December 27, 2006 at 8:41 p.m.

Breaking away from the crowds

Breaking away from the crowds
Breaking away from the crowds

All of us ice anglers are guilty of doing it now and again. Probably more often than not. Heck, I have plans to do it yet again this afternoon. What in the world am I referring to? I’m talking about the time-honored practice of community fishing. In other words, seeing a tight knot of anglers occupying a particular area of ice and making the assumption (evidently some sort of hard-wired caveman human nature thing) that if we don’t join the crowd, we’ll be S.O.L. and leave the lake empty handed.

There’s nothing wrong with joining the fray. After all, these well-known ice-fishing haunts are crowded for the simple reason that year in and year out, folks generally enjoy success fishing them. But what about those days when the fishing is slow in these spots? Do you tough it out and accept the fact that you’ll be but one of the luckless many, or do you gather your gear and head out in search of active fish?

If the area you’re fishing is a bit too busy with other anglers and noisy augers, don’t just sit there and watch an empty LCR screen, throw your stuff in a sled and get away from the crowd. You’ll oftentimes be pleasantly surprised to discover that the fish you seek just might be hanging out in water adjacent to the structure that collects all the anglers.

My brother-in-law and I found active crappies the other day on North Center Lake occupying the transition bottom of an underwater point. Anglers were fishing the hard-bottom top of the point and getting nothing, while we stumbled upon a literal gob of actively feeding crappies in 20 feet of water. The fish were following the migrating daphnia and zooplankton that rise from the deeper waters at dusk and we were able to coax the biters to within four feet of our holes. We could actually see the fish take our jigs, which was sort of a trip. Sort of like watching an underwater camera without the heavy price tag.

So the next time you join the crowd – and like I said, we all do it – don’t accept a slow bite day when they do come around. Pick up your equipment and move. Sometimes 50 – 100 yards makes all the difference in the world. When you do find the fish, the real trick is to keep your success low-key. Just like during the open water season, when other anglers see your net in the water, they’re sure to drop by to see what all the fuss is about. Quietly slip those fish into a bucket and keep them off the ice. Because you know, as soon as the herds of anglers see that you’re catching fish, they’ll be onto you like white on rice.

Happy holidays to all and we’ll see you on the ice.

Dan Brown’s weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie’s Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

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