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No Safe Ice? Try Something New

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

As mother nature reared her beautiful face in mid-November, Ice fishing enthusiasts from all over the Upper the Midwest grew with anticipated early ice fishing expectations. Many even had planned on hitting the ice over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Too much of the eagerly anticipated ice angler dismay. The early cold snap didn’t stick around long before wet heavy snows, rain and unseasonably warmer temperatures quickly turn what looked like a long Ice season ahead into a short and treacherous one.

2020 Ice season is far from over and much of the further Northern Destinations such as Lake of The Woods, MN and Devils Lake, ND and of course Canada have good safe ice and lots of it. This year you may have to venture a little further north than anticipated or put in some extra work to find those hidden gem pockets that are holding fish to get your ice fix. But if you are willing to try new things this winter then your options are endless.

I’ve always thought of myself as a river rat, probably from spending so much of my childhood summers on the Blue River and the Republican river in Southeastern Nebraska. I’m not exactly sure what the attraction to rivers, streams, and creeks has been but I’m always looking for one when planning a hunting and or fishing trip. Most moving water holds an abundance of wildlife throughout the year for obvious reasons. But I think the deeper connection comes with the serenity and peaceful sounds of a river current or a stream flowing over massive boulders in the mountains.

I have been an avid fly fisherman for well over 20yrs. Not necessarily good at the craft but rather enjoyed the places it has taken me. My introduction to the art came soon after high school when my Dentist (Roger Plooster) told me about the largemouth bass bite he had been on using his fly gear. Roger is a seasoned veteran of this art and with just a few tips from him, I was soon on my way. Spending countless early mornings in my float tube hitting the local lakes or using the Jon boat that Roger graciously left out for regulars like me on his private pond. I soon began to develop my own unique style of the craft.

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For many fly fishing can be intimidating and very challenge from the tiny baits to mastering the perfect cast. I was fortunate to have the knack for it I would say. I have caught countless 5lb largemouth bass on topwater popper frogs and countless 10” bluegill as well. The pursuit of species I was already a custom too was a fairly simple adjustment. When fishing small lakes and ponds it’s a rather simple practice without the moving water and lack of water clarity. Put the frog in front of the fish and methodically make it come to life and get bit. That was about it.

I have since honed in on my craft and have been fortunate enough to teach a few other’s the little that I know which has helped them have a positive experience the first time they had a fly rod in their grasp. I have since fly fished the Blue and Platte River in Colorado, The Black Hills in South Dakota to the Marshes of Louisiana and many other small creeks and streams in between.

This ice season or lack of is a great time to take on a new challenge. If you enjoy the places you go and the challenge of the chase more than the outcome such as I. Then fly fishing is probably for you.  The streams of the Black Hills in South Dakota to the rivers in Colorado are open for the most part all winter. Not only do these places provide pristine views and an abundance of trout to be targeted but the fishing pressure is usually at its season-low.

Why is this important? Trust me your first time with a fly rod in your hand is best with no one around. Not only for their safety but your own. When you get a chance to venture down this path of new beginnings your gear and location are going to play a big role in your success. There is no need to go out buy the most expensive fly-fishing setup you can afford or at least not until you know you can do it. Begin with a teacher if possible, if you are a DIY type of person like myself then make sure you have plenty of open space to learn. This will make life so much easier than trying to place a fly into a 3x3 pocket under a tree on your first outing. You don’t even need to be near water to practice (but take the fly off if on land). A good 5weight 9’ rod is what I have always used, and it seems to work well for the multi-species I may encounter.

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You have figured out the basics of not getting wrapped up in your own fly line and are now ready to take to the water.  When fishing small clear streams stealth-like moves are paramount. Just remember if you can see the fish, they can see you. Blend in with your surroundings if possible but not a necessity. A long cast will help you present the bait undetected but that isn’t always an option. I have probably caught more fish with less than 20’ of line out than I have with more. With next to know actual fly’s around in the dead of winter pay close attention to what is in the water. There are particular larva and other species still hatching throughout the winter months that you will want to mimic. The fish won’t be near as aggressive as the summertime so getting a rise may be an extreme challenge but if you are patient and able to naturally present a fly right in front of a brown trout you have a great shot of getting bit.

Fish don’t always eat out of necessity but more from opportunity. Given the right presentation at the right time, you may find yourself with a feisty trout on the end of your line. As I grow older it’s good to have less strenuous adventures to fall back on. Fly fishing is as simple as you make it and doesn’t require a large investment to get started. Much like anything the more you do it the better you get, and I can attest fly fishing is a true craft that takes effort. The rewards are well worth it. Find a river or stream near you and give it a shot. Keep it simple and maybe even target some creek chubs if need be. Every opportunity you get makes your fly fishing destination trips that much more successful and enjoyable in the end.

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