Recent innovations and technology make it easier to catch more fish, an expert fisherman told area sportsmen last week. Tournament fisherman Clint Ward addressed a meeting of the Manitowoc County Lakes Association on Jan. 25, discussing everything from his favorite ice fishing equipment to how he beat his cousin using the latest technical advances.
Ward said the best lakes in the county for catching: bluegills are Carstens, Weyers, West and Bullhead; for crappie it’s Long, Shoe and English; for perch it’s English; and for northerns it’s Wilke, Hartlaub, Schisel, and Cedar. Additionally, Cedar, Silver, English and Pigeon lakes contain small populations of walleyes, he said.
Ward, who receives no pay for recommending products, advised his audience to use a Vexilar fish finder, among other tips for getting a good catch. “If I had to pick one tool that would be part of my pan fishing arsenal, it has to be the Vexilar,” he said. “It has changed everything in how I fish. “Without the Vexilar, it is like fishing without glasses if you wear glasses. It helps you see everything that is underwater.” This includes weeds, rocks, fish, hard bottoms and even small lures and bait fish, Ward said.
Unlike most fish finders, the Vexilar does not have to be moving to find fish and is better than fish cameras, which have to be lowered into the water, do not work well in dirty water and often scare game fish, Ward explained. In tournaments, Ward drills 30 to 35 holes in the ice and then checks with a Vexilar for weeds. Then he puts sticks in the holes without weeds to determine where the weed edge is. Once he finds a good fishing spot he marks it with a Navionics app using the GPS on his cell phone, Ward said. “I can put myself on the same spot I was yesterday, if I mark it on my phone,” he said. “It also shows me depth and contours.” The app is helpful when fishing a body of water for the first time, Ward said. “It is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment that you will ever see or use,” he said. “It is only $10. If you ever switch phones, it always carries through with you.” Ward said he can use the fish finder and app to find basins 20 to 40 feet deep which are good for catching crappie.
He also said ice augers have improved in the past decade for drilling holes for ice fishing. Propane and electric augers are much faster than earlier units and are cleaner than gas and oil augers, he added. Electric augers are lighter, quieter and more energy efficient than propane augers but do not last as long, Ward added.
For basic equipment, he buys fishing rods costing $15 to $30, rather than those with $50 to $100 price tags, Ward said. “You look at a rod like a system,” he said, “It has a couple of moving parts.” Rods should be 24 to 32 inches long, with fast-action tips and large eyes for the line, Ward said. Fast-action tips pick up the sensitivity of fish bites while bigger rod eyes prevent ice from building on the rod. “This allows the rod to move more freely,” he explained. Ward said he uses a small reel to create excellent balance. “That balance is a big factor when you are doing a jigging motion,” he said. Ward recommends purchasing rods and reels separately to avoid buying too heavy of a reel and he also prefers a microspin reel. “If you are fishing all day, your arm may get sore,” he said. “Having a great drag on a microspin is a plus. When I pull on that drag, I want it to be easy and steady.” A new advancement is to put fly reels on ice fishing rods, Ward said. “I went over to this style of reel and I noticed my fishing catch went up using the same lure,” he said. “It keeps my lure for the most part from spinning.” Live bait does not spin, therefore, spinning lures will not attract fish, Ward explained. “Once I set my rods to prevent spin, I noticed my fishing catch went up,” he said.
When choosing line for ice fishing, Ward recommends a 2-pound test weight for bluegills and mid-size perch, three pounds for larger perch and crappie, six to eight pounds for 15- to 19-inch walleyes, 10 to 12 pounds for Great Lakes walleyes and 20 pounds for northern pike. Ward said his favorite line is Sufix Ice Magic, which is available in a 1- to 12-pound test. “It is tangle free,” he said. “It does resist ice.” Most summer fishing lines will not work for ice fishing, Ward said. “You will find out that the ice really hangs on,” he said. “You get those big gobs, those big chunks of ice on your line.” Ice lines have chemicals to reduce ice buildup that are not on summer fishing lines. Ward said he favors light lines to prevent coiling and braided lines for walleye ice fishing. “It is fairly strong,” he said. “It is tangle free. I use braid on my walleye ice fishing rods. I want that hook set to go right into their mouth. Braid does not stretch.” However, braided lines do not work well for panfish, especially below 30 degrees, Ward said. While ice fishing for northerns, Ward used a 20-pound test model leader while his cousin used a steel leader. “After about an hour and a half of fishing, I had 10 northerns on the ice to his one,” Ward said. He said he mostly uses tip-less fluorocarbon leaders for fishing in clear water because fish cannot see them.
On the line, Ward places titanium spring bobbers. They can be moved back and forth, return to being straight after being bent and are extremely sensitive to fish. “You can’t get any more sensitive than these tiny spring bobbers,” he said. For baits, rainbow-colored lures work best for bluegills and for perch gold jigs and spoons work best, he said. “Hali are dynamite on mid-sized perch,” he said. “Wigglers are the best bait I have used for perch. The only thing is wigglers are very hard to keep alive.” Another great bait is minnow tails, rather than minnow heads, Ward said. “It tends to float to the left and right, much more than a minnow head,” he said. “A minnow head is more meaty. It stays there.” Also using small minnows works well especially for perch or crappie, Ward said.