Category Archives: Ice Fishing

Fishing when the water is hard on top

Ice Fishing Safety Tips

The Coolest Sport Around

Michigan DNR Offers Ice Fishing Safety Tips, How-To Info
from The Fishing Wire

For many people, fishing is the most relaxing way to spend the day. And in the winter months the most popular angling activity is ice fishing. To those who have never tried it, ice fishing is sometimes looked upon as an oddity, but for others, ice fishing is the best kind of fishing.

Although it doesn’t appeal to all, many anglers actually prefer fishing through the ice to open-water fishing. For one thing, anglers can get just about anywhere on the lake during ice fishing season, something they can’t do without a boat during the open water season. Virtually every fish that’s available to anglers in the summer can be caught through the ice – some are even caught more frequently in the winter.

Once you’ve spent a little time on the ice, you’ll soon see a different picture. Ice fishing is more than just a way to fill the long days of winter. It’s a chance to breathe the cold, clean winter air, to spend quiet time outdoors with family and friends, and to relax and collect one’s thoughts away from the hustle and bustle of a busy world.

Just walking on the ice can be a unique experience, especially when no snow obscures the view of the water below. However, as with any outdoor activity, safety should be your top concern. When it comes to ice safety, you should steer clear of dark spots or places where the snow looks discolored.

Some other good rules to follow include: 1. Never fish alone, 2. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, 3. Always test the ice with a spud (described later), 4. Take the appropriate emergency items, such as a lifejacket and ice picks, and 5. Take a cell phone with you in case you need to call for help. Dress in your warmest winter clothes; fill a thermos with hot coffee, chocolate or tea; and bring an empty bucket or old lawn chair to sit on.

To get started ice fishing, you’ll need the basics: something to make a hole in the ice, something to clear the hole and keep it open and ice free, and something to fish with, or equipment.

Drill a hole for ice fishing

Drill a hole for ice fishing

The two basic tools used to make holes in the ice are spuds and augers. A spud features a long-shank with a chisel-like end that’s used to chip a hole in the ice. A spud is a tool you use when the ice isn’t too thick. An auger is a corkscrew-like device with a cutting blade that operates like a hand drill to make a hole in the ice. For extremely thick ice, power augers that run on batteries or small gasoline engines are available and make creating holes much easier.

Once the hole is created it needs to be cleared of ice chips or slush. A skimmer (or a slush scoop) is a small cup with holes in it (to let the water run out) on a long handle. It is inexpensive and perfectly suited for the job. A skimmer is used to clear the hole right after it’s made, as well as throughout the day if it’s particularly cold and if additional ice forms.

Please note the size of the hole is important. The hole must be big enough that you can get a fish out, but not too large of a hole that it may endanger someone’s life. Anglers are recommended to keep their holes to a maximum of eight to 10 inches in diameter which would accommodate the size of most fish species. When abandoning fishing holes, anglers should mark them with a tree branch, sticks or chunks of ice to alert others of their presence.

Ice fishing equipment can be divided into three basic categories: hook-and-line, tip-ups and spears.

Most hook-and-line anglers use short, limber rods with reels or simple spring-tension spools to hold the line. Sometimes they may use something as simple as a couple of pegs on the rod handle used to wrap the line around. Limber rods allow the use of light line, which usually results in better fishing and absorbs more of the shock when fighting fish.

Bait for ice fishing

Bait for ice fishing

Hook-and-line anglers use live bait, artificial lures or sometimes both to catch many different species of fish. Anglers often use small lures, such as teardrops or flies, with live bait – such as wax worms (bee moth larva), spikes (fly larvae), wigglers (mayfly larvae) or minnows – attached to the hook for better action. The bait can be fished without movement or jigging can be used to attract the fish. Jigging is most successful if a lure of any kind is used.

Hook-and-line anglers have the choice of using a bobber on the line, just as they would while fishing in the summer. Some may also fish with a tight line and use a spring bobber, which is a small strip of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip like an additional eye on the rod. Any motion alerts anglers to the bite, a bonus for small fish or light-biters. Generally, anglers begin by fishing near the bottom and work their way up in the water column until they locate the fish, then continue to fish at that same depth. Anglers can use bobbers to set their baits at a preferred depth or fish a tight line, either fishing without movement or jigging.

For bigger fish, anglers use heavier gear with larger lures or bigger hooks which allows them to use larger baits – minnows, smelt, salmon eggs or spawn bags. Anglers generally start at the bottom and gradually move up in the water column when jigging, while those fishing with live bait, spawn bags or salmon eggs generally fish right off the bottom.

Tip Up

Tip Up

Some anglers prefer to fish with tip-ups, which are devices set on the ice above the hole that dangle the bait (most often minnows) beneath them. Tip-ups, which feature small reels submerged in the water, get their name from a flag that’s bent over and attached to the reel. When a fish takes the bait, the reel turns and releases not only line, but the flag as well. The flags’ “tip up” action alerts the angler to the fish taking out line. Tip-ups are usually spooled with heavy, braided line. Often an angler who is fishing with a rod will also set a tip-up in a different hole, giving them two ways to catch a fish and giving them an opportunity to fish for different species, or more than one fish, or at two different but close by locations.

Spearing is another form of ice fishing that is a more specialized but traditional sport. Anglers who spear cut large holes in the ice, usually with an ice saw or chain saw. They fish from tents or small shelters commonly called shanties that can be portable or more permanent (or at least as permanent as the ice is). The shanty blocks the light, allowing anglers to see down more clearly in the water in order to spear the fish. This has given rise to the term dark-house spearing. Spearing anglers generally dangle decoys or large live baits (such as suckers) in the water to attract their target fish. They utilize spears that typically have a substantial weight to them and have seven to nine tines on the end of a seven-foot handle.

The most common species hook-and-line ice fishermen are looking for are panfish: bluegill, sunfish, perch and crappie. Tip-ups are generally used for larger game fish, such as northern pike, walleye and various trout species. In Michigan, spear fishermen are allowed to target northern pike, muskellunge, lake sturgeon and many other species. There are many restrictions associated with spear fishing and anglers should read the annual Michigan Fishing Guide for more information.

A basic tip for all three ice fishing methods is that the most success is seen around dawn until mid-morning and again from late afternoon until sundown. This is especially true for panfish and walleye. Some species can be more aggressive at other times during the day, such as northern pike. It’s also important to understand that fish are more sluggish during the winter and move around less, especially during the middle of winter when ice thickness and snow cover is the heaviest. The more holes anglers cut and try, the better their chances are for locating aggressive fish.

One common piece of equipment nearly all types of anglers who ice fish utilize are electronic fish finders. These help anglers locate both aggressive and non-aggressive fish and make it easier to determine if your holes will be active and how present fish are reacting to your fishing methods.

It’s important to be prepared to face the elements when you go ice fishing by including these items: shelter and apparel.

Ice fishing can be a fairly cold activity, especially on those windy days when it doesn’t seem fit to be outdoors. On such days, a shanty is almost a requirement. Many portable shanties are available at your local sporting goods store, although some anglers, especially in northern Michigan where the ice fishing season can last for many months build elaborate but removable shanties on the ice. These may have insulated walls and many of the comforts of home. Propane heaters can keep them warm and help keep the fishing holes from freezing. But even a simple windbreak, made of plywood or particle board, can help. A sheet of plywood, cut in half and hinged, makes a simple windbreak. If skis or runners are added to one side, then it can easily be pulled across the ice.

It’s important to note that all shanties must be removed from the ice by a certain date, appropriate to the zone in which you are fishing. When removing a shanty, anglers must also remove any and all garbage affiliated with the structure, including plywood and propane tanks.

On less harsh days, many anglers can be seen on the ice on portable folding stools or overturned five-gallon plastic buckets. Buckets often double as gear carriers. Anglers can fit their rods, lures and baits into a bucket and easily carry them out on the ice with them. In many cases, anglers build gear boxes, often on sleds or skis, which they can pull behind them. The creativity of Michigan anglers can regularly be seen on the ice as many have built sophisticated devices to transport their gear and to insure their comfort.

Anglers who go out on the ice with or without shelters must dress for the weather. Anglers should dress in layers so they can add or remove them as the temperature changes. Many items of clothing – such as bib overalls, coveralls and fleece jackets – are made of modern lightweight fabrics that provide surprising warmth. Anglers should consider wearing a layer of thermal clothing against their skin that absorbs sweat and wicks moisture away from the body, thus keeping the angler warm. Anglers can break a sweat trudging across the lake, especially if they’re pulling a load behind them. One should also have on an outer layer of a wind-breaking fabric. Waterproof boots are a must and a pair of moisture-wicking socks under wool socks will help to keep anglers’ feet warm and dry.

Although the idea of going ice fishing may seem daunting, many fishing clubs and sporting goods stores hold annual ice fishing clinics where anglers can learn the basics. A number of Michigan state parks, interpretive centers and fish hatcheries also host programs during the winter months that teach basic techniques and offer hands-on experience.

Ice fishing may not be for everyone. But if you’ve ever driven by a Michigan lake in the winter and have seen the “shantytowns” out on the ice, you can tell plenty of people consider ice fishing to be a pretty cool sport.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to

Are You Ready for First Ice?

Gear up for First Ice

Dr. Jason Halfen
from The Fishing Wire

Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing

Anglers await the arrival of the first ice of winter with great anticipation. The short-lived first ice bite is classically one of the best of the winter, with active fish still found in near-shore, oxygen-rich waters that are easily accessible to the walk-on angler. My early season ice fishing adventures are governed by three guiding principles: stay safe, travel light, and fish shallow. Read on to learn about the tools that I use to accomplish these goals, AND return home with a pail of fish.

Stay Safe

Early season hard-water adventures often occur on frozen lakes that are capped by a relatively thin layer of ice. I heed the well-publicized guidelines distributed by my regional Natural Resources managers, which generally indicate that 4-inches of hard, black ice are suitable for foot travel. On frozen lakes that have not been previously accessed by other early season anglers, I will check ice thickness along my walking path using a spud bar, which is, in essence, a long-handled ice chisel. If I measure less than 4 inches of ice thickness, I will turn back toward shore.

Even with general ice coverage of 4-inches or more, thin spots may persist in the early season due to springs, current, or even the action of schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl. It is important to have a plan to get back onto the ice surface, should you fall unexpectedly through the ice. My Frabill I3 Jacket includes an integrated Self-Rescue device over the shoulders, ensuring that the ice picks are easily accessible should I fall through a thin spot. Integrated drainage mesh in my Frabill I3 suit also allows any water that accumulates in the suit to drain rapidly away.

Creepers, or some other sort of traction-enhancing device for your feet, are also useful tools for the early season ice angler. The first ice of the season is often free of snow cover, quite flat, and extremely slippery. Falls on the ice can lead to bumps, bruises, sprains, or worse, and increasing the traction of your footwear can help to minimize these injuries.

Be conservative when venturing onto early season ice. No fish is worth your life. Those fish will remain in the same general areas for a couple of weeks, so don’t rush prematurely onto an unsafe crust of ice; wait until conditions permit you to enjoy the first ice period while staying safe and dry.

Travel Light

keep your equipment manageable

keep your equipment manageable

First ice is NOT the time to haul your snow machine or hard-sided ice house to the lake. You will be traveling on foot, and you don’t want to be weighed down pulling hundreds of pounds of gear in pursuit of a hot early-ice bite. I limit my load to those items that I can fit comfortably into a medium sized sled. If it doesn’t fit, it stays in the truck. Here are the key items that always make the cut.

I bring two pieces of ice electronics with me on every ice adventure; one of these is a Humminbird sonar/GPS combo, like the HELIX 5 ICE or ICE 688ci HD Combo. These multi-functional pieces of electronics allow me to walk to the fishing grounds with GPS precision, and target the fish lingering there with either a traditional flasher-wheel sonar display or an “open water” view that is rich in historical sonar information. The second piece of must-have ice electronics is my Aqua-Vu Micro 5 camera. This compact underwater viewing device fits perfectly in the front pocket of my Frabill I3 bibs, and features a long-life Lithium Ion battery that provides for many hours of continuous use. I use my underwater camera to identify the fish I observe on my sonar, find green weeds along expansive weed edges, and even monitor baits suspended under tip-ups to learn how fish are reacting to them.

I pack a lightweight, portable shelter on early ice trips. This can take the form of a one-angler flip-over, like the Frabill Recruit 1250, which also provides the sled that I use to transport all of my gear. Unique design features of the Recruit 1250 provide me with more fishable area than other one-angler flip-over shelters, and also incorporates a full thermal shell to ensure a warm, comfortable day on early ice. If I’m fishing with a friend, I trade my flip-over for a thermal hub, like the Frabill Bro Hub which provides plenty of room for two anglers plus all of their gear, and an expansive 80″ of headroom to allow for a good stand-up-and-stretch when the bite slows. Weighing in at just 36 pounds, the Bro Hub is easy to transport to and from the fishing grounds.

Beyond my electronics and shelter, everything else that I carry, including rods in a hard case to keep them safe and secure, essential tackle and tools, tip-ups when chasing fish with teeth, an assortment of live bait, and snacks and drinks, all need to fit into that single sled. If you minimize the amount of gear you bring on early ice trips, you’ll be more likely to remain mobile on the ice, and mobility is the key to success for the modern ice angler.

Fish Shallow

Catch big fish through the ice

Catch big fish through the ice

The early ice period features one of the best near-shore, shallow water bites of the ice season. Those waters remain well oxygenated from fall winds and rains, and any shallow cover like weeds, rocks or timber will rapidly accumulate baitfish populations, as well as the gamefish and panfish that feast upon them. Now is the time to target those fish, before they vacate the shallows and head to the primary breaklines or the deep basin.

Shallow fish are generally more active, and respond more favorably to aggressive presentations, than their deep water cousins. Now is not the time for micro baits rigged on the tiniest tungsten jig that money can buy. I favor larger profile, high-action baits like the soft-plastic Ratso or the Slender Spoon from Custom Jigs and Spins. There is generally no need to tip the Ratso with any sort of live bait, as the supple action of the long Ratso tail is all that an angler needs to trigger bites. Likewise, if you plan to accessorize the Slender Spoon with an organic bait, limit that to only a minnow head, as an entire minnow will deaden the tantalizing flutter of the often imitated, but never duplicated, Slender Spoon. When you’re fishing the Slender Spoon under low light conditions, be sure to tie on a Pro-Glow Slender Spoon, and supercharge that spoon with a small LED light to enhance the bait’s appeal to crappies or walleyes lurking beneath the lake’s frozen cap.

Yes, I know there are crappies suspended out over the basin. And yes, I recognize there are probably some walleyes on that mid-lake rockpile. However, I hate to walk past catchable fish to find other fish that are much farther away, so I plan to take advantage of this early ice, shallow water bite for as long as it lasts. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to retool for offshore adventures as the winter progresses.

About the author
Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, with a primary mission of informing and training anglers on the use of modern technological tools to find and catch more fish. Learn about The Technological Angler’s award winning instructional videos, teaching tools, and angler training workshops at

What Is Hop Drop and Troll Ice Fishing?

Hop, Drop and Troll
from The Fishing Wire

Planning, mobility and speed the keys to catching late-ice, big-water crappies

Big ice crappie

Big ice crappie

Crappies aren’t necessarily hard to catch, but they can be challenging to locate on vast waters like Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods. Dan Stefanich photo.

It’s no secret. Big water grows big crappies. Large, deep lakes have an abundance of forage and more places for crappies to hide, feed and grow. Find a big lake with relatively low angling pressure, and you’ve set the stage for potentially epic crappie fishing.

But you’ve got to find them before you can catch them. Anglers who do a little research, drill enough holes, stay mobile and fish speedy baits will be rewarded with success.

Seasonal Crappie Movements

In smaller, shallower lakes, crappies are typically located and caught throughout much of the winter season over main-lake basins. In large, deep lakes, however, they tend to avoid the deepest areas and use flats, humps and basins ranging from 20 to 40 feet deep. But crappies are also notorious for suspending. Depending upon conditions, they can be found anywhere in the water column, creating an additional variable in the angling equation.

As the ice-fishing season nears its end, crappies transition from their deepwater wintering areas towards shallow bays, channels and river mouths in preparation for spawning. Depending on where and when you fish, concentrations of crappies will be present along a relatively straight line between these distinct areas. During the late-ice period, take a stab at identifying some of these likely travel paths between wintering areas and spawning areas on a map of the lake you plan to fish. Look for potential staging locations where cover, structure or current variations are present along those paths.

Drill ‘Em Out

Crappie caught on a spoon

Crappie caught on a spoon

Jigging spoons are a great choice for targeting crappies in most situations. This one fell for a Custom Jigs and Spins Slender Spoon in Gold/Glow. Dan Stefanich Photo.

Once you’ve identified attractive areas, gas up the auger and get to work. Use your GPS to confirm your location on the ice, and pick a variety of sweet spots over the particular structure you plan to fish.

A larger fishing party is beneficial because you can share the work of drilling holes and checking them for fish with sonar. Once you mark fish, take the time to drill more holes. It’ll save you time in the long run as you’ll waste less time fishing an unproductive hole when an entire school may be located just 10 or 15 feet away.

Mobility is Key

Once the crappies are located, hole hopping is the key to keeping busy catching them.

“Here on Lake of the Woods, the guys who are willing to leave the comfort of their fish houses and use their electronics to fish from hole to hole are the ones who catch the most crappies,” says Lake of the Woods Minnesota Tourism director and avid angler, Joe Henry.

“The best crappie anglers won’t waste time fishing a hole that doesn’t produce a mark on their flasher. They’ll keep moving—drilling more holes if necessary—until they get a sonar return,” he continues. “Then they’ll drop down, catch a fish or two and move on once the action slows.”

Effective as it may be, hole hopping requires some specialized gear – especially at the very top of the continental United States on Lake of the Woods, where daytime temperatures can often remain below zero. Quality boots and outerwear are a must. A piece of gear like Frabill’s Tackle Pack-Hand Muff is also indispensable, keeping tackle organized and at the ready, while also serving as a vital and cozy refuge for off-duty hands.

Fish Fast

Crappies display a variety of moods, and their responsiveness to various presentations can change throughout the day – often rapidly. Late-ice crappie anglers should be prepared with a variety of offerings, from small tungsten jigs tipped with thin plastics to relatively large jigging spoons.

Frabill's Tackle Pack-Hand Muff

Frabill’s Tackle Pack-Hand Muff

Frabill’s Tackle Pack-Hand Muff is engineered for hole hopping, combining convenient and mobile tackle storage with hand- and core-warming technology.

“When crappies are aggressive, it’s hard to beat a Slender Spoon or a Buckshot Rattle Spoon tipped with a minnow head or tail,” says Henry, who prefers variations of gold and glow red for Lake of the Woods’ stained waters.

When a fish is showing on sonar, Henry advises stopping the spoon 4 to 5 feet above it and slowly working it down if necessary. “A lot of times you’ll see the fish begin drifting up towards your bait immediately,” Henry says. “If they do that, I’ll slowly raise the spoon while twitching it ever so slightly and make them chase it… Once you get them moving, they’ll usually charge it,” he continues.

Aside from a jigging spoon’s larger profile, Henry prefers them for another reason. “Spoons fish heavy,” he says, referring to their ability to punch through a slushy hole and get back down to other fish quickly once one has been caught. “If you’re marking a fish down there, a spoon is going to get down to it quickly… hopefully before it leaves,” he adds.

Crappies aren’t usually too difficult to catch. But they can be hard to locate, especially on a vast piece of water. Do your homework ahead of time, be willing to drill a lot of holes, fish fast and move if necessary. Some call it ice trolling because of the amount of water one can cover this way in a single day. Of course, if you really want to tip the odds in your favor, consider hiring a guide or consider fishing out of a full-service lodge.

Trophy Waters

At over one million acres, Lake of the Woods, Minnesota is a prolific fishery. Best known for its walleye, sauger, yellow perch and northern pike – all of which can be caught in great numbers all winter long from the comfort of countless heated ice houses placed and maintained by a number of full-service lodges – Lake of the Woods is also one of North America’s best trophy crappie fisheries.

Fishing Lake of the Woods

Fishing Lake of the Woods

With over one million acres and numerous full service lodges, Lake of the Woods, Minnesota is a premier angling destination. Walleye ice fishing season runs through the end of March on Lake of the Woods, while crappie fishing extends in to April. Dan Stefanich photo.

Crappie fishing at Lake of the Woods, however, takes a bit more work and planning. Some of the best crappie fishing on the lake takes place around the Northwest Angle, a thin strip of U.S. land and water extending north into Canada.

“Crappie anglers interested in coming to Lake of the Woods should consider staying at one of the lodges up at the Northwest Angle,” says Henry.

There are several lodges to choose from, and any of them will work with you to meet your specific angling objectives. Most use classic and reliable Bombardier track vehicles to transport their customers. It’s a unique experience that adds value to an already exceptional fishing trip. “They’ll get you comfortably to and from the best bites, which may be in Minnesota or Canadian waters,” continues Henry.

Sliding up into Canada is a relatively easy option for anyone traveling to the Northwest Angle. Canadian fishing licenses are easy to obtain at the lodge, and a simple phone call to Canadian authorities is all that’s needed to gain legal entry for fishing – for walleye, pike, muskie, perch or, of course, slab Canadian crappies.

Ice fishing for crappies extends into April at Lake of the Woods, providing yet another super reason to visit this outstanding angling destination. For more information, call Joe Henry at Lake of the Woods Tourism at 800-382-FISH (3474), email, or visit Be sure to ask about walleye, sturgeon and other four-season angling opportunities, too.

Is A Jig and Minnow the Best Walleye Bait When Ice Fishing?

North Country Walleyes, ‘Meat’ The Precision Jig

By JP Bushey
from The Fishing Wire

Jig and Minnow Walleye

Jig and Minnow Walleye

Bushey’s one-two punch also includes a Custom Jigs & Spins Vertiglo Lightning Spoon, which features long-lasting glow for low light or stained water situations.

In two-line situations throughout North-Central Ontario – and much of the continental Ice Belt for that matter — not much beats a jig and minnow combination for scraping extra walleye off the spots you jig. Spoons, rattle baits and other lures bring fish under you, and a lively dace, chub or golden shiner set up nearby adds a whole other angle to your game. Struggling against the weight of a lead ball in its nose or back, a minnow rigged this way is just too easy for a walleye to eat.

Inside a shelter, rig up a horizontal rod holder and set your drag to slip a little if a good fish scoops up the jig and minnow when you’re not looking. I like shorter rods, from 26 to 32 inches long with a soft tip. A bouncy tip shows what your minnow is doing at all times and gives walleyes a cushion when they pick the bait up. You’ll see them hit before they feel the rod. Set the hook by simply lifting firmly and reeling. A good jig hook slips right in, without much effort.

B FISH N Tackle’s H20 Precision Jigs have emerged as my favorite head for two reasons:

1. A sharp, fine-wire Mustad hook does minimal damage to live minnows, so they stay frisky and looking for trouble.

2. They’re available in huge varieties of weights and colors. They’re one of the few companies that makes a true, gold plated jig head. In the tannin/iron-stained lakes in northern Ontario, this color is just aces for me.

Tip-up fishing

Tip-up fishing

Tip-ups with live minnows generate tons of walleye all winter for us too, but nothing beats watching a fish hit right beside you and then fighting it on a light rod and reel outfit. Of course, look for walleye on your sonar as you jig with more aggressive lures. You’ll be impressed by how many respond to the jig and minnow.

Methods like the jig and meat combo start to shine right about now, when cold snaps start getting measured in weeks and that first-freeze rush has kind of petered out. Walleye are still absolutely catchable using lures with more razzle dazzle, stroked quicker. But season after season, batting cleanup with a well-placed baitfish gets hotter and hotter the colder it gets.

What’s nice about these colder periods is they force me into moving around less and slowing my entire approach way down. How is that even remotely a good thing? For one, camping out on good spots really lends itself to being thorough, meticulous and maximizing what I’m doing. There’s nothing better suited to soaking great structure than a baited jig. Use the cold and rougher travel to your advantage. Ma Nature wants to pin me down all day with huge wind chill or deep slush all over the lake? No problem. I’ll set up on a sweet spot and kill it softly. Don’t fight the bite. If things slow down or you’re unable to be as mobile as you’d like, capitalize on it.

Jig with minnow

Jig with minnow

The author is a fan of B FISH N Tackle’s H2O Precision Jigs – and points to their sharp, fine-wire Mustad hooks and myriad color and weight options. He also thinks their gold finish trumps all others in tannic waters. Adding the smell and taste of “meat” to a H20 jig can be the final touch in turning lookers into biters.

You’ll love the way a jig and bait buries its chances. Walleye eat it and hooking/landing percentages are almost perfect. It’s a key method for mid-winter fishing and a terrific slump-breaker, too. If you’re marking walleye that won’t eat spoons or other lures, send one down, believe me. On your Solunar events or during light changes (daylight to dusk will always be a top one), having this type of tool ready to use makes a huge, huge difference, in terms of walleye caught. It’s really that simple.

It’s worth noting that while walleye in the inland lakes we fish ‘up north’ love the jig and minnow, so too do our big water fish, in places like Georgian Bay and The Bay of Quinte. If you fish anywhere along Ontario’s Trent-Severn system, in the Muskokasor on that big beauty they call Lake Nipissing, get a couple different jig and minnow rods set up and play them.

And one more thing: small, heavy, lower-action spoons also make a deadly anchor for a live minnow who’s good and irritated. Think Buckshots, Swedish Pimples or my personal favorite, the Custom Jigs & Spins Vertiglo Lightning Spoon. Knick the minnow around the dorsal fin, give the glow paint a good zap and feed it to ’em.

JP Bushey is a fishing educator and syndicated fishing columnist living in Barrie, Ontario. North-central Ontario is where he spends the bulk of his time on water and ice, from Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte to the spawning, Georgian Bay and all points in between.

Can I Catch Trout Through the Ice In Small Waters?

Small-water tactics for rainbows, browns, brookies and more

By Dan Johnson
from The Fishing Wire

Ice fishing on small waters

Ice fishing on small waters

Trout provide fine ice fishing action across the North, but in many areas of the country, large, deep lakes don’t develop a trustworthy coating of ice until well after Christmas. Good news is, opportunities abound to enjoy fast action on smaller, quick-freezing lakes guaranteed to deliver a welcome dose of holiday cheer.

“In Colorado, our big, high-mountain lakes generally don’t freeze until Christmas,” reports veteran Rocky Mountain trout guide Bernie Keefe, but this expert says smaller lakes are a different picture.

Based in the high-altitude nirvana of Granby, Colorado, Keefe connects clients with lakers, browns, rainbows, brookies and kokanee salmon on lakes of all sizes throughout the year. But right now, he focuses on small systems offering walkable ice and healthy populations of hungry trout, and his tactics apply to trout fans coast to coast.

“Lakes ranging from 100 to 500 acres in size are ideal because you can easily cover them on foot,” he says.

Pre-trip scouting begins at state fisheries department websites, which often offer detailed information on fish numbers and sizes, along with helpful hydrographic maps. Keep in mind, lakes with relatively simple structure are easier to search than those with multiple reefs, points and other trout-attracting features.

Small; waters ice over early

Small; waters ice over early

Why wait for big lakes to freeze when small waters offer opportunities for a variety of trout and salmon?

Once he sets his crosshairs on a potential hotspot, Keefe gears up with a lightweight yet potent supply of tackle including several 28-inch, medium-action Clam Jason Mitchell Series Meat Sticks spooled with 4-pound-test Berkley Trilene XL monofilament line. A small tackle box houses a selection of dainty jigs, spoons and swimming hardbaits, while a bait puck loaded with waxworms supplies the tippings.

Carefully testing the ice with a spud bar as he goes, Keefe ventures out in search of prime lies such as shoreline points and lush green weedbeds. “The inside edge of the weeds is typically hot right now, but open pockets are always worth checking, too,” he says, noting that thin ice and clear water often enable visual recon without chipping or drilling.

Since trout frequent depths of five to 15 feet of water this time of year, sight-fishing is a great way to get a handle on the underwater world. “A pair of holes 30 inches apart make it easy to watch two lines at a time,” he says. “I chip them out with my spud bar and pop up my Clam portable on top of ’em.”

In one hole, Keefe wields an active jigging presentation, which draws curious trout and often triggers strikes. “An 1/8-ounce Clam Blade Spoon tipped with a waxworm or two is perfect for the job,” he says. “Drop it to bottom or the top of the weeds, and then slowly reel it back toward the surface, shaking it as you go. When you reach the ice, reverse the process and backreel the spoon back down.”

Hard bait catch

Hard bait catch

Swimming hardbaits such as Clam’s Psycho Shad are deadly on early-winter trout.

While spoons are a stellar option, swimming hardbaits such as Clam’s Psycho Shad are also deadly weapons for luring in winter trout. After a strike or two, Keefe focuses his efforts on the depth at which the trout hit. “It tells me the level at which the fish are cruising,” he explains.

His second hole holds a deadstick presentation. “A 1/16-ounce marabou jig or Clam Duckbill drop is tough to beat,” he says. “But a Clam Half Ant can be dynamite when trout are keying on a horizontal bait.” Deadstick tippings consist of two or three waxies threaded onto the hook so they dangle temptingly while oozing scent into the surrounding water.

If trout are cruising the area, it usually doesn’t take long for fish to move in and check out Keefe’s wares. “If nothing shows up within half an hour, I pull up stakes and move on,” he says.

Keefe’s small-lake pattern holds water well into January, when dying shoreline weeds push trout into deeper water offshore. “The same tactics apply, you just have to walk our farther to find the fish,” he notes. Until the migration begins, however, the shallow-water shoreline bite is a great way to put a mixed bag of tasty trout on ice.

Contact Information
For more information or to book a trip with Keefe, visit: or call (970) 531-2318.

Ice Fishing Is Fun and Provides Camaraderie

Get hooked on Fun, Camaraderie of Ice Fishing

Today’s feature, on what it takes to get started in ice fishing, comes to us from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
from The Fishing Wire

Kids love ice fishing

Kids love ice fishing

Fishing is a year-round activity and when the thermometer plunges below freezing for prolonged periods, most anglers have little choice but to hit the hard water. Ice fishing becomes the go-to activity until spring.

For beginning anglers, ice fishing offers one significant advantage: access. Boat-less anglers, who otherwise are limited to shorelines or fishing piers much of the year, can often access entire lakes. That inspires some anglers to proclaim that ice-fishing season is their favorite time of year.

Fortunately, ice fishing can be relatively simple. All that’s needed to start is a way to make a hole in the ice (an auger or spud), a way to clear the slush from it (an inexpensive scoop), and rudimentary equipment.

So how do you get started?

There’s a good opportunity coming soon. Feb.14-15 is Michigan’s annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend, when no license is needed to participate. There are hands-on educational events scheduled at a number of areas. In addition, the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center in Cadillac holds on-the-ice fishing events every Saturday at noon.

Novice anglers often can find assistance nearby. Tom Goniea, a fisheries biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, says finding a mentor helps shorten the learning curve.

“Ask around,” Goniea said. “Ask the guys at work or the folks at church. Ice fishermen make up a community that’s usually quite willing to introduce others to the sport.

“And most ice fishermen have enough equipment that they can get you started if you go with them so you can see what you need.”

DNR fisheries biologist Christian LeSage agrees.

“There’s a big social component to ice fishing,” he said. “When you get out on the ice people are usually friendly – they’re willing to tell you what they’re doing, what they’re using, and how they’re catching fish.”

Except for largemouth and smallmouth bass – bass season closes Jan. 1 and doesn’t completely reopen until the Saturday before Memorial Day – anglers who ice fish can pursue all species they target the rest of the year. Ice fishing can range from fishing for panfish on a farm pond to making miles-long sojourns on the Great Lakes in pursuit of walleyes, lake trout or other top-of-the-food-chain predators.

Groups make ice fishing more fun

Groups make ice fishing more fun

LeSage recommends people start with panfish. He likes bluegills.

“You can try it on a small pond in a park,” he said. “And you don’t need extravagant gear. If you go places where people have been fishing, you don’t even need an auger – you can reopen a hole with a hammer.

“Most veteran fishermen know that the best fishing is at dawn and dusk, but you can catch bluegills throughout the day. You can catch them in shallow water. You can catch a lot in a small area. And they’re delicious.”

What’s nicest about bluegills is that they can be found almost everywhere and, as fishing quarry, are relatively unsophisticated. All you need is a basic gear. Small fiberglass rods with simple, spring-tension spoons can be yours for less than $10 and you will see accomplished ice anglers using them. Add some light line, a few low-cost tear drops (small weighted hooks) and a container of insect larvae (wax worms or spikes, the early life stages of bee moths or flies, respectively) and you’re in business. Lower your bait to the bottom, begin slowly working it upward in the water column until you start getting bites, and then fish at that depth.

It can (and does) get much more complicated with expensive rods, sonar fish finders, and a plethora of other equipment. But many anglers never acquire all that gear and continue to enjoy productive bluegill fishing.

As you progress in the sport and explore other ice-fishing opportunities, the equation becomes decidedly more complex. Get addicted to walleye fishing and you’ll be into snowmobile or quad runners, insulated ice shanties, GPS, underwater cameras – the list is endless.

But some factors never change: The first rule of ice fishing is to be safe.

Good, strong ice can support a semi-truck, but every year there are tragedies that often involve recklessness. Make sure the ice is safe. Even arctic temperatures won’t guarantee it, especially if there’s an insulating layer of snow on top. You can get up-to-date info from bait shops around fishing locales, but always make sure yourself. Carry a spud to test the ice in front of you as you venture forth. Don’t approach ice that is discolored or has objects (such as vegetation or timber) protruding through it. Be especially careful of rivers (current can degrade ice quickly) or spring-fed lakes and ponds where warmer water can cause thin spots in an otherwise solid surface.

Always carry basic emergency gear, just in case. Ice picks (or homemade alternatives constructed of nails in dowels) will give you a way to get purchase on the ice should you break through. Carry a rope to toss to someone else who breaks through.

It’s better – some would say mandatory – not to go alone. You certainly don’t want to head miles off shore – at Saginaw Bay, say, or Little Bay de Noc – without a partner. Always make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. Carry your cell phone.

Sharing Ice Fishing Knowledge

Sharing Ice Fishing Knowledge

Make sure you dress for the weather. Dress in layers from head to toe – the best way to keep your feet warm is to keep your head warm – and a waterproof outer layer is advisable. Small luxuries – such as extra gloves and hand warmers – often pay large dividends.

Ice fishing isn’t for everybody. But if you look around in the winter and see the huge shanty towns that spring up on some of Michigan’s best fishing lakes, it’s obvious that a lot of people are having a lot of fun out there.

It isn’t that difficult to become one of them.

For more information on ice fishing, visit the DNR’s website at

Try Different Strokes When Ice Fishing

Different Strokes For Different Folks-Or Fish when Ice Fishing

By Bob Jensen
from The Fishing Wire

Yellow perch ice fishing

Yellow perch ice fishing

A lot of factors can determine how many fish we’ll catch through the ice. Color is important: So is lure size. How the bait is attached to your line can be a consideration. A small jig attached to your line with a big, bulky snap/swivel probably won’t be as effective as that same jig tied directly to a low-vis monofilament or fluorocarbon.

A very important consideration any time you’re ice-fishing, but especially when the fish are being finicky, is the action you’re putting on the lure. Just as in open water fishing, how you move the lure will have a direct influence on how many fish you catch.

Different lures have different actions. Consider the difference in action of two really good walleye baits for ice fishing, the Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon and their Puppet Minnow. The spoon has a very straight up and down motion. When you lift it up then let it fall, it flutters a little bit, but falls pretty much straight back to the bottom.

Try different actions

Try different actions

Using the lure with the action that the fish want will help you put more fish on the ice.

The Puppet Minnow has a different design that gives it a different action. When it’s jigged, it falls back to the bottom in a semi-circle. It falls slower, which appeals to fish in some situations. It also covers a larger area as it falls. This action might appeal to fish that are out to the side of your hole that don’t want to come in to eat the spoon that’s being fished straight up and down. Both styles of baits are good, but there are times when the fish will show a preference.

By the same token, sometimes the fish will prefer these baits being worked fast, other times they’ll prefer a slower presentation. Watch your sonar and see how they respond to different actions, then give them the action they want.

Perch and panfish can be very selective about lure action. Sometimes they want the lure moving quickly, much of the time they prefer a quiver, and there are times when they want it motionless.

We were on a lake in South Dakota a while back that had a reputation for producing lots of big perch. When we got there a weather front had gone through that had the perch very unaggressive. We could see them on the sonar, and we tried everything we could to get them to eat our baits, but they just didn’t seem interested.

Finally, one of the anglers in our group sat down in the shelter, rested the elbow of his rod hand on his knee, and sat as still as he could. He jigged the bait softly every now and then, but when a perch came in and looked at this bait, he held the bait as still as possible. Eventually the perch ate the bait. Sometimes it would survey the bait for maybe twenty seconds before eating it. Pretty soon everyone in our group started employing the “elbow on the knee” technique, and we started catching more fish. We didn’t catch every perch that looked at the bait, but we caught a lot more than we had been.

Catch crappie using different lure action

Catch crappie using different lure action

Whether you’re fishing open water or through the ice, if you pay attention to the action you’re putting on the bait, you’re going to catch more fish.

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How Can I Stay Warm While Ice Fishing?

Keep Warm On The Ice

by Bob Jensen
from The Fishing Wire

Ice Crappie

Ice Crappie

If you dress for the conditions when you’re on the ice you’ll enjoy ice-fishing even more, and you’ll also be more successful at catching fish through the ice.

It got cold again! That’s good and that’s bad. It’s good, because the ice is getting thicker and safer across most of the ice-fishing region. That means more anglers will be on the ice in the near future.

It also means that it’s easier for those ice-anglers to get cold, and usually getting cold is not a fun part of ice-fishing. However, it’s not necessary to get cold when you’re ice-fishing or doing anything outdoors this time of year. There is so much outstanding and affordable clothing that there really is no need to get cold outside unless you’re in unusually extreme cold. Here are some ideas for staying warm on the ice.

Remember, if you get too warm, you’re going to get cold. If you’re drilling a lot of holes in the ice, or walking from hole to hole a lot, you’re going to get warm. When we get warm, we sweat, and if that sweat gets trapped next to your skin, you will eventually get cold. We want to be wearing under-garments that will wick the sweat away from your body. Garments made from cotton are not the answer: Cotton traps the sweat. Cabela’s MTP and Polartec base layers are a great place to start.

My next layer is usually a hooded sweatshirt, and I then slip into water resistant bibs. I prefer the bib style because it offers more protection from the wind to areas that could be exposed, and I like the water resistant feature because there are times when I kneel next to the hole to land a fish. The water resistant feature keeps me dry, and therefore warmer and more comfortable.

Next goes on the outer layer: I like parka length because, again, it provides more protection to areas of skin that could be exposed to the elements. My favorite is Guidewear for both the bibs and parka. In fact, the same Guidewear that I keep in the boat for summer fishing works great for ice-fishing.

Round this out with a cap and boots. Wear a stocking cap or something of that nature. Heat escapes from an uncovered head. Set up your fishing position so your back is to the wind, and pull your hood up over your cap. If you’re facing into the wind and you pull your hood up, you get a swirling effect, and that can be not-so-pleasant.

If your feet get cold, you’re going to be cold and uncomfortable. Boots can be a personal thing: Some folks like big “pac” insulated boots that are very warm, but can also be heavy. They’re great for keeping warm, but they make walking around a lot of work.

There are lots of lighter weight boots available that do a great job of keeping your feet warm if you keep moving–several layers of wool socks can help a lot, but be sure to size your boots big enough that the layers don’t cramp your toes–cramped toes are cold toes.

And then, probably the best way to keep warm on the ice is to fish from a permanent shelter that has a heater inside. This year I’m spending quite a bit of time in an Ice Castle house. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, and it’s also very easy to move to follow the bite. Now, that’s really the way to go ice fishing.

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Can I Catch Mid-Winter Pike On Spoons?

Spoonin’ Mid-Winter Pike
from The Fishing Wire and Traditions Media

Pike through the ice

Pike through the ice

“Winter walleyes and panfish get high marks from me, but when the action slows down in mid-winter, seems like you can always find willing toothy critters, even on the coldest, nastiest days,” says third-generation Minnesota fishing guide Ty Macheledt.

From the large natural lakes of his west central Minnesota stomping grounds to North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea to prairie potholes, Macheledt’s system for catching pike is a one-two punch of tip-up fishing followed by aggressive rod-in-hand combat with the unfairly maligned northern pike.

But he’s not after two- or three-pound “hammer handles, “slough snakes,” or “snot rockets.” The fish that get Macheledt’s blood pumping can peel 40 yards faster than wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

But first, Macheledt’s gotta find ’em.

“In Minnesota, I always start by scouting with an Aqua-Vu Micro underwater camera, looking for weed edges with big pike food. That tells me where I should place my tip-ups. Once a flag goes off, I start jigging in the same area. Pike like to slash and dash. If there’s food, there will be more on patrol.”


“In lakes without good weeds, like some of the small Dakotas waters, I concentrate on main basin areas loaded with perch and just put in my time. Pike will eventually cruise through looking for lunch. You’ll know when the perch scoot from your flasher and a big red mark appears.”

To match the perch profile, Macheledt turns to ¼-ounce Custom Jigs & Spins Pro Series Slender Spoons tipped with a soft plastic.

“I stumbled into the big plastics out of necessity. I had run out of minnows but found a pack of 3-inch B Fish N Tackle Moxis in my box. Tipped on the spoon, the tail activates nicely when you rip and let if fall.”

Macheledt keeps color simple. “For spoons, I like gold in dirty water, nickel when the visibility is better. Perch patterns top the list. And for the plastic, again, typically something with green, yellow, orange, because of the perch connection.”

Although he still carries minnows for rigging his search tip-ups, Macheledt is converting to a nearly all-plastics game. “You can really rip the spoon without losing your bait. Your presentation always looks the same and you keep your line in the water – instead of re-baiting all the time – which just leads to more hookups.”

Macheledt advises a stout stick, heavy fluoro leader (20 lb. and up), and a spinning reel with powerful, buttery drag that doesn’t freeze up in cold temps, like Frabill’s heavy power 38-inch Gussy Series Ice Hunter Combo. “You’ve gotta have enough backbone to penetrate a pike’s bony mouth. No fairy wands.” The 36-inch medium heavy St. Croix AVID Ice Jigging Rod is another top contender.

Catch pike on a spoon through the ice

Catch pike on a spoon through the ice

To hedge bets with big pike, Macheledt recommends Custom Jigs’ Pro Finesse Drop Chain. “Where legal, attach a #10 Pro Finesse Drop Chain without taking off the existing Pro Series Slender Spoon treble. Just clip it on the split ring of the included Slender Spoon hook … and you’ve got a super-effective stinger hook when using meat or plastic! Especially for the larger pike chomping on big perch, beefing up the profile can be key.”

Learn Ice Conditions Locally

Go Local to Learn Ice Conditions, Wisconsin DNR Wardens Advise

By Joanne M. Haas/Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
from The Fishing Wire

While the new year stormed the nation with sub-zero temperatures, Department of Natural Resources conservation wardens remind all outdoor enthusiasts to go local to know the ice conditions before you go – and to be prepared if (gulp) you break through the ice.

Adapt to ice fishing as you age

Adapt to ice fishing as you age

Never give up! This Eau Claire County man created his ‘Rollator Walker’ so he could keep enjoying ice fishing. Warden Scott Thiede met the man on Lake Altoona in December. The man said he wasn’t about to let any physical issue stop him from his ice fishing!

Warden April Dombrowski, who leads the crew of recreational safety wardens, says on this incredibly cold morning in the Badger State the DNR does not monitor ice conditions. She says it comes down to this: No ice is absolutely safe ice, and go local to get the latest info about your area lakes.

“It truly is up to the individual to learn the ice conditions. Talk to other ice fishers, snowmobilers, fishing clubs around the lake and bait store owners around the water body. These are the places locally most likely to have the most current information about the lakes and areas you want to use,” Dombrowski says. “Based on the varying conditions statewide, the DNR logistically cannot monitor ice conditions throughout Wisconsin. Similar to looking for information on how the fish are biting on a lake, it’s best to go with the local experts.”

And, like a lot of things in life, looks can be deceiving!

The ice conditions on any lake can vary from location to location. “You cannot determine the strength of an ice cover by a single factor – including how thick it is, or how long it’s been forming or the snow on top of it,” Dombrowski says. “Moving water from streams, rivers and springs can cause ice to form unevenly.”

If you do go on the ice

Dombrowski and the wardens offer these standard ice safety tips:

Dress warmly in layers.
Don’t go alone. Head out with friends or family. Take a cell phone if available. And, if you have a cell phone or not, make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expected to return.
Know before you go. Don’t travel in areas you are not familiar and don’t travel at night or during reduced visibility.
Avoid inlets, outlets or narrows that may have currents that can thin the ice.
Look for clear ice, which is generally stronger than ice with snow on it or bubbles in it.
Carry some basic safety gear: ice claws or picks, a cellphone in a waterproof bag or case, a life jacket and length of rope.

If you go through the ice

Dombrowski says all ice users should be prepared for the possibility of breaking through the ice. She recommends learning these tips:

Wear flotation garments that provide buoyancy – such as a float coat or a life vest over a regular jacket.
If you have those picks, use those and kick your feet as you crawl out of the water hole. Keep your body low to spread out your weight.
Don’t stand up right away once you’re out. Roll or crawl on your stomach until the majority of your body is on solid surface.
Head toward the direction you came from to get to the ice cover that supported your weight.

“Wisconsin’s winters can be a lot of fun with all the outdoor recreational opportunities,” Dombrowski says. “With just a bit of planning for safety’s sake, you’ll come home with some fun stories about enjoying the outdoors.”

And who doesn’t love a good story! Have fun and stay safe out there.

For more tips, the DNR also has information on its website about what to do should you fall through the ice and how to make ice claws: