Most hard-core ice anglers are probably not prepared for the fierce winter weather we have had for the last month. Certainly the ice-fishing effort is down substantially from a year ago because of dangerous conditions.
There are some fish being caught in a variety of locations, but this cold weather has slowed the action considerably from warmer winters. The extreme temperatures are making ice, but in many spots on the Red River, ice is still too thin for driving on.
Out on Lake Winnipeg, the ice averages 36 centimetres thick and driving conditions are not bad, but still require four-wheel-drive vehicles, ATVs or snowmobiles.
Reports indicate that on the east side of the lake, near Balsam Bay, fishing has been considerably better than on the west side out of Chalet Beach. For updated information on access and fishing reports, visit the Manitoba Fishing Forum at http://www.manitobafishingforum.com/forum/
One of the best techniques to use on a variety of fish at this time of year when fishing out of a portable shelter is the slip-bobber or slip-float setup.
The float slides up to a pre-set depth, which can be deadly on suspended fish. In the past, the basic setup has consisted of a hollow-shaft float and above it a bobber stop that is either tied onto your line or slipped on first before any other terminal tackle. Most anglers will then slip a bead on their line between the bobber and bobber stop to prevent the stop going through the top of the float.
Some floats have a smaller hole at the top or a fastening system with a hole in the end of a solid shaft. Unfortunately, in colder weather these floats freeze, thus losing their function.
Ice Busters floats are different. These Styrofoam slip floats have a tiny hook at the bottom of the float that allows you to slip your line through. This also eliminates the need for a bead; a simple small rubber stop will do the trick.
What I like best of all is the stop is submerged in water at the bottom of the slip float, thus preventing the stop from freezing in the guide. It's the slickest ice float on the market right now and comes in three sizes. You can also trim the top half of the float if you want to downsize.
Once you decide on the type of float you want to use, the next thing to go on is a hook of some sort -- preferably a standup style. This will increase hooking percentages drastically, because when a fish takes down your float and you set the hook, almost always the fish will get hooked in the top of the mouth.
Don't forget to add split-shot as required if fishing deep water. The right amount of shot will also make the float neutrally buoyant, a key factor in getting finicky fish to bite.
Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum, and by that I mean using a jigging-style spoon as an attractor, then using the slip float to hold the lure in place after the fish has been attracted to the bait.
You do this by rigging up a jigging spoon that has had the treble removed. On it is tied a short piece of fishing line and a single hook off the split ring. You would match the size of the hook to the size of bait you are using and the kind of fish you are after. A minnow, wax worm or maggot on the drop-line provides the finishing touch. The spoon flashes and attracts fish, while the scent of live bait is the added trigger.
The great thing about fishing this under a slip float is that you can jig the spoon, then let it sit suspended right in front of the fish until they can resist it no longer. You will want to tie on a barrel swivel just to eliminate line twist.
I've had excellent luck jigging drop-line spoon rigs without a float to catch everything from perch to lake trout, but adding a slip-float is deadly. The heavier the spoon, the larger the slip-float you'll need.
Jig the whole rig and allow the spoon to glitter and flash for a half-minute or so. Then drop the rod and allow the spoon and baited drop-line to sit motionless below the float. Tie on a barrel swivel 30 centimetres above your lure to eliminate line twist when using drop-lines.
This style of setup works really well for stocked trout, perch and other panfish.
May you get out on the ice over the holidays. All the best in 2014!