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Lake John/Cowdrey Lake Ice Fishing Contest 1/9 & 1/10/2010
Tish Wilcox
Ice Fishing Report


The annual Lake John / Cowdrey Lake Ice Fishing Tournament is this weekend, January 9 - 10, 2010. In this report I will try to convey some local ice fishing knowledge, as well as some tips and tricks I've accumulated from fishing previous contests that may help you put some money in your pocket and maybe a trophy on your wall. I say maybe on the wall mount because that will be totally up to the big money winners, not for the reason that the fish won't be worthy. I'll predict this year, the top four fish will all break the 6 lb. mark with the top two over 7. But if everyone stays safe and has a good time, you're all winners.

I have always said that when it comes to fishing contests, "I'd rather be lucky than good". That said, I also believe that you make your own luck. Luck is the factor that makes all contestants equal at the start, but because there are basically two types of contest participants, one will gain a substantial advantage. There are many variations on these types, but basically we have those who just want to have fun and depend almost totally on luck, and those who are serious competitors with a drive to win. This second group will have a decided advantage with pre-game plans and preparation. However don't get me wrong. If you can get lucky without doing any homework and win serious money while still having a great time, who's to bitch. But to fatten your wallet read on.

We are talking serious money when a single fish can net you nearly $1,000, so a little work won't hurt you. Some of the first and most important things to do will be at home. This tournament is based on catching one fish, scored in a total of length plus girth. In other words, the largest single fish wins, and Lake John has been producing giants this season, which makes your equipment key. Trust me, these fish will find the weakest link in your fishing chain. You have heard me say these things before, but they will make the difference. Re-tie old knots. Check your line. If your line is showing wear, replace it with a good fluorocarbon. At the very least remove 20 feet or so of the end and discard. Check rod guides, tips and reel seats and make sure everything is tight and reels with good drags are working properly. You will not land a winning fish on a reel with a poorly set or inefficient drag! Also, check for problems and repair ice huts if needed. Don't forget tie downs. Get fuel ready for augers, stoves, heaters and lanterns. Personal items, warm clothes, food, snacks and drinks that allow you to stay out all day are a must to cut down on interruptions. Staying warm in a comfortable chair allows you to concentrate and fish longer.

Second, you must decide what lake to fish. Make a plan. Cowdrey Lake has been fishing fair with a little faster action than at Lake John. The fish haven't been as big but remember that the largest fish from Cowdrey is worth $150.00. My first hook-up of this season was a 20 incher from this much smaller impoundment. So, if you don't like the bigger crowds and still want to have a good opportunity to win some cash, maybe this is the place for you. Several years ago, Cowdrey Lake produced the winning fish of the contest which padded that fisherman's total winnings greatly. Depending on your own individual plan, you may even want to consider splitting the lakes and fishing a day on each.

There is no doubt that most people will be fishing Lake John. Now that fishermen are driving out, access is pretty much unlimited. There are two mindsets as far as where to fish during a contest: in the most common and popular spots, probably where you have fished and had luck before, or in a quiet and out of the way place, away from traffic and commotion. So far this season, as far as Lake John is concerned, no one place seems to be doing any better than another. The fish are dispersed around the lake and are being caught at all depths including a few in the 18 - 20 foot holes. I am a firm believer in mobility and moving to find the fish when not getting action, however this year I consider it to be secondary to patience. More on this shortly.

The catching has not been fast this season on Lake John, so do not expect a lot of action. In fact, two fish in a day can be a great day, when you consider they are both probably 5 pounds plus. I believe the fishermen using ice huts or electronics this year will have an advantage. There will be no reason to move if you are seeing or detecting fish. Although getting them to bite may be another chore, your interest will be in knowing the fish are there. Those sitting on the ice with no bites may lose their concentration, not knowing that several fish are close enough to smell their offering. Almost all of the hut-toting fishermen are seeing fish, no matter where they are on the lake, which keeps them fishing longer. But of course if the fish just aren't there, then it's time to move. The drawback to watching fish through the ice hole is that you have a tendency to pull the bait away from the fish before they actually have a good hold. If watching a fish take the bait, never set the hook until you feel the fish.

Finding what the fish want to bite on has been tricky, with no signs of a pattern from the fish. Kastmasters, tube jigs, Rat Finkee's, flies, Shrimpo's, Ratso's and Minnow Tubes, as well as a slew of different marabou jigs have all produced, with none showing precedence. So if you are seeing fish but not getting any action, change it up. Go to extremes, because right now if there is any luck involved, it will be in getting the fish to hit your offering instead of someone else's. And for that reason, the key to winning this year's ice fishing contest will be patience, persistence and endurance. He or she who sticks at it longest with rod in hand will win. And a little luck won't hurt either.