers sat out in the open, on buckets or ‘carry in’ chairs as they drilled through about a foot of ice.
“It was an early morning bite. It’s slowing down now, in the middle of the day,” relayed Cory McNeal of Cedar Rapids. He motioned toward the bucket next to his chair. Big, thick, brightly colored bluegills filled the bottom quarter of it. “We’re actually pretty close to getting our limit. Hoping to finish up and get 25 bluegills. We probably threw back 30 or 40 small ones.”
That panfish limit; 25 daily for bluegill and pumpkinseed (combined) and 25 for crappies has been in effect for several years on the Mississippi River and its backwaters. A similar daily limit takes effect January 21 on all inland public waters (see below).
On the Mississippi, several of the angles I talked with had pulled in a bass or northern on tip-ups in the days prior. None had one to show for it that day, though, several kept their eyes on the orange-flagged tip up rigs near their primary holes.
No surprises. No wonder-bait. Just plugging away in the middle of the winter, keeping things small. “Smaller’s always better. Use the smallest hooks, lightest lines; then wax worms, maggots, that sort of thing,” suggests Klemesrud. “Use the smallest you can find, to get the job done.”
New Year, New Limit
A change in the daily possession limit for crappies and for bluegills is the major change facing anglers across Iowa this year. Fishing regulations for 2009 are being distributed across the state.
Those fishing along the Mississippi River have worked within a daily limit of 25 and a possession limit of 50 for bluegills and pumpkinseeds (combined) and for crappies for the last few years. Now, inland anglers will need to get used to that daily limit. Though the Natural Resource Commission opted away from the possession (overall) limit on inland waters, it did approve a daily limit of 25 each for bluegills and crappies.
New Year, New License
With the New Year comes a new license. If you don’t hunt until fall or maybe don’t fish until spring, you might not concern yourself with it for now. However, if you do any late season deer hunting, maybe chase rabbits through February or plan to call in a gobbler this spring, you’ll need your 2009 license and habitat stamp (if required)…same for any cold water fishing. The 2008 licenses expired January 10.