As the weather gets colder, ice fishing is heating up on Lake Erie. Lisa Green at Happy Hooker (www.happyhookerbaitshop.com) in Buffalo, New York, reports that Burtus Bay is covered with 5 to 6 inches of ice and anglers are already reporting steady catches of perch and bluegill. Lisa said that the hot bait has been a wax worm, maggots mousies on a jig. “A lot of guys will pop the eyes out of a perch and use them for bait,” she adds. Guys setting tip up rods with golden or emerald shiners are landing some nice-sized walleye. Walleye and muskeye fishing will get better as the ice gets thicker, Lisa told us. “We’re expecting some real cold weather over the next couple of days,” she said, “we’re really excited.” Brrrr.
Even if the weather has been cold, anglers fishing the Mid-Atlantic will stay warm through the winter by cranking on big fish. Action out of South Eastern Virginia has been on fire from offshore to inshore to the backwaters. Believe it or not, even during the deep freeze anglers are still finding speckled trout and red drum in the skinny water. Winter fishing often produces some of the biggest speckled trout for guys who are patient enough to wait out the cold at any of the local speck holes. The warm-water discharges from the local power plants are favorite hang-outs for gator trout and live mullet are the favorite bait. Both are difficult to find, but when everything comes together die-hards are scoring trout over 10 pounds. Luckily, striped bass are easy to find. Crews trolling plugs, parachutes, umbrellas, and spoons from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Eastern Shore of Virginia are catching impressive numbers of striped bass averaging between 38 and 43 inches with some bigger fish mixed in. Even though striper season in Chesapeake Bay is closed, striper junkies can still catch and release fish through the winter. With fewer anglers on the water and more monster rockfish in the water, it is a perfect time to drop live eels into the pilings of the bridge on a three way rig or under bobbers. Tog are also biting on the CBBT and nearshore wrecks. Last weekend, Captain Craig Paige (www.paige2charters.com) took a personal day and landed an 18-pound tog—which is his personal best. Even though the tuna and marlin have headed to warmer waters, there is still plenty of fish to catch offshore. While most anglers were chasing rockfish along the beach, some crews are electing to target black sea bass, tilefish, and grouper on the deep water wrecks and live bottom. Farther south, anglers fishing out of Hatteras have been catching blackfin tuna with butterfly jigs until their arms hurt. For links to all the fishing action in the East, check out (www.thefishingblitz.com) No matter how cold it gets this winter, Mid-Atlantic anglers are sure to break a sweat cranking on big fish.
“We have a rare situation on Lake Martin,” reports B.J. Barnett at Fish Tales in Alexander, Alabama. He explained that abnormally warm weather has kept the striped bass active on the lake. “They are still schooled up and feeding on the surface,” he said. B.J. suggests fishing out of Wind Creek State Park. “Guys are marking bait and fish as they idle away from the launch ramp,” he said. Most anglers are trolling live shad or black salties behind planer boards, but B.J. said that lucky fishermen are finding the striper feeding on the surface. “Guys are going crazy,” he said, “using bear-hair bucktails or Zara Spooks.”
“Plenty of ice, plenty of snow, and plenty of fish,” is how Scott VanValkenburg at Fisherman’s Corner (www.fishermanscorner.com) described fishing out of Duluth, Minnesota. Scott told us that anglers have already plowed roads across Pike, Fish, and Grand Lakes. “There are already 100 permanent ice holes and guys are fishing every day.” Scott says that Pike Lake has been one of the hottest perch lakes. He says that the perch are biting best between 9 and 3 in the afternoon. Early in the morning and just before dark, crappie and walleye go on the feed. “Fish Lake has been the best lake for crappies up to 12 inches,” he added. Scott says that a glow-in-the-dark Demon jig has been the ticket for these slabs. Bluegill are responding to wax worms and Gulp! maggots.
Utah is a winter sports paradise and the fishing is as good as the skiing, snowmobiling, and hunting. Dan Smith at Fish Tech (www.fishtechoutfitters.com) reported a buffet of species available for anglers who venture out on the ice. “Lake Mantua and Lake Utah are holding bluegill, perch, trout, walleye, and largemouth,” he said. Dan tells us that that each of these species will respond to a 1½-inch tube jig tipped with a wax worm. Anglers fishing Lake Mantua are setting up around weed beds, while the marinas in Lake Utah have been the most productive locations. Dan also point anglers to Flaming Gorge Reservoir where burbot are eating everything in sight. “They’re ferocious and the law requires anglers to keep all the fish that they catch,” Dan says. He suggests fishing the shallows with a glow tube jig and chunk of sucker meat. He added that Strawberry Reservoir has produced rainbow trout to 11 pounds for guys dunking wax worms and tube jigs directly off the boat ramp. “The ice is thick and the fish are biting.” —Ric Burnley