Monday, March 1, 2010

Ice Fishing popular social activity


Brandon Gust (left) Andy Schmahl (right)
During the winter season, there is snowmobiling, cross country skiing and trapping, but maybe the most popular winter outdoor sport is ice fishing.
Lake County Conservation Officer Brandon Gust said ice fishing has gained popularity because of the ease of getting into the sport. ‘You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars for a boat,” he said. “For a thousand dollars you can be set up for ice fishing. We have a lot of lakes you can fish in this part of state. It is easier to take your family out and do that activity. You can get everywhere you want to go and get to spots easily.”
Andy Schmahl, who is the McCook County Conservation Officer, said ice fishing around this area is much different than the northern part of the state where there is better ice and better shacks.
“Around here we have portable shack fisherman. They go fishing when they have the time,” he said. “It is another opportunity to spend time outside.
“You don’t see guys go fishing by themselves,” he added. “There’s a larger portion that hang out with a friend. It is more a social opportunity. The die hard ice fisherman will go out even if fish aren’t biting.”
In Lake County, there are three main lakes that ice fishermen go to – Lake Herman, Lake Madison and Brant Lake.
Gust said that although ice fishing is extremely popular, this year has been the exception because of the tough winter because of the extreme amount of snow on the lake making access difficult.
“For ice fishing, you need to be mobile to be able to move around and locate your fish,” Gust said. “Fishing pressure has been really slow this year on the lakes.”
Perch and walleye are the most popular fish on the Lake County lakes for ice fishermen.
On a good year, Gust said it is not unlikely to see 100 vehicles on Lake Madison and 30-40 vehicles off Johnson’s Point (Lake Madison). “Typically, most winters we have pressure every weekend,” he said.
All permanent shacks must be off all South Dakota lakes by Feb. 25. However, after that they can be removed on a daily basis.
Larger vehicles are able to access the lake with at least 12-15 inches of ice, while ATVs can access the lakes with 6-8 inches of ice and foot traffic is good for 3-4 inches of ice.
In McCook County, there are two main ice fishing areas – Lake Vermillion and Island Lake along the McCook County and Minnehaha County line.
Like other lakes in South Dakota, Lake Vermillion has been poor for ice fishing this year. However, Schmahl said that someone did catch an 11 ½ pound walleye.
“When it is good, it is as good as anywhere else,” he said. “There are a lot of walleye in there. The future forecast is fantastic.”
Schmahl said there is the potential to see fish between six and 12 inches and up to 14 inches. “It is a well-balanced lake,” he said.
While walleye and catfish are the main targets, Schmahl said there are also northern pike, croppy, blue gill and perch.
Island Lake has been more consistent for walleye and perch, Schmahl said.
Another thing about Island Lake is that it is difficult to get to the northern side of the lake. “You have to be able to get on the lake,” Schmahl said. “The guys that do know about it go out there.”
Schmahl said when the fishing is good on Island Lake, there will be 50 people out there. When Lake Vermillion is good, there will be 100 people out there.
“Ice fishing is difficult to gauge,” Schmahl said. “The impact is there. The better the fishing, the more the impact on the county.”
In Kingsbury County, there are two primary bodies of water for ice fishing: Lake Thompson and the Twin Lakes along Highway 81. And like the lakes in Lake and McCook counties, the ice fishing has been slow because of the limited mobility due to the snow.
“When ice fishing is good there are hundreds and hundreds of shacks on the lakes,” said Shane Van Bockern, Kingsbury County Conservation Officer. “There are a fair percentage of ice fishermen that don’t fish in the summer time. It seems to be a pretty popular sport, almost like a social event.”
Van Bockern said ice fishermen enjoy the outdoors and just like to unwind and relax. “People like to catch fish too,” he said.
In Kingsbury County, walleye is the targeted species, but there are also northern pike, yellow perch and croppies, Van Bockern said.
“On a weekend you could see several hundred shacks when there is a good bite going on. Weather is a factor,” Van Bockern said. “People are pretty conscious on where they are biting. With computers and cell phones, if there is a hot bite somewhere it seems like they can locate it quick.”

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