Monday, January 27, 2014

New Toys, Good Eats And Good Fishing

Watching panfish chow down on my jigs with my new Marcum underwater camera.
Best give ever, thank you Lindsay!!!!
When: Saturday, January 25th, from 6:30am to 4:30pm
What: Ice Fishing with Matt and Chris L.
Weather: 17 degrees warmed to 23 degrees. Snow later in the day, partly cloudy to overcast. Wind variable to SW at 10mph and gusting higher.
Barometric Pressure: 29.82in dropped to 29.45in.
Relative Humidity: 51% up to 85%
Sunrise: 7:14am
Sunset: 5:05pm
Moon:Waning, a day after the Last Quarter. Overhead 6:55am. Moonset 12:03pm.
Water Conditions: Six inches of good ice covered by snow. Water clarity was stained as evidenced by my new Marcum.

Ice fishing is in full swing in New Jersey. As daytime temperatures continue to struggle to climb above freezing, the ice keeps getting thicker. Judging by the 10 day forecast and current ice conditions, this could be a long hardwater season.

And lucky for me I have a new toy to enjoy it with.

My beloved wife bought me one heck of a birthday present, a Marcum VS 825SD underwater camera. It arrived on Thursday, and was fully charged and in tow when I took to the ice with Lido and Matt on Saturday.

Making sure we got the best spot, we walked out onto the ice before sunrise and set-up our tip-ups. After we had our spread out, Matt and I took to jigging while Chris surveyed the flags.

I immediately put my Marcum to use, drilling two holes about 3 feet apart. I dropped the camera down one hole and my jig down the other. Using the panner, I adjusted the camera until it was focused on my jig.

The picture quality was great, and before I even started really fishing I saw a small school of sunfish come into view on the screen. Really cool stuff.

I stayed glued to the camera almost the entire day, only stopping to chase down my flags and to dine on the culinary delights that Lido was whipping up on the grill. We ate kielbasa sandwiches for breakfast and venison burgers for lunch. It was by far the best day of eating I've had while ice fishing.

Everyone caught fish. We had a total of probably 15 flags, and after discounting the false alarms and missed fish, we landed 7 bass up to 4 pounds, 2 slammer pickerel and couple of perch on the tip-ups. We easily lost count of the number of fish that came on the jigging rods.

I probably saw over a hundred fish on the camera, many of which I caught. The parade of sunfish and perch seemed endless. I also had a crappie show-up that immediately ate my jig, at which point I set the hook and brought him up. I also spotted two bass on the camera. The first one took a sniff of my jig and swam away, but the second one ate it. He slurped down the whole jig, but as I waited for him to close his mouth so I could set the hook, he instead spit it right back out and swam off. He came back into view again, but never took a better shot at my bait.

In terms of an overall day on the ice, taking into account fish caught, fun had and food eaten, I can't remember many days better than this one. My only regret, albeit a small one, is that I didn't have any means to record all the cool stuff that I was seeing on my camera. However, thanks to some extensive research, Facebook and a solid from a friend, I'm hoping to remedy that situation this weekend.

If you've ever thought about giving ice fishing a shot, this is the winter to do it. Get out there, but be safe!!!!!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Let 'Em Go, Let 'Em Grow

There's a lot of talk among musky anglers about the proper handling of fish and the importance of "catch and release." Any musky angler worth his salt will tell you a quality net is a "must have," and all of the people I fish with, including myself, own a Beckman Pen Fin Saver or something very similar. Nets like these allow you to keep the fish in the water while it is being unhooked, and have a special coating and a small mesh that protect the fins of the fish..

However, even with the best precautions, we often catch fish that already have split and/or bleeding fins. Whether or not this is from environmental factors or from being previously mishandled really cannot be determined. It is believed that split fins can make a musky more susceptible to infection and at the least, it doesn't make them very attractive.

Not surprisingly, many anglers have their differing opinions on whether or not these fins heal, so this is something worth noting.

The fish on top was caught through the ice in December of 2013. It is a very clean, healthy-looking 37-inch tiger musky. It was caught by my friend Matt and it was safely released. Upon further inspection, he noticed that it was the same exact fish he caught from my boat in August f 2013, just 4 months earlier. Tiger muskies have markings that are as unique as fingerprints, and if you were to go through every marking on the two fish above, they are identical.

Don't waste your time though, I can assure you that both pictures are of the same fish.

When Matt caught the fish in my boat, I scooped it up in my Beckman and it was quickly unhooked, photographed and released. The fish already had damage to its fins. 

There are two things to take from this recapture of the same tiger musky, just 4 months apart. The first is that regardless of whether it was caused by environmental factors or being previously mishandled by someone other than us, the fins of this fish have almost completely healed. That is a very good thing to see.

The second, and just as if not more important, is hard evidence of why we should be practicing catch and release. Who knows how many other times this fish was caught in those 4 months, and how many times it will be caught in the future. Maybe next Spring this fish will be caught on Father's Day by an 11 year-old fishing with his dad.

Maybe one day this fish could be a state record tiger musky, and state records only get that big if people don't kill them.

For a lot of people, this is the fish of a lifetime, and Matt has let it go twice for someone else to enjoy, and hopefully let it go again.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Stellar Beginning

Joe with his very first fish through NJ ice. Not a bad start. At all.

When: Sunday, January 12th, from 7am to 1pm
What: Ice Fishing with Joe C.
Weather: Mild, partly cloudy to overcast and breezy at times. Winds NW to 16 and gusting to 24, temp 43 to 45 degrees.
Barometric Pressure: 29.68in to 29.81in and still rising.
Relative Humidity: 49% at mid-day
Sunrise: 7:21am
Sunset: 4:51pm
Moon:Waxing, 4 days before full. Underfoot 9:18am. Moonrise 2:16pm.
Water Conditions: Frozen on top, 6.5 to 7 inches of solid ice despite heavy rains and warm temps the day before. Edges were a little sketchy, but still 4 to 5 inches.

This trip was a few years in the making.

Joe has done a little ice fishing in the past, just not in New Jersey. I'm always pretty stoked when I get to introduce my friends to ice fishing, and although this wasn't a first for Joe, it was very different than jigging lakers on 2 feet of ice in Colorado (See also Colorado Lakers Through The Ice).

Although safety is always a top priority when I'm ice fishing, catching fish is a pretty damn close second. And this was one trip where I wanted someone other than me chasing some flags down. Luckily I have a friend whose parents live on a magical lake, so there was absolutely no question as to where we would be fishing on Sunday.

I was totally amped all week, and then on Saturday, after watching temps reach 60 degrees and seeing an inch of rain fall on New Jersey, I started to get a little nervous. I knew the ice had been pretty thick that morning, but it was hot and wet out. Those are not two conditions that freeze water well, or keep it frozen for that matter.

I was still fairly confident that we'd have plenty of ice, but this was going to be my first ice fishing trip of the year, and I wasn't taking any chances. After driving up to the lake on Saturday night and poking a few holes, there was no question it was a go for Sunday.

We made our way onto the ice with plenty of bait in tow. The ice was still good, and the drilling began. Before the third tip-up was set, a flag went up. The fish wound-up getting away, but that was a good sign. Moments later we missed another flag, and moments after that I put a largemouth bass on the ice, my first fish of 2014.

As we kept setting more tip-ups, we kept getting flags. Joe had the drill down by now, and it was his turn for a fish. Honestly, you can't ask for a much better first fish through the ice than a good-sized walleye, and that's exactly what he got. Score.

The action lasted all day. By the time we got off the water at 1pm, we landed between 15 and 20 fish; a dozen or so bass, 2 walleye, 3 slammer pickerel and a perch. We tried some jigging that produced the perch, but the action was a bit slow and we were just fine with the flags.

We could not have asked for a better day. The ice started to get a little softer as the day wore on, and the water on top and wind were mildly annoying, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get home early and watch some football.

Joe and I both got 2014 started on the right foot, and I think I've sold another friend on ice fishing in New Jersey.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year

When half the lake is frozen, you know it's almost time to start ice fishing.

When: Wednesday, January 1st, from 9am to 6pm
What: Musky fishing with Matt
Weather: Cold, between 20 and 32 degrees. Partly cloudy, with a slight breeze at times. Winds from the NW and N up to 10mph and gusting higher.
Barometric Pressure: 29.99in and steady all day.
Relative Humidity:
Sunrise: 7:22am
Sunset: 4:39pm
Moon: New Moon (Supermoon). Moonrise 7:09am.  Overhead 12:15pm. Moonset 5:22pm.
Water Conditions: Clear, lots of skim ice in the morning and the north end completely iced over. Surface temps 35 to 36 degrees.

Happy New Year everyone!!!

........and a New Year of fishing. Or maybe more like hanging on to the previous one for dear life.

Most of the lakes and ponds in Northern New Jersey had at least some degree of ice by the time 2013 was waning to its final seconds. But there was one place that Matt and I could put his boat in for one more shot at a musky. Neither of us were suffering from any kind of hangover, and in fact I was in bed by 10:30 the night before, so we were ready to give open water fishing for muskies one last shot.

It was cold out on New Year's Day, but I've seen worse. When we arrived at the lake, a good portion of it had skim ice, although the shoreline by the ramp was clear and we had no issues launching. We did have to plow through some ice during the day to get to different parts of the lake, but most of it had blown off by the time we got off the water.

Plowing through the ice was the most excitement we had all day, as the muskies did not feel much like cooperating. We fished until dark and a even a little after, casting big gliders and bigger rubber baits, but not a musky showed itself. That being said, it was a great day on the water. We had the lake to ourselves, the weather was bearable and being out there was a heck of a lot better than sleeping in with a hangover.

I say this every year, but once I again I really don't see how this fishing year is going to top the last one. I caught a lot of fish last year, and more muskies than I had hoped. Plus, with a new job, I may not be fishing much during the week anymore, so it may be tough to top last year's totals. I'm sure as hell gonna try though.

On another note, keep an eye out for my writing this year in Field and Stream, The Fisherman Magazine and On the Water Magazine among other smaller publications. I've been a busy bee with the freelance writing, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

This month also marks the 5th anniversary of this here blog, so with a little help from Mother Nature, I'm going to try and make this month pretty spectacular. You won't want to miss it.

Once again, a Happy New Year to all. Be safe on the ice if you're going out and I hope to cross paths with some of you on the water.