By Mike Frisch
Ice fishing season will soon be here, meaning thousands of eager anglers across the northern states will soon be venturing out searching for their favorite fish species. Regardless the species sought, the following tips can probably help anglers in their winter fishing this year.
Stay mobile Maybe the biggest difference between open-water fishing and ice angling is that open-water allows anglers to move easily from spot to spot searching for fish. While moving is not as easy for ice anglers, those who do adapt a mobile approach are often the most successful anglers.
The recent innovations in ice angling equipment do make a mobile approach more efficient for those who choose to search for the hottest bites. For example, today’s ice augers cut holes quickly, are reliable starters, and are relatively lightweight meaning that drilling lots of holes when searching is easier.
In addition to augers, the portable fishing shelters now available to ice anglers also make a mobile approach more practical. For example, the Otter XT Hideout shelter I use is very light for easy towing across the ice, sets up instantly, and keeps me warm and comfortable even on the coldest winter days. Plus, it doubles as a sled for hauling my gear when moving from spot to spot.
See below Staying mobile searching for fish is important. Another part of efficient searching is having the ability to quickly determine if fish are in an area and, if some are present, how they are responding to our baits. For that reason, sonar use is very important as winter sonar units allow anglers to “see” bottom, their bait, and any fish around it.
The ability to “see below” allows an angler a huge advantage because now, not only does he or she know if fish are around, but adjustments in baits and the actions given to those baits can also be made based on fish reactions.
Vexilar set the standard in winter sonar use years ago when they brought the FL-8 flasher to the ice angling scene. Today, there are a variety of models available with various features, though the FL-8SE is still one of the best all-around winter sonar units available. Plus, it comes at a price point that makes it attractive to most anglers.
Be aggressive One of the best ways to quickly put a bunch of fish on the ice, at least in this angler’s opinion, is to find an unpressured school of fish and then use an aggressive fishing approach to trigger them to bite.
Jigging spoons are great for this fishing style. My all-time favorite spoon for a variety of fish species has been the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon. I tip the spoon with a minnow head or several waxworms and work it in quick, erratic movements to activate the bait’s rattles in an effort to “call in” fish. When fish appear on the sonar, I often pause or slow my cadence to allow them to eat the bait, though aggressive fish will often hit the bait as it moves as well.
The 1/16-ounce spoon is my favorite when panfish like crappies or perch are the target, and I often up-size to the 1/8-ounce, or even bigger, sizes when larger predators like walleyes are targeted. The spoons are also now available in highly visible, UV enhanced color patterns for better visibility as well.
Ice fishing is just around the corner. Regardless the fish species you choose to chase, following the above suggestions can probably help you catch more of those fish this winter. As always, good luck on the ice, and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide and co-host of the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com or follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more “fishy” stuff.