"Not even a state record yumbo perch or a wall-hanger walleye," said WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen, wettin' a line on Plumbago Pond before the thaw hit and the ice turned to slush.
First ice brings on a hot bite, but it can be tricky and treacherous. I don't trust it as far as I can throw it, and proceeding with caution can keep you from plunging into the season, if you get my drift. All ice is iffy now, but an incoming cold snap oughta help harden things up over the holidays. In the meantime, I wouldn't try skating on it.
"All I've got to say about the ice on the Portage is WOW, as in wide open water," Wetelainen continued, "We've all got our cautionary tales to tell, that's where the expression 'skating on thin ice' comes from. Did you hear the one about the Finn who went ice fishing and came home with 50 pounds of ice?"
With all the groaning, creaking, snapping, crackling and popping out there, new ice forming sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies on steroids. Even with a snow cover, thin clear ice echoes and magnifies movement and noise. If you're quiet you can sneak up on 'em and catch a hot bite.
Fish that were shallow tend to stay shallow and feed actively as their ceiling freezes over. Whatever forage that was there just before freeze-up is still there, keeping hungry predators in the hood. Panfish attract yumbo perch, walleye, northern and smallmouth, and they all love live minnows or Gulp impostors.
High-percentage early ice hot spots are current areas where cricks, rivers or sloughs run into lakes, the edge of weedbeds and drop-offs close to shore. When you spook fish, they don't scatter far, usually holing up at the bottom of a drop-off at the edge of the shallows.
According to Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon, gateway to central Minnesota out on the edge of the prairie, is frozen over and the bluegill bite is on.
"We put more ice in the cocktails than there is on the canal," said Mary Kaminski, water watcher and icemeister at the Copper Island Beach Club on the Hancock waterfront where they celebrate the arrival of Winter Solstice on December 22 with a bonfire, wine, women and song. Although Winter herself appears in the blink of an eye, it is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Her yob is to throw that hideous progression in reverse so the days immediately start getting longer and the nights shorter, nothing short of a meteorological miracle.
"Do not try this at home," Winter warned wannabe time travelers and season changers, "leave it to the pros." Assisting her in the annual celestial project are WW&W seasonal correspondents, sister Summer Solstice and the Equinox sisters, Verna and Autumn, who thank God and pass the Christian Brothers around the fire when the plan comes together on the first day of winter. The only thing I like better than women throwing themselves into their work, is when they throw themselves at me.
"First ice last year was Dec. 10, and it was here to stay," said Tom Rozich, retired DNR fisheries biologist turned bartender and ice chronicler at the CIBC, "It was the same this year, but then she opened back up again, a fishing tug went under the bridge heading north on Wednesday."
"Watching water freeze is about as exciting as watching paint dry," said WW&W Twin Cities correspondent Minnie Apolis, reporting from the St. Paul Ice Show where Clam Fish Trap shelters, Ice Armor and the latest and greatest ice fishing gear sent shivers up and down her spine.
"You can see everything I saw at clamoutdoors.com and iceteam.com," she tipped.
Practicing and developing a yiggin' technique that makes fish wanna bite, and selecting the right yig for the yob enhances your luck. My tastes run to the venerable Yooper-made Swedish Pimples and Vinglas from Bay de Noc Lures, Gladstone. I also like Jiggin' Rapalas and Northland Forage Minnows.
My favorite shift in the shanty is from 4-6 p.m., the bewitching hour for walleye, when a mugga Paris Hiltunen's hot OJ and blackberry brandy hits the spot and warms you inside and out with the spirit of the holiday.
"You can find hungry first-ice fish in just about any frozen lake across the Yooper tundra between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan," Wetelainen issued a blanket 'inbitement' of the U.P., whetting his whistle and watching the canal freeze over at the CIBC.
"We may be the epicenter of the Ice Belt but you still gotta play it safe, you never know when it's gonna buckle."
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.