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Illinois hunting and fishing

Howard “The Duck” Underwood hoists a pair of bluegills caught at Iowa’s Lake Okoboji, Underwood’s favorite hard-water fishing destination.

A central Illinois ice fishing pro

January 04, 2009 at 05:37 AM

Ice fishing tips

Drill. Fish. Move. Drill. Then move again.

That basically sums up Howard “The Duck” Underwood’s ice fishing strategy. “I will move even if I am still catching fish,” he said. “You pop open a hole, you hit the most aggressive fish, which is usually also the biggest fish. Then you move on. It’s like trolling the lake through the ice.”

In addition to moving frequently, Underwood swears by the Vexilar sonar system. “With a Vexilar you can eliminate a lot of water that is useless to fish,” he said.

Underwood fishes with tiny jigs as small as 1/64th of an ounce. And while he prefers Eurolarva maggots (available only via mail order), he also has a tip for making waxworms more colorful. Underwood uses Krazy Dust (sold by, a scented powder that adds color to live bait. The concept is similar to the glowing green nitro worms, only more vibrant.

Illinois hunting and fishing

“Those things really draw the fish out of the weeds,” Underwood said.

Finally, Underwood targets different species at different times. At first light he targets crappie, then moves on to bluegill, then bass, walleye and saugeye. As shadows lengthen he again targets bluegill and closes the day chasing crappie at last light.


Though he’s not quite a Jamaican bobsledder, Howard “The Duck” Underwood said he is an oddity among professional ice fishermen.

“I’m the hillbilly of the circuit,” said Underwood, 38, a Eureka resident who competes on the North American Ice Fishing Circuit.

Underwood’s hillbilly status is born out of the fact that he’s believed to be the most southern participant on a circuit dominated by anglers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states where ice is a winter-long reality.

That’s not true in central Illinois, where ice fishing is a short-lived, mercurial pursuit. Recent weather proves the point emphatically. Safe ice Christmas week turned to slush in a rush thanks to 60-degree temperatures last weekend. While ice conditions improved dramatically last week and many anglers are again drilling holes, Underwood realizes that could change overnight.

Even so, he has thrown himself wholeheartedly into hard-water fishing. “I’ve picked and chosen the jobs that let you ice fish from December to March,” Underwood said. “One of the struggles for a central Illinois professional ice fisherman is that I have to do some serious, serious traveling,”

All those road trips paid off last month when Underwood and partner Tod Todd of DeKalb (pictured below) placed fifth out of 80 teams competing at the NAIFC championship on Boom Lake near Rhinelander, Wisc. The pair had 32 fish in two days that weighed 12.8 pounds and moved frequently, a tactic Underwood said he learned from ice-fishing guru Dave Genz.

Illinois hunting and fishing

“In nine days of fishing at Rhinelander we fished close to 2,000 holes and I bet we drilled 1,000 of those holes,” Underwood said. “I’ve really had struggles finding a partner that was as into this as me, but Tod and I are a good fit.” Todd runs, an informative fishing Web site.

That finish—Underwood’s best in seven years of fishing professional tournaments—helps make up for the miles he logs each winter.

“There’s been days I’ve driven 10 hours to Alexandria, Minn. to fish four hours, then driven straight back home,” said Underwood, who estimates he drives up to 25,000 miles on fishing trips from December through early March. The closest of nine NAIFC tournaments this year is Feb. 22 at Channel Lake on the Fox Chain O’ Lakes in northern Illinois. Visit to learn more.

When the ice allows, Underwood also fishes local public lakes and farm ponds. He lists Lake Storey, Eureka Lake, Banner Marsh, Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake as some of his favorites. In fact, after opening presents with his family on Christmas Day, Underwood drilled holes at Evergreen and caught several saugeye in 28 feet of water.

Underwood’s favorite destination is Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. “You can sight fish 20 feet down and there’s plenty of big, one-pound bluegill up there,” he said. That’s where son Joel, 7, caught his first fish and is also one of the favorite spots for Underwood’s wife, Jaimie, whose job as a nurse allows her husband to chase his chilly dream of professional ice fishing.

“Without her I couldn’t do what I do,” he said.

OK, but why do it in the first place?

“I love weather that’s basically fit for a duck. When it’s cold, windy, wet or nasty I love it,” Underwood said, explaining in part his nickname. “There’s also less people out. I just really love ice fishing.”

That said, he is well aware of the hard-water fishing’s dangers. Underwood has broken through ice seven times and at one tournament near International Falls, Minn. saw a fellow angler go under after finding a soft spot in a lake that was otherwise covered by 28 inches of clear, hard, frozen water.

“So you can never, ever assume the ice is safe,” Underwood said.

You can assume, however, that Underwood will be one of the first anglers testing the ice.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Hey Howard,
If you are happening to read this…. I have a private 135 acre lake in West Central,IL with tons of structure.  It has 10 inch of ice and we have been having a lot of success on it.  If you want to come fish it and teach me a thing or two that would be awesome. I’m guessing its a hour and a half drive from Eureka. We have bluegill, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth, walleye, musky, and catfish. Let me know!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/04 at 09:11 AM


Thanks for the invite. You can email me at howru30@yahoo

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/04 at 09:42 AM

PS: it’s not about what i can teach you as much as it is what you can teach me! i want to learn new ways to pursue fish no matter who teaches me. look forward to hearing from you. i have all next week open.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/04 at 09:46 AM

Congrats on the story Howard!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/04 at 11:24 AM

Every once in awhile I take a pix and it comes out great.

CYU on the ice soon.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/04 at 12:20 PM

Yep he said it in pretty much one sentence If it wasnt for his wife supporting the family he wouldnt be able to do it.  Get a job and fish on ur days off like the rest of us have to do.  Its all about you.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/06 at 09:37 AM

Hey anonymous, get a clue ! Most of the best fishermen are firefighters, construction workers or loafers, like Howard. Practice makes perfect. For everything there is a trade-off. You sit at home watching your 60” flatscreen hdtv and guys who loaf got to look at the old RCA.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/06 at 12:33 PM

Hey Howard, good to see you get some local recognition! Also congrats on the NAIFC finish. See ya on the ice soon.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/06 at 04:16 PM

Hey Duck,
Was a blast fishing the NAIFC Championships and awesome that Tod and yourself placed up the ladder.
Looking forward to iceing a few with you in the near future.
Shoot me a line on days you will passing by on 41 (Only 2 minutes off the Highway) and if we can get it together we can grab some bull gills or eyes.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/07 at 06:27 PM

to the anonymous person on 1-6-09 @9:37…..If you wanna talk smack be man enough to leave your name. I’m PROUD of you little brother. Good Job! ANONYMOUS IF YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME…..912-988-6099 call me!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/11 at 09:47 PM

I’m a little late to the party, but still wanted to say congratulations, Howard the Duck! Nice going on all of this.

Posted by Teeg Stouffer on 01/14 at 07:32 PM

Was a pleasure to fish with you guy’s and look forward to the next chance to compete against you

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/16 at 07:26 AM

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