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CHASING TASTY PANFISH

This winter has been a real nightmare for me.  I was hoping for a nice, mild winter so as I could continue to catch my beloved river smallmouth.  Well, so much for that!  This winter has proven to be a “true” winter with temps so darn cold that my local rivers are nearly frozen from bank to bank.  So, what is a stream fisherman to do?  Simple - hit the ice for a little round-up of some tasty panfish.

Many winters down here in Central Illinois provide a very short ice fishing season.  I can remember some years where we would only get about two weekends to ply our hard water craft, before the ice disappeared.  Not this year.  Mother Nature has turned even Central Illinois into a frozen tundra.  While I am not a big fan of cold weather, you have to deal with the hand that's dealt to you.  So this past winter I have grabbed the auger, shanty, and rods and headed on the ice in pursuit of some tasty panfish.

My first trip of the year was with my good buddy, Nate Herman.  Nate runs a pond management service near Peoria .  Nate basically manages the fish populations at a number of private farm ponds.  Lucky for him and me, he is able to take people to these ponds.  It truly is nice to go to a pond with a guy who actually stocked the pond and knows exactly where the fish hang out and how big they are.  Armed with his Vexilar flasher, my father in law, Nate, and I had a wonderful trip around the Christmas holiday.  We fished a pond I refer to as, “The Bluegill Pond”.  You can probably guess why – large bluegill and many of them.  Nate got us all set up right on a big school of hungry bluegill.  We were allowed to take 25 bluegills home for the frying pan.  Catching our 25 only took about 90 minutes.  Once we had our 25 BIG bluegills, we began to practice a little catch n release.   What a time!  As soon as you got your jig down around 10 feet, you immediately had another bluegill coming up the hole.

At the end of the day, my father in law and I just knew we would have to go back and fish with Nate again.  After hearing about our great trip, my father, who loves ice fishing, was primed and ready to come down as well.  A few days later we had a trip booked with Nate right after the first of the year.  This time we would bring down a small army of ice fisherman.  The army included me, my dad, his friend, Bob, my brother in law, and his friend, Weezer, and also, once again, my father in law.  We were primed and ready.  All of us could not wait for the day to arrive.

The day of the trip was a cold and windy day.  Luckily, we had enough huts to allow every angler some shelter.  Of course, we started at “The Bluegill Pond”.  After a few holes drilled, we were on the big, slab bluegills.  Everyone was catching fish right and left.  Nate’s brother, Justin had a video camera on a tripod and was shooting a video of our bluegill-slaying exploits.  As we were catching fish, Nate had his cleaning board set up and was cleaning fish in preparation for our shore lunch of fresh bluegills.  Yes, a winter shore lunch.  Only exception would be it would not be on shore, but over at his father’s house only minutes away.   After catching over 100 bluegills in about two hours or so, it was time to pack up and head over for our lunch.

The lunch was prepared by my friend, Todd Kent, who is a chef at Peoria’s most prestigious restaurant.  The fixins were simple - fresh 'gills, homemade coleslaw, a few baked trout, and tasty hash browns covered in cheese, bacon, and spices.  WOW!  What a meal.  After eating so much, many of us needed a nap.  Of course, the nap was quickly ruled out and it was back to ice fishing.

The rest of the afternoon all six of us set up on Nate's father's pond.  This pond is only about four acres, but was located only steps away from where we ate our lunch.  This pond contains many different species of fish, but the target was the jumbo perch that call this pond home.  The perch over the years have proven very elusive to the Herman family.  They know they are in the pond, but finding them has proven tough.  We were confident we could find them.

All six of us set up on some key structure and went to work.  The Vexilars were running full bore and bluegill began appearing almost immediately.  The bluegill action was not quite as fast as it was at "The Bluegill Pond", but the 'gill that we did catch were nice sized for the most part.  We also caught some very nice-sized hybrid sunfish.  They were very thick fish and beautifully colored.  But, we all kept asking, "where are those jumbo perch"?  I grabbed an auger, got out of the hut, and began drilling holes around the pond.  Armed with the Vexilar, I was hoping to find maybe a suspended school of perch.  Though my heart was in the right place, I was unable to find anything at all – not even a school of bluegills.  So I headed over to where my dad was set up hoping to get into some of the nice bluegills he was catching.

I did manage to catch a couple of nice 'gills, though not as many as old dad.  I guess I was not holding my mouth right.  I could mark them all over my Vexilar, but could not get them pesky panfish to cooperate. At around 4:00, my father in law and I called it a day.  Everyone else had already left.  We knew we had fish to clean and the ride home would be a treacherous one due to road conditions.

All in all, what a day we had.  Two ponds loaded with tasty bluegills.  The act of catching those jumbo 'gills was enough to make the day.  Add in the shore lunch of freshly caught fish, and it was a day that won’t be topped anytime soon. Nate and his family are truly a class act. Friendly, helpful, and comedic are all traits they display. The video they made will be a treasure to view for years to come.  If you want to view the video, go to http://thediaryofalakenerd.blogspot.com/.  You will find the video under "Graham".  If you are looking for a great fishing trip for you and your family, Nate is your man.  You can check out his business at www.hbpondmanagement.com.

And, don’t forget that spring is hopefully just around the corner.  I am beginning to book stream smallmouth trips for the 2009 season.  If you are interested in learning the ways of our wily, Illinois stream smallies, give me a call at 309-399-7055.

AS ALWAYS……………………………HAIL TO THE SMALLIE

By: Jonn P. Graham
309-399-7055


 
 
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