Two point five inches, maybe. Guide David “Shoggie” Shogren (218/765-3197) called and said he went out and axed open a few holes and we were both out there within a couple hours. On my way north to meet him, the smaller lakes displayed varying degrees of ice coverage. Some were open in the middle. Some had open holes here and there. And some were frozen completely. The big lakes had ice cover only on shallow bays.
The problem with 2.5 inches of ice, aside from the scary factor (forgot my HT Picks of Life), is that the crappies can clearly see you standing 8 to 15 feet over their heads. First ice is fantastic? Not always.
We explored a couple hectares of ice around an 18-foot hole in the middle of an 8- to 10-foot flat and spotted no crappies or bluegills at all with our underwater cameras. We thought we might be spooking them by moving around, so we both sat in my two-man Fish Trap as darkness gathered, watching the ice slowly bow beneath us, creating a huge puddle around the shelter.
This was a spot where Shoggie, a lifetime resident of the area, traditionally finds first-ice panfish every year. Not this year, apparently. Shoggie and I were out in my boat last week on open water, trying to locate crappies on a different lake before the ice set up and found only perch.
For weeks, the largemouth bass fishing has been slow, the smallmouths have lockjaw, the pike seemed to disappear in late fall, walleyes won’t bite very well, and even the panfish have been hard to find. The only explanation anyone offers is the weather. Can drastically different weather really change traditional patterns that much? In reality, ice-up isn’t occurring that much later than normal, but the weather is supposed to go back up to 50°F within the next week, which would be highly unusual around here during the first week of December. I still haven’t winterized my boat, and may not do it next week, either.
We stepped outside and looked north, across the lake. The north end was entirely open. “I know it’s open because I saw whitecaps on it earlier,” Shoggie said. He mentioned a bar near mid lake. “Maybe that’s where the crappies are,” he said. “Should have walleyes on it, too. Drops to 25 feet on the mid-lake side.” We stared across the thin ice, then looked at each other.
“You first,” I said.
He chuckled. We packed it up and shuffled off the ice in the gathering darkness.