I took the day off last week Friday and met a friend at Giant Goose Ranch in Canton, IL for a day of ice fishing the many strip pits and man-made lakes managed by the Herman Brothers. As it happens, Nate Herman was out that day with a group of anglers and we fished much of the same water.
I left my house around 4 am and battled traffic and terrible road conditions on I-55 south, with much of my travel limited to 35mph or less. If you recall there was a bit of snow that fell overnight and that made road conditions pretty crappy. However, once I made it past Braidwood, the road seemed to be clearer and I was able to hit cruising speed. With a quick pit stop to top off my coffee and recycle what I had already drunk, I found myself pulling into the ranch just after 7:30 am.
The first spot we hit ended up fishing 8 to 10 feet of water and found them right away. Ice was a solid 8" to 10" thick with mostly hard clear ice. The bite started with cookie cutter 12" bass, but soon we started tying into huge bluegill up to 9 inches, a few fat red ears, some small crappie, a bakers dozen rainbow trout, and one bonus brown trout. We both switched back and forth between small spoons tipped with waxies and large tungsten jigs waxie tipped as well. The fish didn't seem to have a preference. I also set up a dead-stick rod dangling a crappie minnow pinned to a tinsel fly-jig my buddy JustinCarf tied for me. This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. I had battled three rounds of doubles on my own with trout and bass ripping drag on two rods simultaneously, one in my left hand, and one in my right before I realized this was too much chaos for me to handle at 9 o'clock in the morning.
Around 10 am our bite seemed to taper off even though Nate's group was still doing really well, so we decided to go scout a different lake looking for some bigger fish. After spending a few minutes locating likely spots on this much deeper lake, we drilled up near a brush pile and commenced to whacking the fish on the same lures at around the same depths. It was hand over fist, fish every drop, rainbow party on the Vexilar giving up big gills, red ears, and crappie.
I even had a tip-up trip on my toothy-critter set-up. You can see I did the Gillespie pose there and held out this snot rocket 20" pike for a decent photo.
By now it was about noon and I was famished from yanking fish through the ice for 4 hours straight. I asked my host if he was getting hungry and he hesitated, but replied, "Nah, I'm not starving yet." Well, I knew that meant he didn't feel like quitting for lunch so I pulled out the pre-cooked Johnsonville Italian sausages and warmed them up over my Buddy Heater. I also warmed up the buns and after 15 minutes or so they were hot, crispy, and delicious. I usually don't eat too much when I'm on the ice, but when you can eat a hot meal outdoors in 20-degree weather, you don't turn it down! He gratefully inhaled the lunch offering and we were able to continue setting hooks into slabs without much delay.
After lunch, we finished the day on a small spot along with Nate's group and they had found the really huge bluegill. 9 fish out of 10 pulled out were 9" or 9.5" and they were pretty much on the chew from when we arrived around 2 pm till I left for home around 5 pm. I did not get any images of fish from our last spot, rumors of large walleye prowling this shallow flat adjacent to current had me focused on keeping my line in the water. This was the only area we put fish on the ice to keep. Nate's group was taking fish home so we threw a handful of nice gills on the ice for them to sweeten their pot.
All-in-all it was an extremely enjoyable trip. The drive was absolutely brutal, especially hammering that all out in one day, 3.5 hours out/2.5 hours home. However, the great company and the sheer numbers and the average size of the fish we caught made the trip totally worthwhile.
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