Ice Fishing Tips
The frozen lake and cold of winter means that it’s ice fishing season, and it’s time to hit the (frozen) open water and catch some great game fish or lake trout. But with changing weather conditions and ice thickness, ice fishing season isn’t always perfect. When your favorite ice hole seals up due to subzero temperatures, you need to adjust. These ice fishing tips will help you mobilize and be able to catch fish all winter long.
First and foremost, you want to consider yourself mobile. Many ice fishermen set up camp in one spot and spend hours there. It’s understandable. You might be dealing with a shanty or just don’t want to move all of your gear on ice. Unfortunately, this is going to reduce your odds of success. You need to balance the hassle of being mobile with catching more fish and decide which side you prefer to err on.
Start by thinking about the depth you’re fishing in. It’s similar to what you’d do if you were fishing from a boat. Obviously, you’d keep moving while on a boat and use your depth finder to find where the fish are hanging out. You can do the same when ice fishing. Your sonar signal on your depth finder will go through clear ice and you won’t even need to drill a hole. Cloudier ice does require drilling, which we find is usually necessary, but it’s great to luck out and be able to shoot it without a second thought when you find clear ice. This is also easier when you have someone with you, but this isn’t necessary.
It might also be a good idea to drill a few holes spread out across about 100 yards of space. If you don’t find anything within that area, you move to the next area and try again. You’re looking for active fish that are gathered in a smaller area, so this is a great tip for helping you take advantage of these general areas.
Look for a Sticky Bottom Layer
Sticky bottoms are a gift from nature. Early on in the season you’ll have more luck with shallower, weedy spots, but once you get into the dead of the season, you’ll find more fish in deeper waters. When you’re looking for a good spot, you’ll want to find an area with a bottom that’s not too soft and not too hard. There, fish find insects and other fish, so they are drawn to these areas. In most cases, this is about 15 to 30 feet in a lake.
The good news is there aren’t a lot of people who take this sticky bottom approach. Most stick to the shallower depths. So don’t expect to be surrounded by other people fishing if you get mobile and head to one of these lesser-fished areas. Look for depressions near large bays, which are considered hotspots that most anglers overlook. Drill in the mid-depth flat area and let your lure drop all the way to the bottom. If it clings a bit, you’ve found your sticky bottom. You can also shoot an underwater camera down there to check things out, but that’s not quite as much risk and fun as going without a camera.
Depressions are an indication that you’ve found a hotspot and that it’s been overlooked by most of your fellow anglers. They’re holes of about one to four feet deep. They might be about 10 feet in length or up to 100 yards. You’ll find that elusive sticky bottom in many of these areas, which means fish are enjoying their winters in the area with warm water, plenty of food, and protection from most fishing efforts. Even moderate depressions are a good sign you’ve found a honey hole and you can usually find them on contour maps.
If you don’t have maps to check out, you can set out on your own to look for the depressions. Just use caution and make sure the general area in which you’re working is safe for traveling. You can even set up camp around a depression if it isn’t too severe.
Look for Rapid Vibrations
Using your wrist to produce a rapid vibration once you’ve sunk your lure tends to draw fish from far under the ice. Some expert anglers call this pounding. You want to move your wrist about 1/8” fast but subtle and lower your rod a few feet slowly and smoothly into the water. This gives your lure the look of bucking around and tends to make it hang horizontally and look appealing to fish. This method tends to work best on bass, perch, walleye, bluegills, and crappies. If you’re fishing in clear water, start the motion before even lowering your bait into the water. You’ll likely get into a rhythm and really enjoy what you’re doing.
Go Light on the Gear So You Can Stay Mobile
Perhaps the best advice when it comes to ice fishing tips is to make it as easy as possible for you to keep moving. This means some advanced planning and might even mean you leave some of your gear behind. Some anglers set up camp and work their way out from there. This way they’re always relatively close to their shanty or tent, but they’re still staying mobile. As you move, you want only the essentials with you. One rod, a small tackle box, comfortable shoes. You can pull a lightweight sled with you stocked with any other items you need, but this isn’t necessary.
The key to fishing success is to not just hunker down in one spot and expect things to work out perfectly every time. Sometimes they do. If you’re able to find a sticky bottom spot and you can set up camp there, chances are you won’t need to do a lot of moving. But this rarely happens. Usually after a couple of hours, you need to move on to somewhere else. This also prevents the area from being overfished. As they say, go where people are not and you’ll find the fish. You aren’t the only one trying to stay ahead of the efforts to be caught.
Source of featured image: canva.com