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OUTDOORS: After last year’s bust, ice fishing inches ahead

You might say some us were rusty-drilling our first holes for ice fishing last few days. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times

You might say some of us were rusty-drilling our first holes for ice fishing in the last few days. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: February 3, 2013 6:24AM

A sharp reminder came Monday morning when I drilled my first hole in the ice of our town pond. Not only were the blades rusty, but dull. So dull that I worked up a sweat drilling through 2 1/2 inches of ice.

Ice fishing looks to be setting up good for weeks to come.

That’s quite a change from last winter, when it was a bust. It was the first time I had my auger out in two years.

Time for reminders.

Let’s begin with Fran Connelly, the Des Plaines man who sharpens blades for ice augers. He can be reached at Ice Auger Sharpening on Facebook or by calling (847) 297-8297.

‘‘Now that we’ve got 3 inches-plus of ice, I expect more to come in,’’ he messaged Tuesday. ‘‘This year started out like last year — no early ice.’’

It is here.

‘‘Every day is just going to keep improving,’’ said Greg Dickson, proprietor of Triangle Sports and Marine in Antioch, bait shop for the Chain O’Lakes. ‘‘It seems like we are in a good pattern. I will not complain one ounce. Compared to last year, everything is a bonus now.’’

The Chain and the backwaters of the northern Fox River are the top ice-fishing spots in northeast Illinois. The question is access for early ice, though the forecast indicates ice should be universally safe by the weekend, making access easier and giving more options.

The T-Channel is the best first-ice spot. Guys already were parking at Famous Freddie’s and getting out last week. Park and go in to eat, or leave before the lunch crowd arrives.

The other top early spot is Nielsen’s Channel off the Fox River at Port Barrington. Access is at Hermann’s Lowlife Bar & Grill ($5). Over the weekend, the first brave ones ventured out and caught good panfish.

On Tuesday, just after landing a big bluegill on Nielsen’s, Arden Katz called to say there is a very strong 2 1/2-3 inches of ice with decent panfish, even with the cold front.

For Spring Lake, which had a few people out already, Granny’s Lakeside has parking for $5 but takes the $5 off your order. Most eating places with parking access offer similar deals.

That’s what Chopper’s Bar does on the Channel Lake. The Thirsty Turtle is another access on Channel.

For Petite, Dickson said there is now a drop-box behind the old Kempf’s resort. Access Pistakee Lake from Oak Park Lounge ($4 per car, $8 with trailers). For Ackerman’s Channel, Dickson said the best access is from Captain’s Quarters.

Marie is always the trickiest lake for ice fishing on the Chain. Tuesday morning, staff at Barnacle Bob’s said there were several inches of shoreline ice but still some open water; however, they expect good conditions by the weekend. Other access points on Marie are at McKinney’s East Marina ($5) or the Sand Bar & Grill (park in back and patronize the place).

As I typed Tuesday, Mike Starcevich texted from Pistakee, ‘‘Rippin’ up big bluegills in 7 feet and guys in 9 feet catching big crappies.’’

Ice fishing is here.

Hunting notes

Tuesday is the final day for hunting rabbit, pheasant, quail and partridge in Illinois’ north zone. The utter lack of snow in most areas has been a major factor.

Wild things

With ice setting up, sightings of bald eagles are coming on virtually all our rivers. What a change in just the last decade. . . . Remember to mulch your Christmas tree, use it as cover for birds or sink it for a fish crib.

Stray cast

The Bears’ season ended like a guy walking early ice toward the middle of Lake Marie.

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