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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Livewell Blog: A Long December!

What a weird winter so far! This season brought the earliest I have ever been on the ice, and the next week it is 50 degrees, with thick fog. Meh, no matter, I am still fishing regardless! I know there are more of you out there that have some questions you would like answered? So, do you have a fishing-related question you would like answered? Yes, you! Send me some questions, ridiculous or not, send it to me via Twitter: @dropshotbob with the #livewellblog hashtag, or for questions that cannot be contained by 140 characters, by email at I will try to do my best to answer them to the best of my abilities, hopefully you find some information that you can use on the water, as well as a little humor.

When fishing a new lake for panfish, do you start with weeds or other structure (if it exists in that lake)?

While structure is easy to see on maps, bottom content and weed structure is not. This response will be quite controversial, but if you are new to a lake (and don't know how to read maps or are unwilling to drill several hundred holes), find an area that others are fishing. Then, when you have familiarized yourself with the fish in that location, find something similar in the map and go and try that area.

The more you practice this, the more you will begin to understand lake maps and the less you will need to go fish where others are first. Bottom content has way more to do with where panfish reside during the winter months than an interesting looking lines on a lake map. Mud = aquatic insects hatching, transitions between mud and weeds are where minnows travel to eat and hide.

Where can I meet a chick on the ice?

This question hits close to home for me. Partly because, I am an avid outdoorsman and have very little time for the bar/single scene, but mostly because I met my wife while out fishing (more on that later).

First, we have to define what kind of “chick” you want to meet on the ice. Do you want a one night fishhouse stand? Perhaps, the kind of girl that will introduce you to crazy fun for a few months, all the while your fishing time suffers as she drags you from bar scene to musical venue, and you are constantly trying to catch your breathe and long to stare blankly down a hole in the ice? Sure, those girls are a dime a dozen. Just go to Eelpout festival in Walker, just remember, this is a young man's game. Unless you are well-versed in Jag-bombs, chugging frisbees full of beer (they hold way more than you would think), or doing pout shots (yes, it is exactly what you think it is), steer clear of those girls.

Unbeknownst to me, I had met my future father-in-law several times before I had met his lovely daughter. He was always at the weigh-ins for an ice fishing league I was involved with (the Ultimate Panfish League) and we had spoken several times. Well, whether it be fate or the Crappie Gods intervening, he brought his daughter (my now wife) with him to one of the tournaments. After an embarassing 8th place finish, I didnt really want to talk to anyone, but a buddy convinced me that since I had driven that far, that I might as well go fish with a small group of people on a hole that was holding some good crappies. It might have been my hilarious sense of humor (we all know this is a blatant lie), or the fact that I was on 8 hours of sleep in the last 48, but I had a few carp I caught on tipups a few days prior in the bed of my truck. I placed these carp conveniently close to the road, and as people drive past, we all remarked on how we were slaying carp in this spot. And she laughed.

I kept telling myself, she is too young, don't hit on her. Then another vehicle would drive past, and another buddy would tell them how great the carp were biting. And again, she laughed. Put it out of your mind, Bob, there are crappies to catch!! Finally, my buddy Brandon and I headed to a different part of the lake to try for some big bluegills. We caught some mediocre fish but he talked me into having a burger and a beer back at the bar on Rush Lake.

I walked in, and there was the angel with the ponytail and the laugh (yes, I am sappy, I am married now, I don't have a choice) with a beer in her hand and the only thought that popped in my mind was “fair game!!” So, all of us sat there together bullshitting and having a few beers and eating dinner. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and without missing a beat, I looked her dad directly in the eyes and told him, “I hope you don't mind, but I am going to ask your daughter out.”

Luckily, he wasn't too offended or shocked by my bold statement and he tried to play matchmaker the rest of the night. We got to the door at the end of the night and he told me that she loved ice fishing and was always looking for someone to take her fishing as she did not have an auger of her own. To which I uttered the single greatest (although, I would doubt this would ever work again) pickup line known to man. I looked her knowingly in the eyes and said, “I will auger any hole you will let me.” Everyone began laughing, I had no clue what was going on. It wasn't until my drive home that I realized how colossally stupid that sounded, but it worked. A few days later, on our first date, we almost killed Dave Genz, caught catfish, ate spaghetti and lost a loaf of banana bread in my truck, but that is a story for another time.

I don't know what this story is supposed to teach you, other than don't pick up “chicks” at the Eelpout Festival. I just started typing, and my wife's feet are on my lap, and she is snoring, and kicking in her sleep (no doubt chasing her dog that is chasing a pheasant), so I got carried away.

She can walk on water!!

What is the best flasher? Vexilar/Marcum/Humminbird/others, why?

What is the best truck, Ford, Dodge, Toyota, or Chevy? Exactly! This question is as ridiculous as the truck debate. They all catch fish, provided you know how to use them. Personally, I fish with a Marcum LX-7 and I love it. Give me a vex or a bird, I can still catch the same amount of fish, it just takes a little getting used to the display and features.

However, while they may all catch you fish, it is 2014-ish, why stick with old technology? Having the ability to customize the display to my fishing preference is indispensable to me. Granted, some may be fine with 30 year old technology, I just prefer a something a little more cutting edge. So, my vote goes to Marcum.

Detail the difference in growth rates between bluegills and crappies. Why do lakes have stunted panfish?

The difference in growth rates among panfish is entirely dependent on the forage available to them in a given waterway. Some lakes just have fast growing panfish, while others it seemingly takes forever to grow decent sized crappies and bluegills. And yet other lakes never seem to grow decent panfish no matter the year. Again, it is all forage, forage, forage, and a little bit of genetics.

Generally, stunted lakes happen due to two reasons: 1. Fishing pressure. Remove all the big fish out of the lake, and they aren't there to be caught or reproduce (more on this later), and 2. Available Forage in the lake. Like every other animal in the world, if a fish doesn't have enough food to make them grow big, they won't.

It is important to remember that while they are both considered panfish, bluegills and crappies are distinct species. This difference is most present in how they reproduce. In crappies, the females are the bigger of the species, one small male can breed several females. With sunfish, the male is the larger of the species and generally stop growing once they reach sexual maturity. So, if you take out all the 10” males out of a waterway, then all the 9” fish need to start reproducing and put all of their energy towards this. When all of the 9” fish are gone, the 8” fish start reproducing, and so on until the fish reach a size that anglers no longer deem “keepable”.

Crappies also seem to cycle in lakes, there will be a good spawn/year-class produced every few years with not much for reproduction in between. This is due largely to weather activities. Crappies are one of few species of fish, where if the weather isn't exactly right for them, they give up and the females will reabsorb the eggs.

A long story short: keep medium sized panfish and let the big ones go to reproduce. Big panfish make more big panfish. Also, check these guys out: RECYCLED FISH

I need a portable ice shack. How much money do I really have to spend? And what do I really need?

Ideally, I would say you really only have to spend a case of beer. That's what I paid for my first fish house. Granted, I had to patch up some holes in it to make it fishable, but it served it's purpose for a couple years before I decided to upgrade. Nowadays it only takes a few days searching on that list named after some guy Craig to find something that will fit your needs for a reasonable price. However, understand that you are getting someone else's hand-me-down.

While I will not badmouth any brand of fish house, remember you get what you pay for if you plan to buy new. I like to fish in comfort and a little extra weight is not a concern for me. Rather, I want ridiculous durability (as I tend to beat on my equipment), so for the last 10 years I have fished out of an Otter. My current model is a full thermal lodge. It has two padded swivel seats and enough room to fish a third person should the need arise. If weight is more of a concern and you are the type to go it alone, check out the Eskimo Quickflip series.

When it is all said and done, just spend what you are comfortable with. Some may be willing to spend over $1000 on a fish house, some just want something to keep the wind off their backs and a little heat inside. If you are just getting started, it doesn't hurt to buy new and then upgrade every few years once you know what you like/don't like about a particular model.

What's the best method to target crappies after the sun goes down?

What has worked for me is to start out where they are during the day (maybe a little shallower), and then switch to live bait and glow. This is difficult for me as I am not a fan of bait, since it is hard to keep alive, and increases the time it takes to get your lure back down to the fish.

Night time fishing for crappies is generally geared towards numbers. If you want size, fish during the day and fish shallow weeds. But for after work fun, crappies after dark can be a fun way to unwind. I recently discovered a lake less than five minutes from my house where the crappies will bite all night long. The size isn't the best (one in every 10 crappies is over 11 inches) but you can get constant action without the trivial noises/questions of the real world, and isn't that what we are all after when we go fishing?

Ask around, especially at the bait shops, and you can get on some good fishing, just don't expect the best for size after sunset. Just get close and call them in with noise, glow, and live bait.

The night time can be the right time: 

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