Frank's Tackle Box: Northern pike and walleye through the ice

Frank Clark's ice-fishing hut is all set up on the river. Photo supplied

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For the last couple weeks, my fishing plans have had to take a back seat, being replaced with work, travel, family and entertaining guests. Now this isn’t an official complaint, but I was starting to get the shakes and needed to hit the hard water to get some fresh Northern air.

So, as I was driving home from work one night this week, I thought that if the minnows I purchased a couple weeks ago were still alive, I would load up the sled and venture out in front of my house on the Vermillion River for an evening’s fish. I hadn’t checked on them for about a week, so I was scared to open the lid of my cooler bag for fear of getting a foul waft of air. To my surprise, only a couple were dead and the rest were happily swimming about.

Purchasing minnows can be very expensive, so you want to make sure that leftover bait gets reused for the next fishing trip. The best way to keep them alive is to keep them in a very cool place, with plenty of fresh water, and aerate them. I purchased a very quiet aerator from the local pet store for around $20 and keep them on the basement floor in the laundry room, which seems to work.

During the spring and summer months, the Vermillion River is home to many species of fish such as smallmouth bass, walleye, perch, northern pike, rainbow trout and brook trout. The river is also full of bait such as minnows, frogs, leeches and bugs. There are countless deep bends with many fallen trees providing all the comforts required, so there is really no reason for the fish to leave.

Having lived on the river for the last 14 years, I’ve caught all the above-mentioned, except for a rainbow trout, in front of my house in the summer, so I was feeling pretty good. Besides, it was more about getting outdoors instead of hitting the sofa after a day’s work.

I started up the snowmachine and began packing up the sleigh in my driveway. It felt kind of funny that all this work was for about a 30-second ride down the hill by my house onto the river, then I would have to unpack it all again. But with the temperature in the mid-teens and a slight wind, I figured I might as well go in style.  

I began loading my sleigh with the Clam Thermal Ice Refuge portable hut, Vexilar underwater camera, Humminbird Ice-35 Flasher, lawn chair, Mr. Heater Buddy to keep the hut toasty, minnows and fishing rod case, and began my long journey down the hill and onto the river just to the right of my house by a deep hole. Earlier in the week I had checked the ice conditions and there was six inches, so I was confident there was ample ice to support me and my sled.

After a quick setup of the hut, I began prepping my rods. The first was a flagged tip-up, just down river from the hut. A flag tip-up allows the fish to bite and freely take line without feeling any great resistance, so you don’t have to constantly watch it. It also keeps the spool submerged in the water, so again, if the hole skims over with ice it doesn’t interfere with the line. The flag will pop up and the cross will start spinning as the fish is swimming away. This increases your hook-up ratio by allowing the fish time to take the bait and inhale it a little deeper before setting the hook, a big advantage when using large bait such as a sucker minnow.

My second line is a standard ice-fishing rod-and-reel combo, spooled with a fluorocarbon line that I will move from hole to hole, jigging using a variety of spoons and coloured jigs. My Humminbird flasher follows my moves and becomes my eyes under the water. Without it I simply feel blind, so if you are not using some sort of sonar, I truly recommend getting one. There are many times that a fish will be suspended in the water column and a quick placement of the lure in the strike zone and it’s game on.

Well, despite my excellent setup I didn’t have a story of a giant fish coming up the hole. I didn’t see a single fish on the sonar or camera, but I did enjoy getting out and experimenting how a jig reacts to current flow. I would like to try again this winter, maybe a little further down river in a deeper hole.

If you’re in need of some hearty minnows at a reasonable price be sure to check out Dandy Live Bait and Tackle off Highway 144 in Chelmsford. My minnows surviving the two weeks with little attention is testament to just how good their bait really is. Help prevent the spread of invasive species and never dump your leftover bait in the lake.

If anyone has a story to share of a successful river adventure, I’d like to hear from you, so drop me a line.

Until next time, good luck and tight lines!

Frank Clark is a local guide and pro tournament angler. Frank’s Tackle Box column appears every other week in The Sudbury Star. Clark can be reached at or on Facebook at Pro Fishing Frank Clark.