By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

Outside of maybe a few who hail from the upper Midwest and Northeast, it’s a safe bet that very few FLW Tour competitors own an ice fishing rod, let alone have the guts to utilize one in a bass tournament with $100,000 and a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup on the line.

Josh Douglas is a native of Minnesota, so it’s assumed he’s no stranger to ice fishing. To the contrary, he says, despite living in a state where the lakes glaze over in October and stay that way until late April most years.

“I’ve actually only ice-fished twice before,” Douglas said.

So, what in the world was he doing wielding a 40-inch ice fishing rod while fishing for smallmouth bass at the recent Lake Champlain FLW Tour? It was part of a one-two combo that involved using a flogger to locate beds smallmouth were using. Rather than stand up and deploy a bait tied to a conventional spinning rod and risk drifting off the spot, Douglas stayed on his knees on the front deck, and was able to quickly grab the shorter rod to present his bait quickly and more accurately. Oftentimes, he had one hand on the flogger and the rod in the other.

Here’s a look at Douglas’ new technique in action:

The system worked flawlessly as he collected a 51st-place finish and shored up his first career berth in next month’s Forrest Wood Cup, erasing all the lingering pain from missing last year’s Cup due to a licensing mistake. Of the 10 fish he weighed at Champlain, nine were caught using the ice rod.

“It’s exciting. It was something different,” Douglas said. “It was definitely efficient. The best thing about it was I could hit them hard and let the reel do the rest.”

Tested At Home

When he has long stretches of time at home, Douglas guides at Mille Lacs Lake, a bucket-list smallmouth fishery. To spot beds for his clients, he’ll utilize the flogger, a cone-shaped device that when dipped into the water allows anglers to decipher bottom composition and cover. When he locates a bed that he suspects might be holding a fish, he’ll advise them how to present their bait. It works fine with a couple people on board, but when it’s just Douglas in the boat and the wind and waves are working against him, precise bait presentation can be a challenge.

“It can get frustrating,” he said. “Using the flogger and a 7-foot rod can be cumbersome and a pain in the butt. I joked that I was going to try an ice rod.”

Who’s laughing now? As a member of the Shimano pro staff, Douglas has access to an extensive suite of rods, and earlier this spring he obtained two 40-inch medium-heavy Shimano Sedona ice rods to test out in concert with his flogger.

He did some trial and error with the rods and flogger at Mille Lacs before deciding to haul them to Champlain for the season finale.

“I tried a dropshot on it, but didn’t like it,” he said.

Eventually, he determined a Ned rig was the best option as he could better control where he dropped his bait while keeping an eye on the fish. He paired the ice rod with a size 4000 Shimano Exsence spinning reel, which created an odd-looking combo.

Photo: FLW

Douglas (left) and Joel Willert both clinched Cup berths at Champlain by using Ned rigs on ice fishing rods.

“It literally looked like I knew nothing about ice fishing, but it worked pretty good,” Douglas joked. “The Mille Lacs smallmouth are bigger than the ones at Champlain by a considerable amount and I figured if I can land them there with it, I can get it done (at Champlain).”

He had an 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader tied to 8-pound PowerPro Super8Slick V2 braided line. He used the 3/16-oz. Outkast Tackle Perfect Ned Head that he helped design and threaded on a Z-Man Finesse TRD (white lightning).

FLW Tour rules do not stipulate a minimum length for rods used in competition – Douglas even checked with tournament director Bill Taylor – and said the shorter rod was helpful only because he was using a flogger.

“I have not heard of anybody doing it before,” Douglas said. “If you took all the smallies I’ve caught this year, probably 10 percent have been with an ice rod.”

He only revealed the technique to fellow Minnesotan and FLW Tour rookie Joel Willert, who also used the method to finish 20th at Champlain and secure a Cup berth.

“I kept it pretty quiet and didn’t let many people see it,” Douglas said. “I gave Joel the other rod and he teased me for a bit, but then I saw him rigging it up for the tournament.”

Played It Safe

Douglas arrived at Champlain in 19th place in Angler of the Year points. He knew his first Cup berth was within reach and that dictated his strategy for the first two days.

“Knowing where I was in points, I was intent to stay within five miles of the ramp and mark as many beds as I could,” he said.

While some braved the long runs south to Ticonderoga, Douglas was content to target spawning smallies. He averaged 16 pounds a day and collected his fifth money finish of the season.

“In practice, I’d still use my eyes to see where the beds were,” he said. “I still had to see something to put the flogger over it.”

He wound up locating roughly 70 beds, which gave him plenty of options. Many of the beds were in 6 to 11 feet of water.

“I think one reason why it played so well was it was my first time being there at that time of year and the water was four feet high,” he said. “A lot of guys have been there before, but not with water that high.”

Bouncing Back

Not only did the ice rod technique help Douglas punch his ticket to Lake Hamilton for the Cup, it brought a measure of closure to the unfortunate situation that derailed his Cup hopes at the 2018 season finale at Lake St. Clair.

At St. Clair, Douglas’ day-1 weight was wiped out after it was discovered he didn’t have the proper Ontario fishing license. As a result, he fell out of Cup contention and went into the offseason wondering what could’ve been. To rebound with a strong season during which he shrugged off two triple-digit finishes and qualified for his first Cup brings Douglas an immense amount of satisfaction.

“It was awesome,” he said. “What happened last year … the biggest thing was I going to use it as motivation. I was going to come out madder and have a chip on my shoulder. That day I got DQ’d was the biggest day for me. I was pissed off but thankful it happened when it happened.”

He started the year with a 114th-place showing at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, where high water had him spun out and fishing for spotted bass. From there, he put together four straight top-40s, including a fifth-place effort at Lake Toho. A 130th at Lake Chickamauga was a tough pill for him to swallow with the experience he has at the lake, but he managed to shrug it off and accomplish his goal at Champlain.

“This year was the first time where I was really looking to win a tournament instead of trying to prove myself to my peers or other people,” he said. “I’m to the point where I can win some money now and it feels awesome to go out and do my job and finish stronger than last year.”