As the bigger lakes in the area have begun to open, the temperature has still favored the ice for the time being in the higher elevations. Access to several smaller lakes and a couple of larger ones is still good in our area and temperatures over the next 10 days will not get too warm, which should keep us on the ice for at least another couple of weeks, maybe longer up on Deerfield Reservoir, one of the highest lakes in the Hills.
Earlier this week, I headed off for Stockade Lake to check on the ice and see if the panfish were around in the shallows yet. Once I arrived, access was excellent at my spot and the ice was still 16" thick and strong. Ice shavings coming off the K-Drill blade were still good and not honeycombing yet. Once the ice coming up starts looking like blocks on Tetris, the time is getting short and the ice is losing its integrity fast. That's usually when I call it the last trip.
Fishing above the weeds in 7'-9' of water proved the best, as the fish were somewhat aggressive despite the higher barometric pressure that morning. Using panfish-sized spoons and tungsten jigs tipped with plastics, worked very well drawing in the bigger bluegills as well as a few smaller bass. I used bigger cadences of a foot or more to make the spoon flutter down to draw in the fish, then switched to a small, quick cadence as the fish drew closer. When I switched to the jig, I used cadences of around 6", then quicker movements to make the tail of the plastic kick and wiggle. Over a few hours, I caught dozens of bluegills, including several nicer ones using these techniques.
Despite the last few days of warmer weather, another winter storm will be here soon and lower temperatures should keep Stockade and other lakes locked up for a couple more weeks, but this is the time when the spud bar, ice picks, safety rope and boot cleats need to come back onto the ice with us. So, if you still have ice, bring these items with again and remember to bring a buddy along. The hardwater season will end eventually and we need to be safe about it while it lasts to enjoy it to the fullest.