My buddy Artie Arndt and I had an interesting phone conversation regarding ice fishing recently. Artie owns a fish house rental business on Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border, owns the local bait shop, and is the father of Tanner Arndt, one of the top winter and open-water fishing guides in that area of the Midwest.
Suffice to say, Artie’s winters are dominated by ice fishing and he knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful day in and day out on the ice.
Artie started by noting that Big Stone Lake’s perch population is at an all-time high, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily always biting and easy to catch.
“Early season is still the best,” Arndt offered initially. “The fish haven’t been pressured, are hungry, and are usually pretty easy to catch.”
Arndt then went on to offer an interesting, but “makes sense” thought.
“I’m not sure if I want to say the dumb fish get caught at early ice, but later in the year we see more fish that come up to the bait, sometimes aggressively, but don’t hit it as quickly or as enthusiastically,” Arndt said. “When customers ask why, my response usually is something along the lines of the easy, aggressive, or dumb ones having already been caught!”
When I asked Artie how he and Tanner counter finicky fish, he offered two bits of advice.
“We constantly stay on the move looking for fresh fish and we really rely on small, finesse tungsten lures to get bit,” he said. “When we have our houses on a hot bite, Tanner and our other guides are already scouting for the next school of unpressured fish so that we can react quickly if a spot goes cold.”
“And, early-ice fish can often be caught on jigging spoons and minnows under bobbers, but a small tungsten (jig) tipped with a spike is often what it takes to get bites from the smart fish,” Artie continued.
Another thing Arndt noted during our conversation was the need for mobility.
“If you come out here and are dead set on putting the house in one spot and leaving it there, you better get here early,” he said. “The anglers who are most willing to move, have houses easy to move are usually the ones who end catching the most fish.”
Another interesting thought Artie offered revolved around time of day for the best perch bite. “That kind of changes. Sometimes the bite peaks during the last hour of daylight, but often the first two or three hours of the morning are best. It all depends on the day,” Arndt said. “One thing we do find consistent is that sunny days usually see more active fish than cloudy days.”
Arndt’s thoughts are obviously geared toward perch in particular and Big Stone Lake. However, several of his ideas, particularly those about early ice, finding unpressured fish, and using finesse presentations are applicable in other situations too. In fact, regardless the water you fish or your favorite fish species, some of Artie’s ideas can probably help you catch more fish this winter too!
If you’re interested in learning more about Arndt’s fish house rentals or guides, call (320) 839-2480. For more information on the Big Stone Lake area visit the website www.bigstonelake.com. And, as always, remember to include a youngster in your fishing and other outdoor adventures!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series and is co-founder of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s School of Fish. Visit www.fishingthemidwest to see more from Mike and Fishing the Midwest.