Don’t Fish Blind

Monday, February 11th, 2013

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The advancements in technology today have not only affected our everyday life, but they have spilled over into the world of fishing. Advancements in GPS technology and the leaps and bounds in the world of sonar technology have had a direct effect on the way we fish.

Ice fishermen are not immune to this technology and it is being used all over the country to improve the way we fish. More and more companies are recognizing this and are gearing their equipment toward the ice angler.

Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t need fancy GPS units and side imaging sonar out on the ice to catch fish. However the new GPS/Sonar combos are certainly making a good showing and have been proven to help some win tournaments.

My fellow writer and angler, Jeff Kelm recently utilized a combination of sonar, an underwater camera, and a good GPS with mapping chip to win the “Recycled Fish” Hardwater Open on Big Creek in Iowa. The GPS and map chip allowed Jeff and his partner to eliminate “dead” water and focus on brush piles in the deeper areas as well as the drop-offs near the structure.

If you are just starting out in the world of ice fishing there is little need for this high-end equipment, however there is one thing that will make your days out on the water a much more productive time. The use of a flasher is a key item to take advantage of when you hit the hard water.

There are several manufactures of flasher units. Companies such as Vexilar are making flashers in all types of varieties and what you choose is basically up to you and how you fish. Choose what you feel comfortable with as well as what you can afford. Each unit has its own advantages and it pays to take some time to do your research and pick the unit that is right for you.

My Flasher of choice is the Vexilar FL22. I went with this unit because the options fit the way I fish. It is designed for the shallow water fisherman and that is where most of my fishing takes place. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t use it at any other depths. Flashers are a very universal tool for any fisherman.

I suppose I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself here and left out a vital part of information that would certainly help. What is a flasher?

A flasher is a unique sonar device that typically utilizes a rotating arm with a three color led system that spins on an axis and lights up to show the depth, weeds, bottom makeup and fish. There are units out there that utilize fiber optics, LEDs, LCD screens, and sometimes simple lights to accomplish the same goal.

That is as simple of an answer that would explain it without going into all the science and details of what each company may include. With that we can discuss why we use the flashers.
The flasher is a “real time” feedback of what is going on below the ice. This feedback is capable of giving you a picture of what is going on under the ice below you. It will allow you to learn more about the area you are fishing and about how the fish are reacting to your baits.

Flashers are a key component to allow you to cover a lot of water and eliminate the water that may not be holding fish. You are able to visualize the type of bottom you are over based on the color of the signal coming back as well as know if there are weeds or even fish below you by watching the screen of the unit.

Watching the screen on your flasher can also help you determine what type of mood the fish are in at that given time period. You may see fish come into your screen and just sit there and watch your presentation and then slowly swim off. This can allow you to change up your presentation until you find one that is triggering the fish to bite instead of what we call “sniffing” the baits.

The color palette of the returning sonar signal is red, orange, and green. These are the three colors that you will be looking at when using your flasher. Just like any other sonar the darker the color the harder and larger the object. Thus a hard bottom would be red and a fish would show up green. However the closer the fish got to the center of your cone the darker the color, thus it would turn red when they were right on top of your bait.

It my previous column I discussed the importance of being mobile when searching for fish and the flasher plays a key role in that. These units allow you to find the fish holding structure as well as the depth changes that might be key to your particular species.

Although not necessary, the addition of a flasher to your ice fishing equipment will certainly improve your ability to locate and catch more and bigger fish. It will allow you to find those suspended crappies out over the deep holes or find those bottom hugging walleyes on the shallow flats.

Adding this technology to your ice fishing game will certainly help you put more fish on the ice. Do some research and see for yourself the advantages of not fishing “blind”.

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Vexilar FL22: Innovation at its Finest

Monday, February 4th, 2013

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This year is a year of change for me. I have made some big changes in not only my life, but in the new equipment that I have chosen to fish with.

I know to some that this is not necessarily a “big” change, but to a fisherman there are many things that we opt to do that can have a dramatic effect on how we fish. Changes in our equipment and techniques can mean the difference between catching fish and just sitting on the ice watching others catch fish.

This ice season I have decided to change things up a bit and have upgraded my flasher to a Vexilar FL22. Vexilar is the best of the best when it comes to flashers and locators for the ice as well as for your open water fisherman.

The FL22 has many features that my existing flasher does not. Features such as the bottom lock zoom and the opportunity to change transducers from a standard 12deg cone to a Tri-transducer or the new ProView 9deg transducer.

Here is a bit of a blurb on the FL22
The ultimate in special purpose sonar fishing systems is here. What makes the FL-22 so special is the technical breakthrough of matching the power output and pulse length to the depth you are fishing. In less technical terms, the FL-22 is the first flasher sonar system that matches the depth range you’ve set to the resolution on the display so you see every possible detail in the water below. The FL-22 delivers the best target ID and target separation of any sonar system ever made! A unique feature of the FL-22 is the six 10 foot increment range settings, with a maximum depth of 60 feet. The idea of having the available depth range matched to the actual water depth being fished can greatly increase display resolution making it easier to work lures and see when a fish is interested. The popular night fishing mode is also featured in the FL-22. By cutting the brightness of the display by 50%, you are able to comfortably view the display in complete darkness without affecting your night vision. The FL-22 offers two Auto Zoom zones, one for the bottom six feet and the other for the bottom twelve feet. For super-shallow water fishing, a low power mode is built-in. The FL-22 even has a Bottom Lock feature for open water use. This locks the zoom on the bottom six feet no matter how much the water depth changes. All these features—still controlled with only three, easy to reach knobs—make the FL-22 the most advanced sonar system ever offered by Vexilar.

The FL22 is on Top of the Vexilar flasher offerings and I know that it will certainly improve not only my fishing, but my catching.
The features of this unit are:
1. Vexilar 12 volt, 9 amp-hour battery delivers long lasting power. Pack comes complete with charger.
2. An FL series three-color flasher from Vexilar, the world leader in three-color flasher technology. (FL-20 shown)
3. The D-130 Battery Status Indicator helps keep track of your battery while in use.
4. Two cable holding cleats.
5. Adjustable rod holder with two possible mounting locations.
6. The patented Ice-Ducer system is a self leveling transducer with float for accurate transducer positioning every time.
7. Easy access to tackle box
8. PC-100 case fits inside a five gallon bucket.
9. Pre-drilled holes for optional accessories
10. Universal transducer holder (on the back)
11. Weatherproof, super-bright, 3-color LED (strong targets in red, medium targets in orange, weak targets in green)
12. Flat screen Display with super wide viewing angle
13. 525 segments of resolution
14. Six depth ranges down to 60 feet
15. Target ID of Less than 1/4 inch
16. Built-in low battery indicator
17. Special night mode setting for comfortable night viewing
18. 6 foot and 12 foot Auto Zoom Ranges, 6 foot Bottom Lock
19. 525 segments of resolution
20. Two-Year warranty (One-year on battery)
21.Uses all Vexilar “FL” series transducers

The list can go on and on and I hope to be able to show first hand the use of this product and how it will improve my time on the ice in future entries.

If you are looking at getting into a new flasher for the ice you most certainly want to look at the Vexilar line of flashers. Not only are they well made and effective, but they are well supported and someone is always willing to lend you a hand if you have a question about your unit.

Good luck out there and make sure the next time you are out on the ice that you think about how much better your fishing could be if you had a Vexilar in your hands.

If you want to read more about the history of Vexilar just take a look here!

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Stay Mobile for More Fish

Friday, February 1st, 2013

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Ice fishing isn’t for everybody, but for some it holds a special place in our hearts. There is something about walking out onto the frozen surface of a lake or pond that sparks a fire deep down inside. This fire is fueled by the sound of an auger chewing through the hard sparkling ice.

As I said, it isn’t for everybody, but it (the ice) certainly is for me. Armed with a good set of spikes on my boots and a warm Ice Armor suit I find myself hitting the frozen surface more and more every year. These trips are spread out on many bodies of water and in several different states. The key to all of these trips and to catching fish is to make yourself as mobile as possible.

Often you will see guys set up camp in one area and spend their day on these one or two holes and catch only a few fish. If you want to increase your odds of finding fish and staying on them you have to remain mobile and able to move when the fish move.

It is not uncommon to drill 50 holes in a matter of a couple hours while looking for fish, structure, weeds, or changes in the water depth. If you are not moving and searching you may miss out on a bite that can happen in small windows of time.

You may have heard of this method referred to as “Ice Trolling”. This sums it up pretty nicely. You are moving with the fish and to find the fish. Keep moving and you are sure to keep catching fish.

There are a few things to keep in mind when employing this technique. It is rather simple, yet too many people tend to overlook the reasoning behind this moving. Fish are not creatures that will stay in one spot for very long. They are moving to find food, oxygen, and cover.

The fish’s major driving force for moving during this time of year would be in search of food. If you can find the food source you will also locate the fish.

We could go into depth about the movement of fish and how they relate to different structure at different times during the day, but I will save that for a later date. We want to focus on staying mobile and how you can go about doing this to the stay on the fish and to use it to your advantage.

Mobility is important for the ice angler and there are several important items that you can have to assist in this pursuit. You probably already have most of what you need, but the key is to be able to use it to your advantage.

Pack light would be the first word of advice when it comes to staying mobile and on the move. There is no need for extra gear like tip-ups, minnow buckets, etc if you are only targeting bluegills. Pair your gear down to the species that you are after.

Limit your rods to the species of fish you are in pursuit of. There is no need to carry every rod you have if you are only going to be needing a couple that will do the job for you. A great way to carry your rods and keep them out of harms way is in a good sturdy zippered case. I prefer to use the Ice Armor case as it has a tough denier outside and it is light enough to carry alone or in a sled.

Speaking of sleds, this is a great tool that will allow you to remain mobile, yet have a base that you can use to carry gear or even take a seat if needed. I have found that a nice one-man flip over shelter such as the Clam Kenai works great for this. The shelter allows you to get out of the wind if you need to or it allows you to block out the light on those high sky days. This often can mean the difference between active and inactive feeding fish.

If you are using a sled or a small shelter, make sure you use a pulling harness or a long rope that you can put across your chest. This will allow you to use your body to pull the sled and leaves your arms free to drill holes as you move along the frozen surface.

In our neck of the woods the ice does not get to the thickness that you might find in more northern states so a good hand auger is plenty to do the trick and still stay on the light side of things. Even better is a portable drill attachment and a couple spare batteries and you can drill over 100 holes without worry.

Keep your auger small though. Stick with a 5” auger as the amount of work to drill is directly related to the diameter of the auger. This size is plenty large to pull up a nice slab crappie yet small enough to use little effort when making multiple holes.

One thing that every ice troller should have is a good flasher. The Vexilar series of flashers are top of the line and offer you exceptional abilities to locate fish. This is an invaluable tool to help eliminate “dead” water and to allow you to locate fish and other structure. It only takes a few seconds to dip the transducer into a newly drilled hole to find out if you should make a move or sit tight for a bit.

The use of electronics has grown leaps and bounds over the years and with today’s technology you can even incorporate a good gps with mapping chips to allow you to follow the contours of the lake. These chips will allow you to plan your attack while you are on the move.

Staying mobile is easy, yet very important. Keep it light and pair your gear down. Keep drilling until you find fish and after you find them be ready to move again when they move. If you stick around too long those fish will move on. You can always backtrack as you follow the fish and hit the holes you have already drilled.

Trolling isn’t just for the open water guys. Use this approach on the ice and you are sure to find the fish you are after. Keep it simple and keep in light and you are sure to have a great time on the ice.

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Such a Great Loss

Monday, January 28th, 2013

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The world of Ice fishing and Guiding was rocked this weekend. We were hit with the sad news that one of the most sucessful and popular guides in Northern Michigan passed away at a young age of 34.

Jim Hudson was one of the greats that we all aspire to be like. He was a mentor to many and his experience and knowledge was like no others.

It is with a heavy heart that I write about his unfortunate passing. There is little that I can say or do to comfort his family and his loving wife. I can only imagine what they are going through right now and I know that they are surrounded by Jim’s extended family in the world of the outdoors.

Jim was one of the elite with many companies and his work with Clam outdoors and other companies was always top notch. His guiding experience could not be matched on the hard water or on open water trips.

His knowledge was extraordinary and he will be deeply missed by all those that he has touched.

Here is a local new story covering the loss of such a great man:

BAYFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) – A popular fishing guide, Jim Hudson, died after he fell through the Lake Superior ice on his snowmobile.

He was 34 years old.

It’s a huge loss in the Wisconsin ice fishing community.

“Being good isn’t just about knowing how to ice fish,” said friend Steve Geertsen. “It’s about being a good teacher and he was one of the most loving guys you’ve ever met.”

Hudson had been leading a fishing trip in Bayfield when his snowmobile broke through the ice on a channel between Bayfield and Long Island. Rescue crews say he was in the 33-degree water for at least 30 minutes. He was later airlifted to Essentia Health in Duluth, where was pronounced dead.

Longtime friend Mike Smith ice fished with others Sunday afternoon on Pelican Lake in Monticello. He said there was a lot of sorrow on the ice.

“(He was) a teddy bear, sweetest man in the world, give you the shirt off his back,” Smith said.

Thousands of people posted Facebook messages about Hudson after his wife, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, posted the news online. She had gained attention this past summer after she took a famous photo of a man and his dog, Schoep, swimming in Bayfield.

Friends say Hudson was one of the best ice-fishers in the country. He was part of Clam Outdoors Pro Staff – a group of 25 elite ice-fishermen who travelled to teach others about the sport.

“Jim is right there at the top,” said Matt Johnson. “There’s guys that can fish, guys that can talk to people, but he had such an overall outstanding package.”

Hudson was a fourth generation Lake Superior fisherman. He ran Hudson’s On the Spot guide service and was a US Coast Guard Captain.

“Why does this happen to someone like that?” Smith asked. “It’s shocking. It’s shocking.”

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Sunday, January 13th, 2013

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How many times have you pulled to your favorite lake and realized you have a good distance to drag your shanty across the concrete or stone surface? You know what that can do to the bottom of your sled and there is a good solution to resolve that out there.

In my case I am running the Clam Kenai one man shanty and I recently decided to add the runner kit to the bottom of the unit.

Upon opening the box I found that the instructions were included, however they were very limited. Because of this I wanted to take the time to discuss the installation of the units on the sleds so as to help others out in the event they choose to add the runner kits.

In my case the runners are made for several models of sleds and they are a bit longer than required, however I chose to let them stay the length and run them a bit higher up on the sled. I felt that this would allow some extra protection when going over some of the rough terrain that I tend to encounter as well as to assit in some of the deeper snow banks.

Upon opening the box the runners are deigned in a U type shape. This design allows the large flat part of the runner to lay flat on the bottom of the sled. This allows the two smaller arms to make contact with the ice or snow, thus reducing the amount of surface area that is in contact with the ground. This also creates a pocket in which the screw head is allowed to be recessed into so that it is not in the path of the runner.

The placement of the runners is pretty obvious, but just to be clear you want to make sure they are placed on the highest portion of the bottom of the sled. Do not put them on the recessed portion as they will be ineffective.

When starting out lay the runners on the bottom of your sled and allow them to touch the rear of the sled at the point that the sled begins to curve upwards. This will give you a proper starting point for your length. However, you do not want to put your first screw here. You will want to begin at the front of the sled where the runner makes the bend and is attached at the front.

Using a 3/16″ drill put a hole near the end of the runner and directly in the center. Run the drill through both the runner and the sled.

This will be your first screw starting point. Run the size 10 screw through the hole and attached the other side using the supplied flat washer and nut. I chose to use a 3/8″ nut driver and a power drilll to tighten the screw and the nut initially and then finish off with a hand screwdriver and the nut driver to make sure things were properly snug.

When this first screw is tight slowly bend the runner around the radius of the front of the sled making sure the runner follows the contour. If you have issues use a heat gun or hair dryer to apply a little heat to help soften the plastic a bit.

When you have it bent and in proper position put another hole into the rail and through the sled. Fasten this area with another screw, washer and nut and tighten up.

You now have the runner in place and you can properly space your last three screws into the runner and drill the holes.

I found that it was easiest to place the screws through the holes and come back later when all was attached and place the washer and the nut onto the screws when I could flip the sled and reach the underside much better.

When all the rails were mounted and the screws placed into the newly drilled holes all that was left was to go through and tighten up the nuts on each of the runners.

With all the runners in place and all the screws were tightened up the rails were complete.

When I flipped the sled over I found that the screws were a bit long for my liking. I could easily see catching my clothing on a screw or having issues with storing gear. In order to resolve this I used a good sharp blade on my reciprocating saw and slowly cut off each protruding stud at the top of each nut. This was done slowly and with caution as you do not want to saw though your sled or cause any unnecessary damage to the unit.

After all the studs were cut flush I came back through with my dremel tool and a small grinding wheel and smoothed off any rough edges that were left during the cutting process. This left me with a smooth and snag-free nut.

The process was rather simple and the complete project took less than one hour. These runner kits are made for most models of the Clam outdoors line of sleds and I would highly recommend putting one on your sled to keep it lasting for years to come. The runners will take the brunt of the abuse and keep you from wearing holes into the bottom of your sled.

The price of the runner kits certainly outweigh the cost of replacing the sled itself. Good luck and good fishing!
Cory Yarmuth

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