Fishing the ice is a bit different than fishing open water. On the ice, one cannot simply start the engine and move when the action slows, or tap the trolling motor a few times to adjust their position. No, setting up shop on the ice requires you to drill, fish, and drill some more if the spot isn’t producing. With that in mind, having success on the ice this winter really boils down to having a plan and sticking with it.
Know the Lake
Having solid knowledge of the lake where you’ll be fishing is a sure-fire start to having a good day. This entails knowing the geography of the lake bottom well, including holes, structure, points, etc. Familiar lakes should be elementary knowledge, but if you’re fishing a new lake, study maps and pay attention to where the good locations are. Mark them on a GPS if you can before heading out. I’m certain that such locations won’t be the only ones to hold fish, but finding and fishing them first can save you from having to drill more holes than necessary.
Stick to Your Spots
Once you decide on a few ideal locations, work them hard. Sharp drops usually signal feeding areas that fish will swim through consistently. Once these fish hit this drop-off point, they move along it in search of food. Keep your bait in this area and it will undoubtedly be one of the first things the fish bite when they arrive.
Prepare to Drill
Sometimes it takes lots of holes and a good sonar to find fish. Use an auger to cut at least 15 or so holes over a good area once you’ve found one. Search the bottom with your sonar and look for the sharp drops, as well as fish, then use these readings to find out where you are on the map. Mark each depth in the snow or ice next to the hole so that if you go back you’ll know what’s under you without having to check again. It’s funny how drilling a new hole a few feet away from an already drilled one can make a big difference, so make sure your auger blades are sharp.
Bring the Buffet
I suggest offering a variety of bait when hitting the ice. Take a bucket of minnows, some wax worms, and maybe some maggots. Bring a variety of artificial lures, as well. Start by dropping a minnow down to the fish. After working some jigging on these fish without a bite, odds are the bait is probably too small and they want one they can easily fit in their mouth. At this point try a Jig-A-Bit ice fly and a couple of waxies. Put the bait right above the fish and twitch it. Cycle through your baits if you need to, but if aren’t getting bites, then the fish aren’t in the mood and it’s time to move to the next spot on your map.
It can be easy to get frustrated on the ice, especially with the added discomfort of the frigid temperatures. However, having a plan and ardently sticking with it will keep you focused, disciplined, the rewards for which can be a full cooler. Stay warm, haven fun, and good luck this season!