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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Impatience Pays: Hole Hoppers Put More Crappies on Ice

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Someday I’ll prove that a patient man who plants himself atop an ice hole and persists will outfish those who forever hop one hole to the next.


Maybe, but that someday wasn’t March 5 when I rendezvoused with Dom Flock, and his friends Renee Flatland and Jason Mountin, to chase crappies up the road from my home in Eau Claire. In fact, after watching those three thoroughly work the depths with their jigging rods and fish-finding electronics, I’m confident they’d outfish this patient man even if I chased them ’round the lake like a starving seagull.


Also joining us that afternoon were Flock’s girlfriend, Brittany Hanson; his daughter, Braelyn, 8; and Flatland’s daughter, Remedy, 8. The kids mostly played by themselves while the adults fished, but occasionally they swung by with updates on their thirst, hunger, discomfort, boredom and general disinterest in catching crappies through the ice.


Flock, on the other hand, has been fascinated by fishing since his dad took him and his brother to a pond most Sundays after their chores on the family’s organic farm in Monroe County.


“Fishing and hunting are what I do,” said Flock, 28, an Eau Claire concrete worker who “lays himself off” on Nov. 1 each fall to bowhunt deer. He bowhunts until cold weather freezes 2 inches of ice over western Wisconsin’s ponds, lakes and river backwaters. He then stays laid off until spring triggers the construction season, steady work and long workdays.


Fishing and hunting also help define Flock’s friends, in person and on Instagram. Flock, @df_outdoors on Instagram, met Flatland (@renflatland) during his constant shopping and bait-buying trips to Scheels in Eau Claire, where Flatland works.


“Dom’s in there all the time, spending a lot of money,” Flatland said with a laugh.


Flock fishes daily from Spooner to Fountain City, and figures he hits over 100 lakes, ponds and impoundments each winter. Day and night, on the water or off, he exchanges tips with Flatland, Mountin, and mutual friends and fishing fanatics like Braeden Neyens (@bnfishing) and Joe Swanson, a custom-rod builder (@goldstandardoutdoors) in Eau Claire.


Their deep interest in the outdoors intrigues older folks who forever fret about the future of hunting and fishing. When talking with these millennials and Gen-Zers about bowhunting, deer hunting, turkey hunting and shed-antler hunting, you’d never suspect their generations’ participation rates fall short of their grandparents’ habits. They hunt and fish as intensely as their older mentors, and respect the skills their grandparents and baby-boomer elders taught them.


Flatland, a Sand Creek resident, recalls Grandpa Rodney taking her icefishing as a kid, dropping a line down the hole, and “always” bringing fish back up. Still, Flatland focused more on sports as a kid, and didn’t get into hunting and fishing until the past decade or so. These days, she most enjoys fishing creeks for brook trout, but still makes time for running and gym workouts. And although she enjoys trout fishing’s solitude, she prefers icefishing with friends, given all the gear, heavier clothing, and benefits of teamwork.


During our crappie outing, Flatland showed her team spirit by pausing between holes to ask what I was seeing on my fish-finder’s screen. When I said things had slowed, she encouraged me to move.


“If you’re comfortable with it, just follow Dom around,” she said. “He stays after them with that LiveScope. That’s a huge help. It’s not as random as hole-hopping. He can often see where they are and figure out which way they’re heading.”


Ah yes, the Garmin LiveScope System, which is basically the opposite of a submarine periscope. Instead of scanning the surface from below, the LiveScope uses sonar to scan the depths from above. Flock positions the sonar-scanner’s transducer beneath the ice and rotates it in a slow circle, scanning outward up to 200 feet to look for schools of crappies.


Still, finding crappies and catching crappies are different tasks. Crappies, like all fish, behave differently by the day, lake, season, weather, water clarity and time of day.


“If they’re not biting, I work through everything in my tackle box to find something they like,” Flock said. “I start with the smallest lure, try different colors, and go from there. If they’re biting and hitting aggressively, I’ll go up in size. The bigger and heavier you go, the faster you can get the bait back down to them. But if they’re finicky, I go small all day. Too many people love those big tungsten jigs just because they’re easier to use. It’s a pain fishing those light, little jigs, but it’s often the only thing they’ll hit, especially in the middle of winter.”


How about plastics and other artificial baits? “I’m not real big on them, but they’ll catch some bigger fish,” Flock said. “When I use them, I still tip them with a waxworm. I’ve had perch on the Mississippi River go nuts on red plastics, but then I try it on lakes near Eau Claire and they don’t touch it.”


And what about fishing apps for smartphones, which predict the weather and feeding activity, offer tips on possible hotspots, record logbook entries, and find hidden trends gleaned from your logbook data and other entries?


“You can throw those out the window,” Flock said. “I pay attention to wind, sunlight, cloud cover and barometer; and I’ll follow the major and minor feeding times on solunar tables. But that mostly just helps me figure out where to go fishing, and whether to bring my one-man shelter or pop-up tent. I already know I’m going fishing. I go every day all winter unless I’m snowplowing. And once March comes, my ideal day is icefishing in the morning and hitting a river for open-water fishing in the afternoon.”


Given Flock’s love and knowledge about fishing, does he foresee a guiding business?


“I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never liked giving away my spots,” he said. “On the other hand, I like fishing with people, and most fishermen are happy if they catch a couple of fish. So maybe I’ll think about it at some point.”

Dom Flock, left, and Renee Flatland pose with their daughters Braelyn and Remedy after a successful afternoon trip for crappies. — Patrick Durkin photos

Dom Flock of Eau Claire fishes nearly every day once 2 inches of ice cover western Wisconsin’s waters.

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