WEBSTER, S.D. - The waters of the unnamed slough Gary Howey and I were fishing were crystal clear. We sat side by side in our portable shack and our eyes were glued to a new purchase.
Vexilar has come out with a combination video camera and sonar. It's called Vexilar Combination Fish Scout Double Vision Camera with FL20 Tri-Beam Ice Ducer.
That's a bulky name for a compact unit that I think will change the way we ice fish on clear lakes.
We had drilled three holes. One each to fish in and another down which we dropped the camera.
We soon had a great view of the bottom, in color, and our ice fishing lures. When the perch showed up it was just like watching television.
They milled around the tiny jigging lure for a bit and then one slipped in and inhaled it.
Gary set the hook instinctively and the fish was on.
Perch fishing right now is in full swing on the sloughs and lakes of northeastern South Dakota.
Ice conditions are getting better day by day, but the unseasonably warm weather requires a lot of caution. On some sloughs and lakes, ice thickness was from 8 to 12 inches and that's enough to support snowmobiles and four wheelers. Some lakes, however, had open water due to current, springs or reasons beyond our comprehension.
We had joined friend and guide Cory Ewing for two days of sampling a variety of fishing hotspots in this area.
We headquartered as guests at Boomers Outback Lodge and Campground in Webster, owned and operated by Jay and Janice Pereboom. The lodge is located just behind their Pereboom's Cafe right at the intersection of Highways 12 and 25.
Cory took us to an unnamed slough northwest of town and we parked at the lake's edge and piled into a big four-wheeler and headed across the ice.
There were lots of perch in this lake. For two hours we fished and had perch in view on the camera just about the entire time.
Problem was, most of them were small and we released a lot of them, hoping to hook up with them again next winter.
There were also northern pike here and occasionally one would move into view, resplendent in full color on the 7-inch screen, and greedily gulp down one of our jigs.
But we weren't prepared for what happened next.
A northern swam into view in the background. It was a nice fish. We guessed 5 pounds. There were dozens of perch in view and suddenly the big fish opened its mouth and gulped down a small perch.
It slowly swam out of view with the perch's tail protruding from its mouth.
We fished three sloughs that day and caught some nice, eating-size perch, but it wasn't until the next day when we ventured out onto Bitter Lake that we got into the jumbos for which this area is noted.
Bitter is South Dakota's largest lake right now. It grew a lot after last year's vicious winter which saw tremendous amounts of snow fall in the area and then followed by monsoon rains last spring.
We drove out a good mile across the ice to reach a spot where Cory began punching holes.
We set up one ice house as a headquarters and then hole hopped all along the area. We never fished more than five minutes at a hole before moving on if no fish were spotted on the depth finders or caught.
It's an efficient way of fishing and not unusual to punch over a hundred holes in one area where three guys are fishing.
The schools of perch roam through and you might catch as many as three before they are gone. Then you must move. The same holes may be fished many times during the day.
With only 10 or 12 inches of ice to drill through with gasoline powered augers, it's not much a chore to drill that many holes.
We caught a lot of perch that morning, with most of them running a pound to a pound and a half, maybe a couple were bigger.
Ice conditions should improve with colder weather and the perch fishing will just keep getting better as anglers locate the hotspots.
For information on fishing this area, contact Cory at www.waubaylakeguideservice.com or call him at (605) 929-3894.