By Larry Dablemont
I would really like to take a trip to Canada this time of year, to the Lake of the Woods region, and fish with some friends who catch walleye and pike and crappie through the ice. If you have never caught fish through the ice it may not sound too appealing to you, but it is really fun.
Some of the best times I have had in January were sitting on the ice of Iowa farm ponds with my cousins, catching blue-gill and crappie on little tiny meal worms, with a rope around my waist and the other end tied to a tree on the bank. They thought that was hilarious, but you can never be too cautious! Eventually I got use to sitting out there on the ice, hovering over a little eight-inch hole with my cousins, yanking out crappie with a rod about three feet long.
I am going fishing in January and February though, as soon as the duck season and quail season end. The best of the brown trout fishing on the White River takes place between now and March. You catch them on the six-inch suspending rogues, and someone usually gets a 15- to 20-pound brown during that time of year. Lots of five- to 10-pound browns are caught. My biggest is eight pounds but I've hooked and landed a number of four- to six-pound browns.
All through January down on Norfork lake, the anglers who brave the cold and go after them catch stripers, whites and hybrids, in the mouths of the big tributaries where they school in deep water following the hordes of threadfin shad.
With all the shad they have in that lake, I don't know why a striper would be attracted to a big shiner minnow, but they are. About 10 years ago I was fishing for them in Norfork on a very cold day and we caught a half dozen nice ones in only a few hours at midday. They were over 50 feet of water, about 40-feet deep, but usually in January you will find them at about 40 feet over 60- to 80-feet of water. You about have to have a good depth finder to fish for them.
A friend I was fishing with knows where the stripers are most of the winter, so I just go with him. He ties on a circle hook, size two-ought, with about a half-ounce of weight 15- or 20-inches above the hook, hooks a shiner through the lips and counts out forty feet of line. Then he blows up a little biodegradable water balloon they sell at toy departments for kids until it is a little smaller than a tennis ball, and he ties that stem of the balloon around a 15-inch loop in the line.
When the fish hits, it just pulls that line right through the knot of the balloon, and the fight is on. The balloon is not at all a strike indicator, it just floats off. It is merely a device to allow you to play out your line so that you can be fishing forty feet deep, but a good distance from your boat. In mid-winter, with the clear water, stripers might be spooked a little if they are directly beneath the boat.
In late February or early March, at the beginning of the full moon, with warming nighttime temperatures, the night fishing for stripers and walleye on Norfork lake will get good. The stripers hit that same suspending rogue that we use for brown trout on the White River.
I hope to hit it at the right time this year, when the nights are not too cold, and you can hear the geese passing over in the moonlight. What a thrill it is when a big striper nails that rogue. You never say, "I think I had a strike!" You have no doubt what has happened.
Of course over the years, some of the best bass fishing I have had takes place on large tributaries to Ozark lakes in late February and early March. A few days of warm weather can trigger that, and when a fisherman finds them, he can follow them for a couple of weeks before they disperse. I know I won't get to do all of the fishing I want to do, but the anticipation and planning is worth a great deal. It makes it easier to get through to April.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.