Which Line Color?

Isaak W. asks:

When it comes to fishing line (more specifically braid) do you have a preference between low-vis and hi-vis colors?

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I’m currently running alot of braid with some mono for most of my setups, and admittedly I’m pretty boring when it comes to line color. For most reels, I’m filling Sufix 832 in low-vis green. Hard lines really stick out underwater because they’re outlined so well, with little to no opacity. I fight that effect with a good fluouro leader, but I still prefer to blend in with turbid or stained environments when it can. With the low-vis green, I’m able to direct-tie in select bodies of water with good color to them.

I’m also running the new Sufix Advance, also in low-viz green for panfish situations this year, as it fishes so much like braid while being more translucent. I used some last year and lost less jigs because of it, while still being able to pitch into brush.

I do fish hi-viz however for river jigging and slip-bobber setups (also with fluoro leader). For the braid I’m using 832 again in neon lime, and Sufix Elite in Hi-Viz Yellow. In current situations, I’m often relying on line-jump to detect bites, along with feel, and current can do funny things to your jig. That hi-viz line helps you keep better track of what’s going on overall. The same is true with slip bobber fishing as so often you’re resting bobbers on slack line. Hi-Viz helps you determine how much slack you have, and where, giving me a better hookset when it’s time to drill them.

Joel

Flasher and Shelter for the Southern Half of the Ice Fishing Belt

David P. asks:

Now that my children are grown and off to college, I am thinking about getting back into ice fishing. That is if we ever get enough ice here where I live in northern Illinois. I would like to know if you have a recommendation for a flasher and a shanty. I like what I have read so far about the Marcum M series flashers. Maybe the M3. I see you use Otter shelters. I will likely be fishing alone and I like a dark or blackout shelter. Is the Otter Pro X Cottage shelter a dark or blackout shelter? It is difficult to find these items around here as there isn’t much ice for very long and very few ice fisherman. So any insight you can provide would be very helpful. Thanks, and have a great day! Dave

Hi David – thanks for the question, and I can appreciate where you’re coming from. In some years, even southern MN doesn’t get the ice that the rest of the state does. That leaves you wondering how far you really need to go in terms of an ice purchase you may only get a few weeks of use from. Still, as I think you’ve identified, it’s great to go with quality equipment that’ll best serve your needs. 

In your neck of the woods, I think you’d be very happy with either a Marcum M1 or M3.  Major differences between them being a bit more power/target-separation and adjustable zoom anywhere in the water column with the M3.  The M1 will still have bottom zoom and is a great unit that should not be overlooked! Pound for pound, it does the work of sonar that was cutting edge only a few years ago, and for a fraction of the price.  

As for the Otters, I’d recommend either the Hideout or the Cottage.  The XT Hideout is a stealth option, and both will be nearly full dark with the Cottage being the darkest.  It has a complete seal all the way around to prevent light from entering the back edges.  Both do not allow light through the canvas, which is a major benefit to the Otter shelters in general. 

Hope this helps, and good luck out there!

 Joel

Ice Fishing - To Swivel or Not to Swivel?

Photo Credit -  Matt Addington Photography    Products Featured:  St. Croix - Croix Custom Ice Perch/Eye Spoon Rod -  CI28MLF    Shimano Sienna 500  with drag upgrade

Photo Credit - Matt Addington Photography

Products Featured:

St. Croix - Croix Custom Ice Perch/Eye Spoon Rod - CI28MLF

Shimano Sienna 500 with drag upgrade

Darren B. asks:

There seems to be an ongoing debate on whether or not a fisherman should use a barrel swivel above a fluorocarbon leader or if one should tie a uni knot. Are there certain times that one should be used over the other? What is your preferred presentation?

The long and short of the matter is that I prefer a swivel when I can.  Especially for flutter type spoons as they really swing, tumble, and roll around. Your average lead spoons still will impart some line twist, but not nearly that of a flatter spoon design.

That said, when the bite is hot and something breaks, I choose time and efficiency over tying in another swivel.  I’ve never used a uni-knot to connect on ice, but would do so in the event I needed braid.  Whitefishing in deep water would be a prime example of that, but I might take the opportunity to use a swivel there as well, unless my leader needed to be long.  Green Bay Walleyes and Whitefish again would come to mind given the clarity of water you’re fishing them in.  Hope this makes sense, and hopefully it answered your question. 

Thanks!

Joel

Which Otter House to Buy? Cabin or Lodge? XT or XT Pro?

Featured -  Otter X-Over XT Lodge   Photo Credit - In-Depth Media Productions

Featured - Otter X-Over XT Lodge

Photo Credit - In-Depth Media Productions

Sam O. writes:

Hi Joel,
I'm a big fan. I always watch your Youtube videos and TV shows.
I have 2 questions. First, I live in central Minnesota, and there is a lake right by my house with huge walleyes that don't get fished much to any fishing pressure. It’s called Lake (OMITTED) near the town of (OMITTED). I try to fish this lake as often as possible because it is close to my house but do not know where to fish for them. If you could maybe give me a place to start or something that sticks out to you that would be great!
Also, I'm in the market for a new otter shelter and am unsure what to buy. Looking at the Cabin vs the Lodge. XT vs the Pro. Any advice? Maybe know of someone with one used in good condition? Thanks a ton.
Sam

Hi Sam – thanks for the question and for watching what I do!  Always appreciate hearing from people that take the time to check out what I’m up to.

As for the lake, I try to make it a point not to comment on lakes, locations, and advice regarding where to fish.  It’s been tricky in the past, and it can be negative for the resource. Not to mention, no one person could know the predator/prey dynamics and other environmental conditions enough to make such predictions.  So I’ll have to pass on that one, but I can certainly help you with an Otter.

You’ve effectively got two comparisons going on here, Cabin vs. Lodge, XT vs. XT Pro.  Here’s how I’d break it down and what I use:

Cabin vs. Lodge

  • Transport – Cabin fits inside a standard truck bed, and underneath a Tonneau cover, while a lodge may have issues fitting under the cover and does stick out onto the tailgate.  You may need additional help to load a Lodge in the back of a truck, whereas the Cabin is a bit more manageable solo.

  • Space – I’m 5’10” and can’t stand up without touching my head to the top of a Cabin.  I can standup in a Lodge.  As for floor space and seating, unsurprisingly the lodge will comfortably fish 2, and up to 3 people with gear. 

  • Weight – Depending on style (XT vs XT Pro), you’re looking at up to 103lbs on the Cabin, and up to 124lbs on the lodge.  While Otter is the lightest shelter in class, both models work better behind an ATV or snowmobile.  Hand dragging anything over 100 lbs is difficult, especially with snow on the ice, and even more so when you add auger, electronics, rods, etc.

  • Price – Lodge is larger and more expensive.

XT vs. XT Pro

  • Seating – Seat options are different in each, and the XT comes with a bench, and XT Pro comes with bucket seats independently mounted on an aluminum bar that runs the length of the sled.  The bench is comfortable for me and offers space to lay out tackle and other items when fishing by myself.  It also has a nice backrest that I like.  The bucket seats are considered the premium option, and very nice to ride out the entire day on.  For most people, it comes down to buckets vs. bench, and that’s the deciding factor right there.

  • Warmth – you’re looking ThermalTec at 600 denier (XT) vs. 1200 denier (XT Pro), and in my opinion, that’s not the lead story.  For those in extreme environments, or who are focused primarily on warmth, I’d lean XT Pro, but keep in mind that even the 600 denier and the proprietary insulation Otter has in Thermal Tec is far superior to the insulated shelters of even a few years prior.  I’m warm in both under almost all circumstances.

  • Accessories – You can add a sportsman’s caddy (great option) to the center of your XT Pro, but not the XT as it mounts on that crossbar which is not on the XT series. 

  • Ease of use – I find the XT bench, specifically in the lodge great to flip all the way up and over to the back of the sled, for one-handed access to the full length of storage for augers, rod boxes, etc.  The XT Pro version has independently lifting seats and sportsman’s caddy, making getting full length access a bit more of a process. 

  • Price – XT Pros are more $, but offer the bucket seats and more insulation

My personal choice of shelter each year is the XT Lodge.  I prefer the bench seat and like the extra room it provides for a third person, and I don’t miss personally the extra insulation in the pro series.  I spend the extra difference on pins, a hitch pivot, rear sled hitch receiver, and cargo net accessories.  That said, Otter makes different options so you can get the shelter that best fits YOU!  Pick the one that best satisfies your situation, and you’ll always be happy with it.

Joel

How Many Holes Before Changing Blades?

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Kenneth L. asks:

On average, how many holes do you drill before you change or sharpen the blades on your power augers?

Kenneth! – thanks for the question.  I wish I could tell you that there was an “average” but to be honest, they’re always fine until they’re not.

Chipper blades are much more rugged, but cut more slowly.  I use shaver blades exclusively for their speed and overall effectiveness at cutting.

While there are times I’ll replace them every 1-2 years just because I feel I can get more speed from new and sharp ones, most of the time I’m switching blades because of some unforeseen issue.  That can be sand or blown topsoil that formed with the ice, and most often on high-traffic lakes where a truck sat, dripping salt, sand, and grime right where fresh snow covered it up and I end up drilling through.  All kinds of crazy things can happen.  I’ve hit shallow rocks/sand, and have even overtightened and broken the set screws that hold blades on.

Point being, it’s best to have replacement blades (AND THE TOOLS TO CHANGE THEM) out on the ice with you.  If it hasn’t happened yet, someday it will, and who knows where you’ll be and whether or not blades in your size/brand will be handy.

Here’s a link to the replacement shaver blades I use. Chipper replacement blades here. Consider it cheap insurance especially if you travel any distance to fish any destination lakes.

Joel

How to Fish a Jigging Rap?

Jigging Raps are a staple for big walleyes, but to get the most out of them, take the fish’s temperature. Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Jigging Raps are a staple for big walleyes, but to get the most out of them, take the fish’s temperature. Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Karl J. asks:

I have been ice fishing with jigging raps for a couple years without success. What are a few jigging cadences to try with the jigging rap that will help my catch rate increase? Thank you for any information you provide.

Great question Karl. 

Jigging raps are great lures I’ve been fishing a long time, especially for panfish, but have really re-discovered using them over the past few years for walleyes.  A trip with Grant Sorenson a few years ago triggered some extra looks from me, and I kept finding myself using it more and more.  Especially as zebra mussel infested lakes become clearer, water bodies like Mille Lacs, Leech, and even Pepin have become better jig-rap lakes at least for me.  I think that has something to do with the way the lure aggressively swings, zips, and darts around, triggering reaction strikes from walleyes that get a great visual on the lure.

Keep in mind, there’s a lot to the rod and line combination.  The new St. Croix Search Bait and Outside Eye Rods were designed for this lure and others in the same weight/displacement category.  I’m pairing it with Sufix Fluoroclear and in deeper water I like that there’s a bit of flex and stretch, but not too much. 

Something that will help you unlock some great cadences is literally just studying it on an underwater camera.  Last year I tested some new baits and kind of have it down to a process at this point.  I get in a comfortable place, either wheelhouse or portable, and drop that Marcum Quest Camera.  Examine everything from big rips to small shakes, and everything in between, exactly as a fish would see it.  Learn what it takes to rock a bait back and forth, and specifically for the jigging rap, how to swim it in a circle.  Practice those and know what the bait does so you can pull the camera so it won’t spook walleyes later with fish on screen. 

Keep in mind that it’s not summer, and a fish’s metabolism is not at the same rate either.  Fish can be aggressive, but overall you won’t fish a jigging rap in the winter with the same amount of lift/swing that you would an open water setup.  What relative big swings you do are for drawing in fish, but the jigging rap can scare more fish than it catches if you continue to rip with fish on screen.  Smaller lifts and slack can be too aggressive too, as without knowing where the bait is darting you can actually turn them off by having it unnaturally charge them.  Once a fish is on your flasher, higher above them is a safe zone, and I usually only drop to reset the cadence or pound the bottom and stir up sediment, the latter happening only after a fish is starting to drift off screen.  From there, I try to unlock that rocking motion as best possible, relying on my underwater camera work to inform that jigging stroke. 

As always, take a fish’s temperature and interpret the aggressiveness of the mark.  My biggest fish on a jigging rap is also my biggest walleye to date, nearly a 13lb fish from Lake Erie that came among a flurry of 3 fish that went well over 25lbs.  Those fish reacted like bait perch, flying around the graph, and vapor-trailing up to smash baits from 5-7 feet below.  Big rips didn’t intimidate them, and drew the attention of that school I’m convinced.  Conversely, last winter on Mille Lacs I was having more success fishing it with a few darts and more subtle dancing in circles, then just quivering it rapidly with fish on screen.  Point being – each fish and water body is different, and what works one place may not work well in another.  Getting good with that lure, then offering fish a variety of looks is usually the key to success.  Target-rich environments help narrow down the winning look that much more quickly.

Good luck, and keep at it!

Joel    

Which Croix Custom Ice (CCI) Rod?

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Matt R. asks:

I saw St. Croix released their new CCI rods. I just had a couple of questions in regards to them.

First, as far as for panfish what rod would you recommend for fishing tungsten flys, jigs, smaller spoons, and number three rip n raps. I would also like to be able to see the bite.

The other rod would be for walleyes. This I would be fishing number 4 rip n raps, 1/8 spoons, jigging raps. Which one of the CCI’s would you suggest for this type of fishing. Thanks for your reccomendations! I look forward to hearing back from you! Thanks, Matt Rischette

Appreciate the questions Matt, and I know there’s lots of people that will want to know the same thing. You’ve highlighted a number of techniques for several species. I want to point out that there would likely be a few ways to address these needs, depending on what you want to spend and how much you do each of them.

You may be able to get away with 2-3 rods that are multi-faceted enough to satisfy many different roles, but keep in mind that these rods were designed to address specific situations, and the very best experience may involve getting a rod for each style or bait you’re fishing. I’ll break them up in that scenario to address strong suits for each rod/technique, but ultimately it’s up to you as to how much you fish each tactic and whether or not a rod-per-bait is the right approach for each person.

  • Panfish Tungsten flies and Jigs - You indicated you wanted to see the bite, and in that scenario, the Tungsten Tamer (CI28MLXF) is the far away best choice. This rod was crafted to deflect easily enough to detect both “up-hits” and standard bites, while standing up to the weight of today’s tungsten jigs and not overload. More importantly, the backbone of the rod and where in the hookset that power is felt, will make it one of the most popular panfish rods in the lineup.

  • Small Spoons - Tony spent alot of time with this rod, and without speaking for him I know he spends a good deal of his winter for perch and panfish with micro spoons. The Micro Spoon Rod (CI28LXF) addresses the popularity of tiny spoons being used for big gills and other panfish, that can often be lighter than the tungsten jigs we’re using. This rod’s power accounts for that and just like the Tungsten Tamer, properly handles the weight of the bait used for each technique.

  • #3 Rippin Raps - This bait is a feel bait. Pull it through the water column at even a slight “rip” and you' know what I mean. It would stand to reason that you’d want a feel-rod to pair it with. If you fish the smaller #3 alot, or simply prefer feel over the visual for most of your fishing, the Pan Finesse (CI24LXF) is the right tool to use. Taking a cue from their open water sticks, no one does a true XF action like St. Croix. You’ll see that same lightning fast deflection in this feel-rod, and specifically for this bait, you want to know the nuance of this bait’s action at all times. Most people overwork these baits, as they strive to feel that vibration, leading to the bait tangling itself or just scaring too many fish away. Feeling the subtlety of a Rippin’ Rap in action leads to working it more properly, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the smaller Jigging Raps with this rod either.

  • 1/8 oz. Spoon Rod - Pat Smith of the old Thorne Bros. days really changed my line of thinking on these styles of rods maybe 15 years or so ago. Take a look at your ice tackle, and you might find that 60-75% of what you own for perch and eyes anyway, is of the 1/8 oz. size, which makes finding the perfect rod to fish that size paramount to your success for those species. The Perch/Eye Spoon rod (CI28MLF) was designed to be an 1/8 oz. staple, and swiss army knife rod for most walleye applications. If you own one walleye rod from this lineup, this is likely the one.

  • #4 Rippin’ Raps and Jigging Raps - Both baits will fish better on the Search Bait Rod (CI32MF) given the weight of them, the power of these rods (M) and action (F), with the action being a key component. Ultra fast actions are the rage for ice rods, and though they certainly have their time and place, too fast for crankbaits in open water is just the same as too fast with hard baits through the ice. Keep in mind, a St. Croix fast action is already a touch faster than most manufacturers, but too fast prevents maximum swing, action, and fish-landed. I’m of the opinion that a fast action keeps more fish buttoned all the way to the hole, which is a huge consideration with hard baits and hard walleye mouths.

  • Bigger Jigging Raps and #4 Rippin’ Raps - Certainly the largest baits, and even the #4 Rippin’ Rap work better on the open ice with a slightly longer rod. Think trophy scenarios, big head-shakes, and trolling the open ice. If a good portion of your fishing involves these baits on these waters, I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Outside Eye (CI36MF).

So there you have it, it’s what I’ve been fishing for the same baits in last winter’s testing phases, as well as what I’ll be stringing up this winter. Let me know if you have any followup questions, and kudos to you for doing your homework, as pairing the best rod to the job at hand will always lead to a better experience and more fish.

Joel

Mid-Summer Crappies

Dan M. Asks:

We vacation near Park Rapids in July and by then the crappies can be hard to find. What tips do you have for locating them and what baits seem to work best. Thanks

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Good question Dan.  You're right, when it comes to mid-summer, crappies can be a bit more challenging.  In most places I fish, early morning and evening low-light periods are definitely where most of the action happens, so be ready to fish when fish are active.  Also, be sure to target lakes where crappies are abundant in the first place.  Typically, I focus on one of a few patterns for mid-summer crappies depending on the lake.  

Pattern #1 - Slow rolling a jig and paddle-tail or twister-tail of any variety is a great way to catch weedbed fish.  Especially cabbage or lily pad bound fish that hide in the depths, or smack in the shallows during the day, you'll have good luck staying off of inside turns and/or points in the cabbage and casting up to them.  1/16 oz jigs are about the right size, but pair the weight to where and how you're fishing.

Pattern #2 - Increasingly, I'm falling in love with trolling Northland Tuff Tubes under the power of a trolling motor in the wide-open.  This may be a flat, or out over 50FOW, but use your electronics to side-image new paths, and your down-imaging or 2D sonar to find fish under you.  Various jig weights and plastic sizes get the job done, and this will be the subject of upcoming articles because of how well it works.

Pattern #3 - Don't forget vertical jigging over open water schools, or even weedline fishing for crappies that choose to feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates like bloodworms.  The best weedlines are deep, dense, and form some sort of point or inside turn.  Soft bottom adjacent or butting up against these weedbeds are what crappies need to find food.  

Fish some new areas, and use your electronics to dial in new spots during the day, so you'll be ready to take them on at dawn or evening hours.

Good luck,

Joel