It’s been about 8 months since last ice! How does it feel to know the ice season is right around the corner?
The way our ice season ended last spring was very disappointing. Everything was coming together with the weather starting to warm which was moving some of our favorite species into late ice patterns. We had a couple big trips planned – one to Devils Lake, the other to Lake Nipigon in Ontario. When the word came down about the Shelter in Place order in MN we were just wrapping up a shoot in Detroit Lakes and we essentially had just enough time to get back to the studio, unpack our gear, upload footage to the server for safekeeping then headed our separate ways not knowing when things were going to get back to normal. It was a pretty horrible feeling on a number of levels.
As a group we’ve got a lot of pent up energy ready to throw into the upcoming ice season that is left over from last spring. The team and I have been mapping out plans for early ice since this current cold front rolled in. We’ve got the snowmobiles and ATV ready to go. We’re in a place now where we’re basically just waiting for safe ice and we’re ready to go!
Any predictions on where first ice will be for IDO this season?
Two different areas jump to mind for first ice shoots to start the season. The Detroit Lakes, MN area or the U.P. of Michigan. Both areas are already reporting rapidly dropping water temperatures and a very cold 10-day forecast that will likely start to skim over smaller bodies of water. I’m not willing to predict an exceptionally early start to the ice season given how quickly conditions can change but things are definitely going in the right direction for those that love an early start to the ice season.
What are you most excited about for the 2020-2021 Ice season?
Personally I’m most excited about getting back into what feels like a normal routine. I’ve been hosting IDO TV for 14 years now and it’s obvious a huge part of my life. I love the challenge of filming, editing, and broadcasting new shows every week, all the travel and variety of destinations, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing it successfully. Suffice it to say I don’t sit still very well. I’m looking forward to pouring all my pent up energy into the upcoming season of IDO TV!
Do you have an initial plan for IDO this season?
Honestly, we don’t lock down our show destinations more than a week in advance. We’ve tried doing that in the past and conditions change so quickly those plans just crumble apart. Our approach has always been to sketch out destinations we’d like to visit over the course of our broadcast season and pull the trigger when the conditions line up versus forcing trips based on dates put on a calendar weeks or months earlier.
As the host of In-Depth Outdoors, what is the planning process during the offseason to prep for upcoming ice?
I do as much scouting on open water as possible. In my opinion the biggest challenge in ice fishing isn’t catching fish once you’ve found them, it’s finding them. Mobility is incredibly limited compared to open water so I take as many late season open water trips as possible to my favorite ice fishing bodies of water and I spend time graphing likely first ice areas, marking waypoints on key spots and even making custom maps of select areas in my Humminbird. That way, once I do get on ice, I can reference all the data I saved from the boat and put it to work out on the ice. Every time I’m on the water in the boat I’m essentially pre-scouting for ice fishing trips later in the season.
How is Covid 19 going to affect this season of IDO?
Two words – No Canada! Some of my favorite destinations are north of the border and there’s no sign the border is going to open to recreational travel any time soon!
After 14 seasons of In-Depth Outdoors….what keeps you excited, what keeps you going?
No two trips, even trips to the same body of water running out of the same resort, are ever the same. It all feels new to me each and every time I set foot on the water. I think that’s one of the things that I love about fishing – nobody ever has it all figured out. Conditions are always changing – water levels, weather, fishing pressure, fish populations, and those factors force an angler to approach every day on the water with an open mind. And there’s so many amazing destinations I’ve never fished so I don’t expect I’ll be slowing down any time soon.
What do you think will separate 2020-2021 from past seasons in regards to IDO?
We’re going to supplement our TV show with updates from the road. That 30 minute summary that airs each Sunday is unbelievably popular but I think people want a more candid look into what it takes to produce the show each week. I’ve been talking this through with the production team over the summer and everyone’s excited to give the viewers of our show a look behind the scenes so they can get a better feel for what goes into the production of 26 weeks of IDO TV.
Is there something specific you would like to film for this upcoming season of IDO?
My #1 goal for the upcoming season is to get out west more. There’s so many incredible destinations to explore that offer fantastic scenery and giant walleye, perch, lake trout to name a few species. States like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho offer some incredible opportunities that I’ve been researching and I’m very excited to get some of those destinations on film in the coming season.
Is there one place you have yet to film for IDO that is on your bucket list?
There’s so many places I want to fish that I couldn’t possibly name them all. If I had to pick one body of water, one species and one time of the year as a goal for the upcoming ice season it would be Fort Peck, Montana. Walleye. Early ice!
Which new product are you most excited to use this year?
Two new products jump to mind. 1 – The 24V electric auger from Strikemaster® is going to completely replace the cordless drill and auger bit combo I’ve been using the last few years. I’ve enjoyed the performance of the cordless drills but hate the ergonomics and the durability of drills.
2 – I’m really excited to transition the Humminbird Mega 360 from the bow of my boat to the ice. No tool has helped put more fish in the boat than MEGA Side Imaging. I expect MEGA 360 is going to have an equal impact on my success as an ice angler.
If you were to fish only 1 time this season, where would you go, when would you go and for what?
If I could only fish one time this season I’d take a trip to Mille Lacs with my daughter Marin. She keeps telling me she wants to catch a big walleye this winter. I’m going to make that happen!
What is the number one tip or trick you would give to an ice angler for this season?
Fish new bodies of water, particularly smaller bodies of water, that don’t offer plowed roads or require a little effort to access. The difference in the quality of fishing to be had cannot be overstated and it typically doesn’t take a herculean effort to get away from the crowd. A couple of my favorite panfish lakes in Northern MN don’t have resorts on the lake but can be accessed easily by logging road with a 4 wheel drive truck or snowmobile. The quality of the fishing is much better than on similar lakes right across the road that have drive on access through a resort or public access.
How important/useful are summer way points during the ice season?
I’d be lost without them and don’t understand why so many ice anglers use ice electronics that don’t offer GPS and mapping functionality! Mobility is an issue for ice anglers and finding new spots, even with the great maps that are available to us as anglers, can be a time consuming process on the ice. Using side imaging in the boat to find the Spot-on-the-Spot on a particular piece of structure and marking it for use later in the winter with a waypoint is a huge time saver. I use Humminbird electronics in the summer and winter so moving waypoints from summer to winter units is simple.
Any special tactics that are early ice specific that you suggest?
Early ice is my favorite time to chase walleye so I’ll focus on that species with my answer. At early ice I have a fairly straightforward one-two approach that I feel makes a huge difference in the size and quantity of fish I catch. One, I fish BIG live bait on a set line. By “big” I mean 6 – 8 inch suckers or chubs. I rarely if ever use fatheads or shiners during the early ice period. The fish are still very aggressive and they’re still looking to pack in some calories to help them get through the long winter ahead. Walleye that won’t give a 3” fathead a second look will cover ground to smash a big sucker minnow. Two, I save fishing spoons or minnows on a jig for later in the winter and opt for an aggressive lure like the Rapala® Slab Rap®, Rippin Rap®, or Jigging Rap®.
These aggressive lures give off a lot of vibration and can be seen from a long ways off and do a great job of appealing to aggressive fish that will swim right past a small minnow under a bobber or finesse spoon tipped with a minnow head. Those subtle presentations have their place later in the winter. At the start of the ice fishing season offer the fish an aggressive presentation and you will be rewarded!
Lots of people are ice fishing for the first time this year…what advice would you give them?
When you’re first getting into ice fishing my #1 recommendation is to keep things simple. It doesn’t take a lot of experience to be a successful ice angler but there are some basics that need to be mastered that will function as building blocks for future success. Far too many new anglers complicate things with advanced electronics, multi-rod spreads, with aspirations of getting started by going on a dream trip to a far flung destination. That’s a recipe for disappointment in my opinion. All it really takes to get started is an ice rod – a 28” medium light rod with a little backbone is about perfect. Combo it up with a $35 reel spooled with good 4# mono. This rod and reel is all you need to target walleye, perch, and crappie. Buy a used auger and flasher off Craigslist and pick up a two man hub house with a heater. Throw it all in a small plastic sled and you’ve got everything you need to start to build your skills as an ice angler. Pick your first destination based on input from a local bait shop. While it will be tempting to ask for recommendations for a hot walleye bite ask for a tip on a lake that’s overrun with 9 – 11 inch crappie to help you get a feel for how to use your electronics, how to quickly setup a hub house, and use those first few trips to build experience and confidence!