Friday, December 31, 2010

Ice Fishing Crappie Motherload

By 2 pm on Thursday, we had quite the motherload of crappie laying on the ice! This pile of crappies we caught between noon and 2 pm all in the same spot.

We were ice fishing at Otter Creek Preserve. Overall we had the best day of ice fishing any of us have ever experienced, and collectively our group has over 150 years of ICE FISHING EXPERIENCE under our belts. For this trip, we were joined by professional fisherman Steve Ryan, Dave something (sorry Dave), fishing guide Steve Everetts, Ryan Pudik, Justin, and my Dad. Otter Creek lakes have never really been ice fished before, so I brought in the professionals to see what lurked in the frigid waters below.

Here is Steve, Steve, and Dave with our mess of crappies from just one spot!

Otter Creek is my biggest project I have been working on to date and is hands down the very best fishing property in Illinois. By this time next year, the lakes at Otter Creek will rank as some of the best multi-species fishing lakes in the nation, let alone Illinois! Trophy walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, trout, and muskie all are world class!

The fish charts for each lake are quite simply through the roof! We have more than 200 acres of prime habitat spread across 3 specialty lakes and forage wetlands. Unlike most strip mine lakes and farm ponds that were created for water retention or mining operations, Otter Creek lakes were created for the sole purpose of recreational fishing. Every square inch of the lakes are created for various forms of fish habitat! There is no dead water. Here is a link to pictures and videos of Otter Creek during construction, fishing trips, and general property information: Otter Creek Info

On with the fishing pics and rest of the story, eh? So we got started first lake at 8 am and we fished there until noon. It is a 15 acre lake with superior genetic bass and bluegill from Arkansas. In those 4 hours we caught some really nice bass, 25 crappies, and 140 bluegill. 40 of those bluegill were over 1 lb and 50 of them were about 3/4 of a lb. We were pumped up about the awesome fish we caught at the first lake and the action was one right after another.

Ryan is a bass fisherman, but look at his smile with this monster bluegill!

Dave's biggest bluegill caught through the ice!

Ryan caught these fatties one right after the other:

These guys have more ice fishing gear packed into their SUV than the whole Gander Mountain store in Peoria. Literally. Here we are getting setup for the day:

All those gizmos and gadgets did pay off though, here is a really fat bass caught on the automatic fisherman rig.

At noon when we decided to leave the first lake we tried, we were real proud of our pile of crappie for dinner. We keep all the crappies caught and trapped out of these lakes, because we don't want them to get overpopulated.

So after having an insane morning of monster fish after fish, we pulled up to our first spot on the big lake and that is where we really hit the motherload! We only fished there for 2 hours and just caught crappie after crappie after crappie. This spot was off to the side of the old road bed and had some nice structures strategically placed in the major fish travel route and boy were the fish stacked up! It was 15 feet deep and we caught crappies from the top to the bottom and all the depths in between. Here are some fun pics of this incredible fishing spot. Also we have created 12 more fishing spots like this throughout the big 145 acre lake, we just only fished one of them!

Lots of photo shoots, otherwise we would have caught twice as many fish.

Ryan Pudik with a really big crappie he caught through the ice fishing a lindy jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head.

He soon got a partner to update the photo with:

Here is a pair of crappie I got using a dead minnow on a plain hook with a split shot about 6 inches above the bait. I bet your wondering why I was using dead minnows for bait? Well, we ran out of 4 dozen live minnows at noon, and for some odd reason I had a small bucket of frozen dead minnows in the back of my truck from a previous fishing trip. I am not big on using lures (way too much work to jig em) so I just stuck dead frozen minnows on my hook, dropped em down and let the rod sit on the ice. Occasionally if I wouldn't get a bite in the first minute I would then jiggle the minnow just a bit, but only when absolutely necessary. Most of the time I enjoy taking photos and helping other fisherman more than actually aggressively fishing.

Justin scored on a pig crappie as well to go along with his pile of fish. He was using some sort of northland jig tipped with minnow parts.

Dad was pulling em in left and right with just a round jighead tipped with whole minnow.

We fished there at that spot till 2 pm and then went down to fish the 53 acre canadian lake for some yellow perch and walleye, but the ice wasn't safe down on that lake. The warm weather and rain really zapped the strength out of the ice. We packed up and headed for my place in Norris to finish the evening, clean fish, and just hang out for the night. Altogether we had a day of ice fishing that we will not soon forget! Actually we had so much fun and so many stories and photos we will never forget that day.

Here is an image I kept seeing last night while I slept.
Here is a sample video about creating these lakes and fisheries. Lots of good fish structure pics before the lake filled and lots of fishing pictures from this year in this video. More videos about the property are available online at

Steve and Dave have tons of pictures too that I will post once they send em over to me. The weather was 48 degrees and the fish were on fire!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Muskie and Insane Bluegill Ice Fishing!

I have never seen a muskie caught through the ice before, but we got one today! The line broke right at the hole, but Brett and I were somehow able to grab the fish and squeeze her through! We got lucky!!!

This is a monster female bluegill! Brett caught two really awesome fish today!

The first two pictures are about as good as it gets for ice fishing anywhere in the world, let alone here in Central Illinois! Brett Erickson caught that muskie and huge bluegill while fishing with a large group of people today with Herman Brothers guided ice fishing service.

We had 14 people out on the ice today and we caught some unbelievably huge fish, ate a gourmet Chef Todd shore lunch, and fished in warm 35 degree weather from sunrise to sunset. Just a picture perfect day that was capped off with a goose coming in and landing 30 yards from all of us fishing- I guess he just wanted to come hang out cause he landed and just walked around us for 10 minutes!

I got lots of pictures and also Jonn Graham the stream stalker has pictures from our day over on his blog as well. Here is Katy Watson holding up a nice rainbow trout caught on a minnow in 5 feet of water:

Kelly Presley from Presley Outdoors came out to help drill holes, set minnow poles and help eat lunch. We made him reel in one fish while he was out. We were hoping for a trout, but ended up with this nasty green carp instead. Kelly opened his bait shop early for me this morning so I could get all the bait and gear needed for todays ice fishing trip! We talked him into skipping a good portion of work today to come hang out.

Chef Todd cooked up perhaps the best lunch of 2010 today, and he also got into some fishing action as well. He is always trying new funny looking jigs and the latest and greatest from the TV shows and one of his contraptions actually even caught a fish today!

Here are a couple pictures of that lunch I keep raving about. This is my first plate. The burger was 3/4 lb ground filet and steak trimmings, with pepper jack cheese, homemade chipotle sauce, onions, avocados, lettuce and tomato! We also had shrimp, crab claws, smoked salmon, and some seafood dips from Dixons Seafood!

We all stuffed ourselves to the brim and then had to decide if we wanted to go back out fishing or curl up for a nap. Everyone chose to go back out so I didn't get my nap that would have felt so great!

We caught 2 bluegill today that werent legitimate keepers. It actually takes a real good fisherman to catch a fish this small! We used it for bait.

These fellas were more along the lines of the size of bluegills we were catching. They were beasts. Here are 2 male regular bluegill.

Another male bluegill

Another one of Chef Todds contraptions caught another fish! I think he tied on 30 different jigs today! Here he is holding a female bluegill.

Here is a monster female bluegill!

Boy bluegill being held by an old man.......hehe couldn't refrain from that old person joke.

Just a picture perfect male bluegill.

Jonn Graham SR. holding up one of the very few trout caught today. Usually we slam the trout ice fishing, but they weren't biting today.

Another big male bluegill
Here is part of our pile of fish just before I started cleaning em on the ice. This sounds kind of crazy to most fisherman, but in lakes I am managing for monster bluegill we actually let the monster bluegill go. We eat the 8-10 inchers, but let the 10-12 inchers back in the lake to keep our best genetics pumping out future boone and crocket bluegills! I also take out all the skinny largemouths that are over 12 inches long. This particular lake is not just a typical bass/bluegill lake. Predators are muskie, pike, hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye. Small bass are actually forage, so I don't need to remove them, but the larger bass who are skinny are just wasting space and we remove them.
Here is a hybrid bluegill. Their only purpose is to catch and eat so we keep them regardless of how big they get. We don't need or want their genetics, just nice to have as a bonus big bluegill! This hybrid did his job perfect, he ate alot, grew big, fought a nice battle, took a great picture, and will taste very good very soon!
Another Boone and Crocket gill!

A nice bonus crappie. We caught 6 crappie in the first 15 minutes and never caught another one the rest of the day.

This green carp smoked a waxworm being jigged aggressively 2 feet off the bottom.
It was an incredible day of fishing, but let me just say that even though we got lots of great pics and caught some amazing fish, that we had to work very very hard to get them to bite! We put in over 100 man hours of fishing today and only caught a total of 58 fish. That calculates out to less than one fish per hour per angler.
Fishing for trophy bluegill is alot different than just regular ice fishing. You have to be determined and really work these fish with some finesse jigging and a vexilar. This type of fishing is not possible without electronics.
Of the 58 fish we caught today, only 2 of them were less than 8 inches. We all had a great time hanging out, eating great, and reeling in trophy fish! About as good as it gets is how I describe a day like this one. Don't forget to pop over to Jonn Grahams blog to get his account and pics from the day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Meat Ice Fishing Today

Today I went ice fishing with Brian and Mark from Morton and Mackinaw. We fished my meat fishing pond today in Peoria. Our goal for this trip was to catch some fish for dinner and also to learn about Vexilars. I am telling you, if your not fishing with a vexilar you are missing out on lots and lots of fish!

It took Brian and Mark all of 5 minutes to get the hang of fishing with electronics and they were off chasing suspended fish! I drilled over 40 holes and they would keep moving all afternoon long to new holes to pop suspended fish until finally the last 30 minutes of light they each found holes that were loaded with fish and they sat tight pulling in one after another.

I didn't take too many pics today, cause I was busy drilling holes the first 3 hours and cleaning fish the last hour. The last 30 minutes I couldnt clean the fish as fast as they were flopping them on the cutting board!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ice Fishing Monster Bluegills Today!

Today I took Tom and Shawn ice fishing for some big bluegills. They are from up near Henry, Illinois and it was actually Shawn's birthday today! The weather was perfectly calm and sunny and we caught some monster big bluegills today along with some rainbow trout and one crappie.

We got started at 9 am and just barely caught the tail end of a really good bite! The first hour we caught half of our big fish today and spent the next 5 hours just to duplicate what we did the first hour. Kind of confusing so I will try to sum it up for those who don't realize what I am trying to say: we should have went out fishing earlier!

Anyhow we had a great time, drilled alot of holes and just enjoyed being outside on a beautiful winter day. When the wind isn't blowing, and the sun is shining, and there is snow on the ground it is just really nice to be outside. Oh yeah, we also caught some amazing fish and you don't want to miss these pictures!

I am booked up for the rest of this week, which also happens to be the rest of the year! Hopefully we can finish of 2010 with a bang (and a whole bunch more trophy fish!)