One of the things I truly enjoy is visiting
new places and fishing lakes, rivers and reservoirs where I have never
previously wetted a line. Fortunately,
over the years, I have had been able to satisfy some of my wanderlust by fishing
in some pretty exotic locations - Australia, Finland, the high arctic and
Mexico come to mind. But buddy Tom
Gruenwald has one-upped me, having just returned from ice fishing half-way around
the world, in the mountains of northern China!
Tom traveled with Paul Grahl, the CEO of HT
Enterprises, a Chinese pro angler,
interpreter and a driver who shuttled them from the Beijing
airport into the rugged, dry mountains bordering Mongolia. Their destination was a mid-size reservoir of
moderate depth featuring relatively clear water and a fine sand bottom.
"After a little exploration, we found the
edge of the main channel," Tom said, "and began drilling holes into
the gritty ice that was dusted lightly with sand driven across the surface by the
strong mountain winds. But the clear,
glacial blue colored layer below it was surprisingly clear."
Tom went on to explain that he and his friends
were fishing with amazingly light equipment.
How light? Are you ready for
this? They were using 1/2-pound test
line! Heck, that is not even fishing line
- it is thread!
"As soon as I lowered down my transducer,"
Tom said, "the sonar screen lit up, revealing suspended fish and some
slightly larger marks just off the bottom.
I was using an HT Polar Lite Micro rod and an Accu-Cast spinning reel
spooled with ½ pound test line. As soon
as I dropped a tiny, #14 Marmooska Gem, tipped with a bloodworm, to the
suspended school I quickly felt a bite.
In fact, I found the action crazy fast, landing 21 fish in the first
Tom said the local anglers called the fish he
was catching, "gong fish" and mentioned that they are minnow-like, measuring
about four inches in length and closely resembling an emerald shiner.
"My twenty-second fish was called a
“whitetail,” he explained, "another elongated, shiner-type fish slightly
bigger than the gong fish and featuring, as the name suggests, a ghostly white
tail,". "Then I resumed
catching gong fish. At this point I
decided to switch to a slightly heavier jig in an effort to reach the bigger marks
positioned just off the bottom. Anytime
I got my bait past the suspended gong fish, I was able to catch smaller fish
resembling dace, along with some bottom dwelling fish that appeared to be a
sort of trout-perch or sculpin, but I had no luck getting the bigger marks to
To find out why, Gruenwald lowered down an
underwater camera and clearly watched the suspended gong fish clustered beneath
the ice and the smaller dace and sculpin-like fish stacked on the bottom. That is when he spotted the bigger,
large-scaled fish rooting in the sand.
He tried jigging larger, #12 HT Darter Jigs packed with bloodworms in
front of the bigger fish, but failed to entice them to bite.
That is when he noticed that the local anglers
were holding their presentations dead still.
As a result, he added a super light, finesse, spring bobber to the end of
his rod and suspended a tiny, #16 HT Tiny Tear lure tipped with a couple of writhing
bloodworms just off the bottom. He tried
holding the bait perfectly still but it was impossible.
"I walked over to our Chinese pro and discovered he was using a light action rod and spinning reel spooled with clear, 2-pound
test monofilament followed by a tiny barrel swivel and light leader about 6-inches
long. His presentation featured a double
hook rig consisting of two super thin, #16 light-wire carbide hooks gobbed with
bloodworms. Just above the swivel was a
“slider” type device with a weight clamped to it. A long, narrow, needle-shaped slip float was
rigged above the slider. The weight was
perfectly balanced to keep the float neutrally buoyant, and he had the bobber
stop set so his bait was lying right on the bottom, while the neutrally buoyant
float was suspended about five inches below the ice.
"This kept the presentation perfectly still,
and undisturbed by either the angler or the wind. Occasionally, he'd lift the rig slightly to
attract attention, otherwise he simply let the presentation sit, completely
still, while he watched the float.
Whenever a fish would scoop the bait off bottom, the float would twitch
or rise ever so slightly, and he’d set the hook into one of these larger
Watching the Chinese pro put the tactic to
good use, Gruenwald tried matching the presentation using the spring bobber and
a plain, baited hook positioned on bottom, but again, to no avail. The wind moved the spring and disrupted his ability
to maintain the necessary, completely motionless presentation.
So, when in Rome
do as the Romans (or Chinese do).
Gruenwald rigged a setup similar to his Chinese friends, laid it right
on the bottom, suspended beneath a neutrally buoyant float and promptly began
hooking cushion fish like he had been doing it all his life.
"But here is the best part,"
Gruenwald said. "Some folks may
wonder, why tell ice fishing stories about China? It is because I know we can apply this Asian
knowledge to our ice fishing applications right here, at home, in North America. Indeed,
I’ve already found the suspended float technique to be effective for catching
light biting, bottom feeding perch, and I'm really looking forward to trying it
for whitefish holding tight to the bottom, feeding on bloodworms and invertebrates.
"To me, that’s the beauty of fishing,"
said Gruenwald, "there’s always something new to learn!"