5 Important Ice Fishing Tips All-Season Anglers Need to Know
While the majority of anglers fish during the spring, summer, and fall months, fishing is a year-round outdoor recreation activity influenced by weather as well as the sun, moon, and tides. Fish often feed more around sunrise, sunset, and during a full moon when tides are higher than normal. For avid anglers, there’s not much better than rising with the sun and spending the day lakeside or in a boat trying to catch largemouth bass, trout, or other fish species.
However, there’s no reason to put the fishing rod and tackle away during the winter. While you’ll need some different equipment (ice augers, underwater cameras, heavier clothing, and possibly portable shelter), fishing during winter months is a unique and rewarding experience.
Ice fishing is particularly popular in Canada and Alaska, but anglers can also find suitable spots in northern states like North Dakota, Minnesota, Vermont, and Colorado. Whether you are ice fishing for the first time or you’re an experienced all-season angler, here are five tips to bring in a bigger catch and make the experience more enjoyable.
1. Start Early and Be Prepared
Although it’s in entirely different conditions, the same general rules for regular season fishing apply to ice fishing. Fish are more likely to bite early in the morning or late at night when the sun rises and sets, so either plan for an early morning or a late afternoon start.
You can also gain an advantage by beginning the ice fishing season as early as possible. Take notice of the first ice of the season and, when it’s safe, find a prime spot and set up shop. Fish are more eager to bite early in the season as they haven’t been targeted by anglers for several months and may be hungrier than usual.
Of course, it’s also essential to be adequately prepared. This is no different than regular season fishing, when you might carry a variety of rods set up differently to change presentations when required. Before you go out on the ice, think about the size of the fish you’re after, how active the species is, and how deep you plan on dropping your line in the water. Bring about five or six rods with different lengths and actions to avoid having to tie on lures in cold temperatures.
2. Twist the Line
Once the early ice fishing season success wears off and fish start to become more hesitant to bite, you can try a variety of different practices to entice them. One of the most effective ways is to hold and twist the line between your fingers as opposed to the typical up-and-down jigging motion. This technique makes the jig spin and is especially effective in shallow water. Alternatively, you can also try circling the jig around the inner edges of the hole.
3. Use a Sonar and Other Technology
Sonar fish finder cameras make finding fish much easier and are useful for beginners. Even professionals like Canadian ice fishing champion Wil Wegman use sonar to locate fish. “Instead of investing in tons of lures, tackle, and ice fishing rods, get a sonar,” Wegman suggests. “This tool helps you locate fish. It also helps me know my depth and get a glimpse of what’s below to find the fish. A sonar won’t catch the fish for you, but it will make you more confident.”
While some sonars can cost more than $1,000, you can purchase reasonably priced models for less than $400. Wegman recommends the StrikeMaster rechargeable lithium battery 20- or 40-volt model to drill holes. Wegman is also a proponent of using a drill or battery-powered ice auger instead of a manual ice auger to save time and energy.
4. Look Down the Hole
Ice fishing is more than just drilling a hole and leaving the line in the water in hopes of catching fish. You should be moving and drilling additional holes as you see fit to be in the best position to catch whatever species of fish it is you’re pursuing. You should also be sure to actually look down the hole when fishing.
Try staring directly into the water and watch as the fish go toward the bait. This will help you learn how fish respond to certain baits and jigging techniques and even increase your chances of catching perch, suspended crappie, and bluegill. Larger bluegill, in particular, have a tendency to stop in front of a bait for a couple of seconds before attempting a bite and quickly spitting it out. This usually happens too quickly for anglers to respond, but you can make sure you react in time if you’re looking down the hole.
5. Stay Informed
There are always new techniques and technologies being introduced in ice fishing, so it’s fun to stay informed as to what works best. Read magazine articles or watch YouTube videos by more experienced anglers to stay on top of current innovations. You can also keep a logbook and make notes of each fishing trip so you know what works best for you, where you fish.