Many people become stir crazy, staying indoors during the winter. Ice-fishing at Big Spirit Lake provides an awesome opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors when the temperatures plummet. The largest natural lake in Iowa is Big Spirit Lake. The lake boasts almost 5,700 surface acres with about 15 miles of shoreline. The lake is located in Dickinson County in Northwest Iowa, one mile north of the City of Spirit Lake. Near the border of Minnesota, the lake is convenient to Okoboji and Milford.
Originally, Big Spirit Lake was called "Minnewaukon" by the Dakotah tribe. However, the Kootenay tribe referred to the lake as "Clear Water", until the name was changed to Big Spirit Lake, due to a legend. According to Kootenay legend, the chieftain of the tribe had a beautiful daughter named Hya Pam. The chief of a nearby hostile tribe promised not to attack the Kootenay, if Hya Pam would marry him.
Hya Pam was in love with a Kootenay brave. To the dismay of the Kootenay princess and brave, her father, the tribe chieftain gave his permission to avoid an attack. In order to never be separated, Hya Pam and her Kootenay brave jumped into the lake from Suicide Cliff. Legend tells that shadowy silhouettes of the lovers can be seen drifting across the lake in a canoe when the moon is bright. Some people believe the sound of grinding ice is actually the haunting cries of the two lovers.
Many varieties of fish abound in the lake’s 17 foot depth. The lake is a habitat for over 40 species of fish, including large- and smallmouth bass, blue gill, crappie, muskies, panfish, pike, yellow perch and walleyes. Fisherman often prefer the bays and coves when the freezing wind whitecaps the main body. There are a number of structures near the shoreline that provide some escape from the freezing wind. Walleye and yellow perch are most often caught through the ice.
In early spring, along the shoreline, bullhead is the most common catch. The Footbridge and The Grade are a favorite of anglers, located on the north end of the lake, before temperatures drop so low or in the early spring after the ice begins to melt. In the northeast corner of the lake, Buffalo Run, Templar Cove, and Willow Row provide excellent fishing opportunities during this same time period.
Big Spirit Lake is currently the hotspot for winter fishing in Iowa. Record numbers of walleyes and yellow perch are caught by ice anglers at Big Spirit Lake each winter. According to Mike Hawkins, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the lake is hitting a boom with multi-species fishing. He believes the smallmouth bass, northern pike, older perch ,and walleyes are feeding on the young yellow perch born each spring at the lake.
Ice-fishing is different than other types of fishing. Anglers unaccustomed to ice-fishing may find the following tips helpful. Cover the hole with ice shavings to block out light penetration. Try bouncing the bait off the bottom of the lake, where jumbo perch often feed. Chumming by dropping chopped up minnows down the hole often incites a feeding frenzy.
Neon jigs often work best with the murky water. When fish stop biting vertical jigs, experiment with a jig that hangs horizontally or try another hole. Another tip is to try holding the line between your thumb and index finger and twist the line. The line will remain at the same depth, but cause the jig to spin, which may catch the attention of the fish. The most important tip is to dress appropriately for the weather and remember to follow safety precautions.
Picture courtesy of Pike3 by Len Hardy at Flickr’s Creative Commons.