(Oct 31, 2015 - Woodbury, MN)
As we look forward to ice fishing, the image of sluggish, finicky fish in crystal-clear water comes to mind. But that’s not always true. There are also times when fish are faced with dirty, dingy water or low-light conditions below the hard surface of a frozen lake. This is similar to differing conditions during open-water season. The fish’s’ challenge is to find food no matter what. Our challenge turns toward finding ways to make them bite. New ice-fishing tools can help.
Sometimes all it takes is to sound the dinner bell. Ice anglers can do just that by utilizing sound within their lures. There are many lures available today which feature super loud brass rattle chambers in order to draw fish to the bait.
There are situations (especially in dirty or stained water and in low light), where erratic, noisy baits are best. Despite evidence to the contrary, some anglers cling to the notion that sound scares fish away. But, if walleyes and other fish were spooked by sound, they wouldn’t snap at lures trolled in the prop wash of boats during open-water season, which they often do. When sight-feeding is impossible, sound and vibration help them find food with their lateral lines. Fish are curious. They "hear" the rattle as the angler shakes it, and they swim closer to investigate. An aggressive, noisy presentation will often only help to trigger them to strike.
Start ice fishing in the same manner you would approach your favorite lake during open water. Check in with bait shops and use a lake map to search out potential spots. For walleyes, check shallow places that feature hard bottoms early in the season. Look for rocky areas near shore with the fastest break to the deepest water in that section of the lake. Later in the winter, move to deeper structure like mid-lake humps, similar to where they can be found in summer patterns. As ice-out nears, check spots near spawning areas. No fish? Don’t stick around. The more you move, the more likely you will locate active schools.
For panfish like bluegills, check out basins that still host green weeds early in winter. Jig aggressively for walleyes to prompt reaction strikes. Try quivering your jig for panfish. This makes the jig to appear as though it were swimming. Again, sometimes the fish want it dead still, so a bobber is key. Go through a vast array of different actions to figure out what the fish want that day.
St. Croix has recently come out with some new ice fishing rods that we cannot believe! The Avid Glass series are super limber, but super sensitive rods that are light, yet have strong backbones in order to get the fish in and out of your ice fishing hole. Quivering your jig is really easy with these glass rods and makes the lure come alive! The tips of these glass rods are also ultra-limber, thus acting as a built in spring bobber.
Always use your flasher or other sonar to look for specific targets. Cut your search time even more by using a combination sonar/GPS mapping unit, such as Humminbird’s new Ice Helix 5. Use LakeMaster mapping chips as you walk or snowmobile your way to the tip of a point or hump, then start drilling. This will cut your drilling time in half! The Ice Helix features a 5-inch diagonal, 480V x 800H HD display with 1500 nit brightness for eye-popping, crystal-clear images. This new screen gives you easy viewing, even in harsh sunlight so common to the bright winter environment.
Underwater cameras can also help you identify specific species of fish. Instead of fishing marks that are suckers, you can move to areas that have the walleyes that you are looking for. The challenge is that underwater cameras work only when you have a relatively high degree of clear water. They do not work as well in dirty or dingy water.
Fish in cold, clear water are often neutral or negative. Fish in those moods must be coaxed into biting. The best tactic is to slowly dangle a wax worm or maggot in front of their eyes and jig it gently. A fish may watch such a bait for several long minutes before deciding to inhale it. They may shy away if a jig is presented too aggressively.
When the bite is like that, a bobber rig, that lets the bait just dangle there, can be the perfect presentation tool. Making the bobber ultra-sensitive is often the ticket to coming home with the makings of a fresh fish dinner.
My favorite tool for these situations is the Venom adjustable float. By simply moving the foam up or down, you can easily fine-tune the sensitivity of the float to match the weight of your bait. You can see more about how this works at venomfloats.com.
Ice fishing can be an enjoyable way to spend the winter. Try utilizing the “tools of the trade” in order to increase your success!