I didn’t need to look at a calendar to know that it was the month of February.
My depth finder was lit up like a Christmas tree with fish signals, but nothing was happening. A tiny 1/100th-ounce jig was hanging on fresh, two-pound test line. It was tipped with a micro grub body with a long, skinny tail. A tiny piece of waxworm added some scent.
But even this finesse presentation was being ignored.
Yes, that happens a lot in February. Ice fishing success slows down. That doesn’t mean you can't catch fish, it just means you have to pay attention to details. And, you just have to hang in there, because sometime during the day the bite will take off, and you will be hard pressed to get your bait back down to pull up another fish before it all ends.
I was fishing a farm pond northeast of Hartington, Neb. I had met Gary Howey and Dani Thoene, both of Hartington, at the pond a few minutes earlier.
Dani was running the gasoline-powered auger digging holes all over. Gary was shoveling the ice chips away from each hole. So, all the hard work was done before I even got down there. Imagine that.
I dropped the transducer down one of the holes and took a look. Ten feet deep and nothing there.
Undaunted, I dropped down my tiny jig and before long the fish showed up. Probably bluegills.
Meanwhile, Gary and Dani were reporting the same thing. Lots of fish, but no biters.
Of course, that changed.
Dani was the first to score a small bluegill. Gary added another shortly after. Another finally took my small jig a few minutes later, and the smell of “skunk” wafted away into the cool, clear air.
We were each taking fish from time to time, mostly small bluegills but occasionally we’d get a good one, seven to eight inches.
Before long we were joined by Dani’s brother Anthony and Melvin Kruse, both of Hartington.
Anthony soon landed a nice largemouth, caught on a minnow.
We took a few largemouth that day, all about a pound and a half. There are a lot bigger bass in that pond, but they weren’t biting.
It’s a good plan to move around a lot during the late season ice fishing. Finding active fish is often the key. That’s why we dig a lot of holes right off the bat. It also helps, I think, to keep the noise of drilling holes at the very beginning of your fishing.
I also like to experiment a lot with different presentations and colors. I usually bring three rods onto the ice with me, each fitted with different ice fishing lures. This time of year I use mostly two-pound-test line, but one of the rods is always rigged with four-pound test.
It was a warm, sunny day and we were fishing late morning. That’s not the best time to be on the ice usually. I much prefer to fish late afternoon until just after dark. My second choice would be sunrise.
But we were out there more for the pleasures of being outdoors than catching fish. Everything we caught was returned to the water.
By the time noon rolled around, Gary and I were the only ones left on the ice. The others had fished a couple hours and then went on to other duties.
I had changed over to my four-pound-test line and rod and tipped my spoon with a whole waxworm. I usually hook waxworms in the middle and squeeze out all the juice, just leaving a couple skin flaps on the hook.
But, just for fun, I left it whole and dropped down the spoon, more suited to perch than to bluegills.
When the rig hit bottom a fish nailed, and I soon had a nice bluegill on the ice. I rebaited and sent it back down. Bang. Another fish. For the next 10 minutes the action was fast. I’m not sure how many bluegills I landed but it was a bunch.
And then they left.
So did we. The thought of a big juicy hamburger deluxe in Bow Valley was too powerful to resist.