Hot Tips For Ice Fishing by James L. Bruner
Icefishing can be defined in many ways but most agree that at times it’s seems more like a game of cat and mouse than anything else. Unlike the shoreline angler or the fisherman chunking lures from a boat, the icefisherman, for all intents and purposes, can be considered somewhat immobile. Sure, you can and should, make yourself as mobile as possible but in comparison to the open water fisherman your options are quite limited in regards to scooting from one place to the next in short order.
With that in mind it can really pay large dividends to take advantage of a few tricks that icefishermen use to increase their percentages through a few tips and techniques. I’ll focus on a few of those here that may help you put a few more fish on ice and throw in a few options to save you a headache or two.
One trick involves the use of tipups when icefishing. As most hardwater fishermen realize a tipup can certainly increase your chances of covering more water. But, when the bite is on and your tipup flags are flying, you want to send that bait back down to the feeding depth of the active fish. This is particularly true when fish like walleyes are suspending and dropping a heavy lure to the bottom and raising it up a foot or so to find that sweet spot just isn’t feasible. To combat this small dilemma to only need a very small bobber. Once you’ve found fish actively feeding you can mark that depth on your tipup line by adding a small bobber right below your tipup spool. The bobber itself obviously isn’t meant to signal the bite, after all, you wont be able to see it. It’s merely a benchmark. Once you’ve landed a fish send your fresh bait back down the hole. Reel the small bobber up until it is once again right below the tipup spool and voila, you’re back in the feeding zone.
Do you fish with minnows? Possibly tipped at the end of a flasher lure? Then you’re probably hauling along a minnow net on your fishing trips. You’ve also probably fallen victim to the dreaded minnow net getting knocked, or dropped, into the icefishing hole and watched it sink out of sight. Now you are stuck reaching a bare hand into the icy cold minnow bucket. Well, you can solve this little scenario with a small length of styrofoam. The basic minnow net is nothing more than a wire with a space between the handles. A piece of styrofoam wedged or taped to the handle will keep your minnow net afloat. No more chasing minnows around by hand in sub-zero weather.
Shallow water fishermen, such as the crappie and bluegill fisherman, deal with a lot of elements. From the fact that you’re practically standing on top of suspended fish at times, to the obvious fact that noise plays a larger factor in this type of ice fishing, it’s easy to spook these tasty little fighters right into a non-feeding mode. That’s a given but very few fishermen take into consideration the fact that they’ve just opened a hole in the ice. Possibly on a sunny day. This is especially true for the fisherman sitting on the ice without a shelter. When you combine the shallow water, with the addition of light penetrating the icefishing hole, it can be an obvious tip to the fish that all is not well in their back yard. Before you move along and look for a different area try kicking some slush or ice chips into the fishing hole. This will help refract the light from above penetrating the water below and can be the missing ingredient to a successful day of fishing.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, mobility isn’t a luxury when icefishing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make yourself as mobile as possible. Drill holes. Lot’s of holes. Especially when fishing deeper water. I would much rather drill holes for 30 minutes when I first hit the ice rather than re-starting the auger all through the day and into the evening. Make all your noise at one time and let the area calm down whenever possible. Follow known contours and structures that might hold fish. In shallower water I tend to start drilling holes from the 7 foot mark and work my way out to 20 feet in intervals. Often this affords you the advantage to fish panfish, like perch, during mid-day and work your way out deeper in the evening for the larger fish like the walleyes. Often you can follow the feeding walleyes in, towards shore, as the light begins to fade. In either even this will keep you mobile and expand your options and well as your percentages.
Try to diversify your offerings to the fish. A basic tipup with a large sucker minnow might be the ticket for bigger fish that are actively feeding but when those same fish are following schools of panfish you might as well take advantage of it. Another rod with a small teardrop tipped with a wiggler or maggot could put a few panfish on the ice. Again, holding the panfish with your smaller rig can in turn attract the larger game fish. Double bonus! Of course if you find a pattern that is working consistently you should jump on that bandwagon and capitalize on the moment. As we all know, the feeding frenzy can turn off completely just as quickly as it began.
Following the crowds or hordes of fishermen is a personal choice. Often I will observe the convergence of activity and look for something similar. Let’s say you have a small city of shanties fishing 8 feet of water and having fair success with the perch. I don’t like to jump right into the mix of noisy fishermen. If you’re familiar with the water then most likely you can replicate the same fish-attracting area nearby. In this fashion you remove a large chunk of the competition and have a more focused school of fish that may be skittish of all the nearby activity. If all else fails you can still skirt the edges of the other fishermen and probably do just as well if not better. Quite often I find that the larger fish will hang on the edges of these large groups of fishermen. You may not catch as many but if they’re bigger you’re probably reaping the same benefits.
Minnow hooking methods are, quite surprisingly, an option many novice ice fishermen seldom consider. In fact the technique used by a lot of new ice fishermen is nothing more than spearing the minnow securely on a hook and sending it down the hole. Although this technique can be effective and at times the perfect solution there’s not a single method that will work in all icefishing scenarios. So, for those who are new to the sport and looking to add some influence to their arsenal, try these few live minnow hooking methods for a more natural presentation.
Think of the minnow in three different section. The front, or mouth of the minnow. The middle, or dorsal area of the minnow. And the end, or the tail fin of the minnow. First a decent sharp hook should be paramount in all live hooking techniques as this will allow a cleaner penetration and a much livelier minnow in then end.
Hooking a live minnow through the mouth is quite simple. Simply bring your hook up through the lower jaw of the mouth making sure to create a secure hooking of the top and lower jaw of the minnow. From here the choice is yours. You can hook your minnow with a plain hook that suspends upwards to the surface of the ice or use a small jig-head and that would suspend out in front of the minnows mouth. This second option will require attention to your rig as the hookset will tend to slide around. In either event this will provide a very lively scenario as the minnow moves about.
The mid section or dorsal fin area of the minnow is my favorite live hooking method. It my own opinion this technique allows the minnow to move about quite freely as it would in a natural situation. often, with larger minnows, you will watch your line, or bobber, move around in the water as the minnow swims around below. If you notice erratic action pay particular attention. This could signal and approaching fish which has spooked the minnow in trying to escape.
To hook your minnow through mid section try pushing the hook through the darker band near the top of the minnows back just in front of the dorsal fin. Too high and you’ll paralyze the minnow by puncturing the spine. Obviously no longer a live bait method. Too low in the minnows body and you will run the hook through the minnows organs which again will render a less than desirable outcome. A minnow hooked correctly in this method can stay lively for hours, but, hopefully you won’t have that problem. Let’s hope you drop it down right in front of a hungry fish.
The last method is hooking through the tail end of the minnow. This area is a more precision type of hook especially when using smaller minnows. Try running the hook through the upper portion of the minnow directly in front of the tail fin. If done properly your minnow should dart forward in an attempt to try and free itself from the hook. This is a very high energy hookset that works extremely well on feeding panfish such as perch.
As with all these scenarios you can create a simple test before sending your bait down to the fish below by simply observing your presentation just below the surface of the water. Drop your bait down about a foot in the water and view it’s reaction in a natural swimming scenario. Give it a small jig or twitch the line to also view this reaction. If all looks well send it down and let the minnow do it’s job.
All in all if you put a few of these tips together you should be able to enjoy a little more action next time you’re out on the ice. Good Luck and remember safety when on the ice at all times.