HASTINGS — Mike Boedeker is an international ice fishing champion, having led the United States team to world domination in 2010.
I’ve been after him for some time to show me his tricks. So when he recently invited me to join him on Middle Lake in Barry County, I was in.
Boedeker is one of those guys who prefers crappies to bluegills; he chose this lake, he said, because it not only had a good population of crappie, but it’s a lake where the crappies will bite well into the day, he said, noting that the crappie bite is often finished once the sun gets up.
So we went out to where some other guys had been fishing recently — you could tell by the iced-over holes — and he drilled a half dozen. Boedeker used his flasher to see if we had fish under us.
We did and started fishing, first with what he considered a relatively heavy jig (about the size of your average tear drop) with a relatively large plastic trailer (a Little Atom Nuggie). I’ll let him take it from there.
“If I’m going for crappies I want a heavier bait early in the morning,” he said. “I’m going for the aggressive fish: Heavy stuff, big plastic, work it fast. When crappies are aggressive you can’t use a bait that’s too big. You can tell right off the bait with the flashers if they’re charging after your bait. But if they’re not chasing it or you drop it down to them and it spooks them, then you’ve got to go — immediately — to smaller stuff.”
Boedeker dropped his bait down to about a foot above the marks on the flasher that indicated suspended fish He saw fish coming up on his depth finder, but they weren’t hitting.
So within minutes, he had downsized his offering: a smaller jig and smaller tail (Micro Nuggie). (Boedeker carries three rods, each rigged with a different sized jig.)He started catching fish as soon as he downsized his bait and tail. He caught five nice crappie in quick order, then he noticed the suspended fish were gone. He dropped down to just above the bottom and caught a bluegill.
“When crappies are suspended, they’re feeding,” he explained. “When they settle down to the bottom, they’re not generally feeding aggressively. Crappies are almost always going to be on top of the bluegills, though, so just fish for the high ones. If you drop down to them and catch bluegills, odds are they’re all bluegills.”
He fished awhile longer, caught a few more ‘gills, then moved. He immediately caught another crappie. I watched closely. Boedeker said he used two-pound-test, high-visibility line (yellow).
“I never use more than two-pound test, but there’s a lot of difference in line,” he said. “Our average run-of-the-mill line, for the same pound test, will be at least twice the diameter of a super premium line. I have some European line that’s 2.2–pound-test that’s .003 diameter. Some two-pound-test is almost .006 diameter. That’s a heck of a lot more drag on your line when you’re using small jigs and you’re trying to get it down there fast.”
Boedeker was using short, flexible, home-made fiberglass rods with simple spring tension spools for reels. He held the rod tip just inches from the hole to negate the wind. (“I’d rather fish in 10 below than a 10 mile-an-hour wind,” he said.) He kept the tip moving, eyes glued to the line. When he detected something unusual in the line, he used a short, quick hook set.
“Most of the time, our fish come up with it, rather than go down with it, so when we’re watching our line, almost all the time the line goes slack,” he explained. “We use light-wire, needle-sharp hooks, so you can set the hook with a flip of your wrist. You don’t need a stiff rod to set the hook. There’s no reason to slam the hook home, unless you’re using some of those old, real cheap tear drops.”
As the bite slowed again, we moved. Deeper.
“When you’re fishing deep you have to make a fairly decent arm sweep to even detect you have a fish on,” he said. “If they come up with it, you’ve got nothing until you move about two feet of line toward setting the hook.”
We kept fishing, moving, fishing. By late morning the bite had slowed to a crawl, but Boedeker was catching one here, one there, slowly building a pretty decent catch.
“The most common mistake I see is people not having control of their line,” he said. “You can’t have any slack between your jig and your arm. Your line has to be as straight as possible so the wind doesn’t bother it.
“If you’re using a spring bobber it has to be loaded so you can detect your up bites and your down bites.
“Most anglers don’t have the correct weight of jig for their line or their spring bobber,” he continued. “Your jig has to keep your line fairly straight — and if it doesn’t — you have to down-size your line. It’s all a matter of matching your hook and your line, size-wise. You don’t want your hook overpowering your line or your line overpowering your hook.”
The bite — almost entirely bluegills, slowed to a crawl. But around noon — as we moved once again — we found some more active fish. Boedeker caught for our five in short order, then they quit again.
We moved around, hole to hole to hole, but when the depth finder showed fished and we’d drop our baits, the fish would scatter.
Apparently they’d fed for the day. Boedeker said the crappies wouldn’t probably start up again until just before dark.
So we called it at 1 p.m. Boedeker counted his fish. He had 15 ‘gills and nine crappies. One short of a limit.
I’m sure he could have stayed a bit longer and finished his limit. But why? He’d shown me what I’d come to see.