by Jon Farley
Winter is a good time to get your boat trailer in shape for the upcoming season. Maintenance tasks you can take care of now include checking your tires' tread wear and air pressure, inspecting the winch, and tightening loose bolts. Most importantly, though, you should check out the wiring and taillights; your first trip to the lake is a bad time to find out your trailer lights don't work.
Live minnows, including the common shiner and fathead minnow, are some of the best all-around baits for ice fishing. Ones in the 1 1/2- to 2-inch range will take a variety of game fish including perch, trout, pickerel and bass. They work best when hooked through the lips with size 12 hooks and fished with 4- or 6-pound test line. They can be fished with jigging rods and unlike other baits, they will swim around and provide action when used with tip-ups.
If you're a hardwater angler, take some time to "square away" your gear before heading outdoors and taking to the ice. Some tasks that can be performed ahead of time are sharpening auger blades, pre-rigging hooks and leaders, and making sure tip-ups and rods work. These tasks are easily accomplished indoors, but doing them on a snowy, windswept lake can ruin any ice-fishing trip.
In addition to the Commission's web site, online boaters and anglers can access useful information at another great website. It is the U.S. Geological Survey's list of stream-gaging stations throughout the state, at http://pa.water.usgs.gov. It shows frequently updated water levels on different streams and rivers, and even lists some current water temperatures. The site covers most of the streams in the Ohio, Susquehanna and Delaware River drainages.
One of the biggest problems facing fishermen this time of year is the prospect of cold, wet hands. One way to alleviate this problem is to wear fingerless wool gloves. The fingerless feature allows you to use your digits without removing the gloves, while the wool insulates, even when it's wet. Using air-activated hand warmers and carrying extra gloves are also good ideas.
Long winter evenings are a great time to tie flies. If you want to "spice up" your hand-tied creations this year, try adding some sparkle to your favorite patterns. You can do this by using various dubbing materials that contain glittery fibers. These will add sparkle to your dry flies and nymphs, making them that much more attractive to early-season trout.
Though bitter-cold temperatures and high water might not seem like ideal conditions in which to fish for smallmouths, some diehard bass anglers catch their biggest bronzebacks of the year in late winter when river levels rise. High water causes smallmouths to seek cover behind islands and underwater obstructions. When levels rise even more, smallmouths hold tight to the banks. Concentrate on these areas when going after high-water smallies in winter.
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January/February 2000 Angler & Boater
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