Sarley: Learning ice fishing from one of the best

I never had the opportunity to go ice fishing until later in life. About 15 years ago, my mentor, Spence Petros and I were talking about ice fishing and I told him I didn’t do it. He asked, “How the heck can you be an outdoor writer if you don’t do the things that the readers do?”

Little did I know that this Hall of Fame fisherman from McHenry hadn’t been an ice fisherman until later in life himself.

“When anglers asked me about ice fishing, my standard reply was, ‘I didn’t do it because I couldn’t master the art of casting into those small holes,’” he said.

Eventually he decided to take up the sport.

After our conversation, Petros called me when the weather had changed and told me to get my stuff and meet him at his house the next day.

I normally prefer cold weather to extremely hot weather, but I made sure I brought plenty of extra-warm clothing with me.

I didn’t know what to expect. Knowing Petros, I figured he’d have all the gear including a shelter, heaters and a vehicle to tow it all. I was wrong.

We went to a local McHenry County housing development lake where a friend of his lived. We carried all of our stuff onto the ice by hand.

There was no shelter and no heaters.

Since it was about 10 degrees outside, I was glad I had brought so much warm clothing.

I imagined that Petros would be drilling a couple of holes with his gas auger but was wrong again.

He drilled a lot of holes. I mean a large number of them.

Petros said, “Once a specific area is targeted to fish, I usually drill between eight to 15 holes. Holes will generally be drilled in pairs. This is because I don’t want to be drilling next to a hole that’s producing fish during prime fishing time.”

I was glad that he had a gas-powered drill rather than a hand auger because he drilled for quite a while. We were ready to fish and got down to the task.

After a few minutes, if we hadn’t found any action, it was time for us to move to another hole, and then another and then another.

After a few moves, I removed my insulated headgear and opened the zipper on my coat. A few more moves forced me to take my coat off completely. I was really warm. This moving around from spot to spot and hole to hole was giving me a workout.

I was actually sweating in 10-degree weather.

It was plainly apparent why Petros didn’t use a shelter or a heater. There was no need to do that because his style of running-and-gunning, or “hole jumping,” as he likes to call it, kept us plenty warm.

When we stopped moving to drop lines down through our holes, Petros cautioned me to position myself with the wind hitting my back rather than blowing into my face. It Was good advice.

Another thing I remember from that initial outing was that we were catching a good number of very small bluegills and crappies. We wanted bigger fish and Petros showed me how to accomplish that goal.

Petros said that the smaller fish were swimming higher in the water column and the bigger fish were down below. He said that the little guys were eating our spikes and waxworms as they were dropping down, but before they could get down deep enough for the big boys to have a bite.

Petros switched our ice fishing jigs to ones that were made out of tungsten, rather than out of lead. Tungsten is a denser metal and drops faster than lead without increasing the size of the jig. A huge lead jig may scare away the fish, but a tiny tungsten jig doesn’t seem to bother them.

Incredibly, we began catching gills and crappies that we could keep and would be easily fileted into delicious morsels at the end of the day.

Now I only wish that the weather would give us some decent lasting ice so that I can ask Petros to take me out for a couple more lessons from the master.


Local ice maven, Trevor James, sends word that, “The better weather surely rolled in quickly, all but eliminating our chances of ice fishing on the Fox Chain this weekend. Some local ponds and backwaters, however, are still holding ice through the storm. A spud bar and buddy are two things to bring along with your Garmin fish finder. Waxies or spikes threaded to an Akara tungsten or Northland mayfly jig are producing quality fish.

“The early ice pike bite has turned on as well with quick-strike rigs and large fatheads being our first choice for targeting bigger fish. “

A dead stick rod is producing the bigger perch while jigging produces numbers.

“Heading north may be the best option for those willing to travel. I would suggest passing through Madison toward the Petenwell Flowage and the Portage County area.”


Ice fishing tourney: Musky Tales, a specialty bait and tackle shop on Channel Lake in Antioch has announced that they are hosting a new ice fishing tournament series. You can enter as a single or as part of a two-man team.

The cost is $100, either way.

The fishing will take place on Channel Llake on three Sundays: Jan. 13, Jan. 27 and Feb. 17. There will be a 100 percent payback to 20 percent of the field with side pots available.

You can register and pay your fees at the rules meeting prior to the tournaments at 5:30 p.m. the night before the event. The location for the meeting and tournament kickoff is Musky Tales, which is located at 25855 W. Route 173 in Antioch on Channel Lake.

On Jan. 19, there will be a “Kid’s Camp” beginning at noon. For information, call Kurt at 847-456-9806.

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