The ice fishing season is winding down. In some parts of ice fishing territory, the season has closed for a couple species of fish. However, there are still lots of fish to chase in the remaining weeks of ice fishing. Perch, crappies, and other panfish are fair game in most places, and so are some species of fish of which we might not think. Some of those types of fish that aren’t frequently targeted can provide lots of excitement in the next few weeks. They can also provide some outstanding table fare. Following are ideas for getting in on that action.
On an ice fishing trip with some friends in the late 70’s I was introduced to a fish that has become a much more popular fish for a good number of ice anglers. We were on Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota. Walleye season was still open, so we were after walleyes. This was before sonar use had been popularized for ice fishing. Finding fish was kind of a hit and miss thing. One of the anglers in our group took us to a spot on the west side of the lake where he caught walleyes in the summer. We drilled holes in the ice and started fishing. Walleye action was steady. I caught a couple and had become somewhat proficient in grabbing them behind the head as they came through the hole. Action slowed a bit, then I hooked another. When the fish’s head got into the hole, I casually grabbed it as I had the others. I lifted it from the hole. The fish felt slipperier than the previous walleyes, and when it wrapped itself around my arm, I knew that something was different. I wouldn’t say that I went into a full-blown panic, but I was certainly more excitable than I had been with the walleyes.
My friends told me that the fish that I had caught was an eelpout. I had never heard of an eelpout and had never seen in real-life a fish that looked like an eelpout. They told me that eelpout were not the most desirable fish in the lake. Nonetheless, it was a fun fight. In recent years, eelpout, also known as burbot, lingcod, and a variety of other names, have become very desirable to many anglers. They fight well, can be willing biters, and are outstanding on the table. Ice fishing expert John Crane uses Leech Flutter Spoons and Pinhead Mino spoons tipped with one minnow sometimes and loaded with several smaller minnows other times. He and many other pout chasers like their spoons to be in glow colors. If you’ve never fished for eelpout through the ice, find a way to give it a shot.
Another fish that’s gained popularity in ice fishing are whitefish. Again, I was introduced to whitefish accidentally. It was early March, and we were fishing for perch. We were spread out east to west across a not-so-well-known perch spot that an angler in our group had come across. Action was okay. We were getting ready to go exploring for another area when the eastern-most angler hooked a fish that felt larger than the perch that we had been catching. It was a whitefish. A minute later, an angler fishing twenty yards west hooked up. Another whitefish. They were going through the area, from east to west. Pretty soon everyone was catching. Then, action slowed for the angler on the east while those on the west continued to catch. Then the action stopped. The school had moved through. Had we known then what we know now, we would have moved around to relocate the school. Flashy spoons are good when the fish are active, Drop Jigs tipped with plastic or live bait will produce when the whitefish aren’t as active. Whitefish are also outstanding on the table.
On late ice, in addition to eelpout and whitefish, I or friends that I’m fishing with have caught lots of largemouth and smallmouth bass and some channel catfish through the ice. Even though some species of fish are off-limits now, there are still plenty of fish willing to bend an ice rod. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, and the bite can be good. Make sure that the ice is safe, and if it is, get on it and see what you can catch.
OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi – With this year’s ice fishing season approaching, here are the top five ice fishing lures you should add to your arsenal. American Baitworks brands’ Freedom Tackle and STH Bait Co. have you covered with some of the best ice fishing lures available.
Freedom Tackle Minnow Jigging Spoon
The Freedom Minnow jigging spoon delivers a combination of flash, one-of-a-kind action, and bait-fish appeal that all species find irresistible.
Highly reactive, the Freedom Minnow can be worked with several retrieves to draw strikes, including a quick, attention-grabbing jerk and a slow stop-and-go. On the drop, the Freedom Minnow Spoon delivers a slow-falling flutter and an abundance of bite-inducing flash.
On the top and bottom of the center wire shaft, the Freedom Minnow Spoon is fitted with a metal bead and a glass bead that bang against the body to create a unique underwater sound. Armed with chemically sharpened hooks, the Freedom Minnow Spoon delivers a highly individualized presentation that will catch a wide range of species.
Freedom Tackle Turnback Shad – Vertical Jigging
The Freedom Tackle Turnback Shad is the perfect vertical jig for open water or through the ice. The lure features a full metal body that swings freely on the metal line tie shaft.
With a jerk of the rod, the lure will dart off in random directions, turn around and swim back the other way, covering more water and imparting a more life-like action. The Glass beads on the metal shaft offer a visual and audio attraction to compliment the beautifully sculpted metal body.
Available in 4 sizes (3/32oz, 3/16oz, 5/8oz, 1oz) and 8 colors, including natural, glow, and UV colors for any situation.
Freedom Tackle Blade Bait
The most versatile Blade Bait on the market, the Freedom Blade Bait is a three in one tool to get the job done through the ice. The lure features multiple ways to rig the hooks to match your desired presentation.
The Blade Bait delivers maximum vibration and flash that draws in fish. Designed with a unique feature, the ability to rig the double hook on the top of the lure head and lock it into place on the custom design hook notch.
STH Bait Co. Drifter
A legend for targeting walleye and whitefish through the ice, the Drifter is one of the best baits available for catching these sometimes-tight-lipped species.
A classic, handcrafted, and hand-poured bait with year-round application, the Drifter is 2.75”/69 mm in length. Super soft with 3D eyes gives the Drifter a life-like appearance, giving fish the visual cues and makes them think it’s real prey. Try rigging this bait as a drop shot or on a jig head to maximize its action and fish catching ability.
STH Bait Co. Dart Minnow
Uniquely designed to target panfish, walleye, and whitefish, the Dart Minnow delivers a lot of fish catching power in its relatively small size at 2.3”. Designed to be used on a jig head or as a drop shot, the Dart Minnow is a consistent performer and a must-have in your ice fishing arsenal.
American Baitworks Keeps You Fishing in Every Season of the Year
Undoubtedly, American Baitworks’ ice fishing lures will keep you pulling fish throughout the ice season. Carrying mix of vertical jigs, multiuse hard baits, and finesse soft plastics from Freedom Tackle and STH Bait Co. will give you more variety to throw at your target species this winter.
For more information about and to check out our full line of ice fishing products, please visit americanbaitworks.com.
HOW TO FIND CONSISTENT MID-SEASON ICE FISHING SUCCESS
In many areas across ice fishing country, the ice fishing action got off to a bit of a late start this time around. Warmer than usual weather prevented safe ice from forming, and then when it did form, more warm weather sent things backwards. Now though, the action is underway. Lots of anglers are on the ice and success has been anywhere from good to exceptionally good. For that particularly good action to continue, there are some things that we can do. Following are some of those things.
I usually like the later rounds of the ice season better than the first few. We can get around on the ice better, and that’s a big deal. This time of year, it’s not unusual to drill dozens of holes in the ice in our attempts to find fish. The ice is thicker and there’s more snow on it, so the fish aren’t as easily spooked. And, although additional traffic on the ice can spook fish this time of year, the extra traffic won’t be as noticeable as it was earlier in the season.
The weather is usually warmer as mid-winter turns into late- winter, and that makes us more likely to get out and move around. I like to put my equipment in a flip-over and cover the ice, drilling holes as I move. Even with all my gear, it’s possible to be comfortable yet efficient. It’s not unusual to be covering territory and realize that you’re farther from your starting point than you might have imagined. When that happens, fish the holes that have been drilled on your way back to your starting point. You can often catch a bunch of fish by re-visiting holes that you’ve already fished.
Sonar is such an important part of successful ice-fishing. This time of year, it usually doesn’t pay to sit on a hole for more than 5 minutes if there are no fish below. The FLX-28 that sees the most use from me does all I need it to do to help me see and catch more fish. If I don’t see fish, I don’t hang around. But if I do see something that looks interesting but doesn’t want to eat what I’m showing them, I show them something different.
The biggest challenge to catching fish through the ice at this time of year is fishing pressure and conditioning. The fish have seen a lot of baits so they’re more selective. Additionally, many fish have been caught and taken home, so there’s fewer of them down there. Now is the time to abandon community spots and go out searching for other locations that aren’t as popular or well-known. There might not be as many fish on these spots, but the fish that are there often won’t be as finicky. Find different fish and show them different presentations and you’re chances for success will improve.
Downsizing and going to a slower presentation can be a good idea later in the season, especially when the fish are more choosy than usual. Some of the most successful ice anglers are using what is referred to as a 1-2 punch. They attract the fish with a bait that gets the fishes attention, something like a Tikka Mino. This style of bait has a good amount of action. The fish come in and look and will often eat it. But sometimes they just look. When this happens, drop a smaller jig to them. A Drop Jig tipped with live bait or plastic works well especially for panfish. Impart little action to the jig. Once you get the fish’s attention with the larger more aggressive bait, they have a tough time saying “No” to the smaller bait with less action.
The weather is warming or will be soon. The days will get longer, and the fish will get hungrier. If you get out on the ice in the next few weeks, the odds that you’ll catch a few are good, and that should be enough of a reason to go ice-fishing while the ice is still safe.
Mid-winter can be one of the best times to locate and “stay on” on crappies. Though the fish are often in predictable areas during this time, getting them to bite can be a bit challenging. Here are some thoughts on where to first, find mid-winter crappies and second, on ways to tempt them into biting.
Mid- winter crappies are often found roaming deep basins searching for food. Basin areas in some of the shallow lakes I fish might be in the 15- to 25- foot depth ranges. On other lakes with deeper waters, the basins that hold fish will often be deeper too.
While crappies often roam a particular basin, a good basin one year will often be a good basin the next year too. For that reason, anglers can often return to productive areas they found in previous winters or, on previous trips, and drill holes in the same vicinity to pinpoint schools.
Moving about a basin and quickly drilling holes to find those schools is key and this is where having a sharp, reliable ice auger helps. The K-Drill auger I use works great for searching as it’s super lightweight and is powered by a cordless electric drill, so with a charged battery, it’s a reliable starter.
Another important part of a successful basin crappie search is the use of a quality flasher sonar unit. Sonar allows anglers to “see” any crappies roaming a basin and, since crappies often suspend, is helpful in effectively presenting a bait in the water column at the level the fish are found.
I use the FLX-20 flasher because it does an excellent job of helping me locate fish and has ¼-inch separation allowing me to easily distinguish individual fish and my bait when the fishing starts. This is important as crappies often appear several at a time and “separating” them as they appear on sonar helps catch them!
Finding roaming crappies is obviously important. The challenge then becomes getting them to bite. Sometimes the fish are aggressive and can be caught on small jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads or waxworms and worked aggressively. A 1/16-ounce Jointed Pinhead Mino spoon is my favorite as it comes in all the right colors and its jointed design, and the action the design provides, often makes it appealing to crappies.
Spoons are favorites as they appeal to bigger fish and the aggressive ones. At times, however, crappies require more finesse. This is when small tungsten jigs get the nod. In fact, a small tungsten Drop-Kick jig tipped with either waxworms or a small panfish plastic has put lots of crappies on the ice when the fish refused other lures. Pink, red, and white jig and plastic color combinations have worked well for me when finicky crappies are encountered.
I usually start a fishing day jigging a spoon and go to the tungsten jig if the fish won’t cooperate. These jigging methods are, however, only one part of my 1-2 winter crappie set up. The other involves a simple crappie minnow fished on a plain hook beneath a bobber with some split shot weights added to the line about a foot or so above the hook.
This “do nothing” approach is often effective when fish are attracted to a jigging bait but refuse to eat it. Often, these fish simply slide over to, and inhale, the minnow!
If getting fish to inhale your baits this winter is a goal, consider targeting crappies. By heading to the basin of your favorite panfish lake and employing the tips suggested you can probably find and catch some mid-winter slabs right now. As always, good luck on the ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch is co-host of Fishing of the Midwest TV and a multi-species Minnesota fishing guide, view the website: www.fishingthemidwest.comto see more from Fishing the Midwest.
FISKAS Wolfram Jigs & Little-Atom; All-Time Money Winners on Ice
from The Fishing Wire
Saline, MI – Right place. Right time. Great lure. For Jamie and Carmin Olson of Your Bobbers Down, Inc., the old fishing adage parallels not just the successful company’s back-story, but also serves as a sort of remarkable self-fulfilling prophecy. Sixteen years after the company’s inception, the Olson’s brands remain benchmarks in the ice fishing industry.
In 2001, Jamie Olson was on a mission to find the best spring bobber for his ice fishing when he came across FISKAS, a Swedish manufacturer of top hardwater products. Unable to sell across oceans at the time, FISKAS opted to ship Olson a sample of every product they made—primarily FISKAS Wolfram (tungsten) ice jigs — hopeful for a U.S. distribution deal.
“It was a small box of jigs,” Olson recalled. “There were just four sizes and thirty color patterns back then, plus a pile of FISKAS Balances (swimming / jigging lures), but the package weighed well over 20-pounds.
“At the time, no one in North America had any idea what a tungsten jig was, let alone how heavy they were compared to lead or how effectively they fished. But when I placed a single tiny FISKAS Wolfram Jig in my palm, and felt its impressive heft, I knew we were on to something big.”
That very November, Olson and his wife Carmin launched YourBobbersDown.com, a family-run online store offering cutting-edge, hard-to-find ice fishing products. “My favorite fishing partner is my wife’s father, George Pullin. He’d call me up at work all the time when he wanted to go fishing. I’d pick up the phone and hear George’s exuberant voice: ‘Hey, your bobber’s down!’ he’d always say. Later, when we started our business, the phrase became a natural for our company name.”
Success followed, with product placement at numerous local retailers, and Cabela’s stores in 2003. “Our good friends Jeff Morse and his father Phil understood the power of FISKAS Wolfram Jigs right away. Jeff worked at the local Cabela’s store and introduced us to Cabela’s corporate folks. In 2004, the Morses also won $20,000 and the first NAIFC Championship, pairing FISKAS Wolfram Jigs with Little-Atom Nuggies.”
Soon, the profitable lure pairing led to a relationship between YourBobbersDown.com and Little-Atom, a classic ice fishing company who created early microplastic baits, such as the Wedgee, Noodle and Nuggie. “While most folks consider Little-Atom the pioneer in ice plastics,” noted Olson, “few know that they also crafted some of the original ice jigs. The Rembrandt, Rat Finkie, Purist and Shmoe are all classic lure designs created in the 50s and 60s by Little-Atom, imitated by many other companies over the years.”
Following a handshake in 2005, YourBobbersDown.com became the sole online sales point and a distributor of Little-Atom lures and plastics. “Before this, I was traveling to the big ice tournaments, selling FISKAS Wolfram Jigs and Little-Atom lures out of my van. I remember having lines of anglers wrapped around parking lots, people who’d heard about the success of our stuff and couldn’t find it anywhere else. At times, folks wondered if we were selling fishing tackle, or something else less legit,” Olson laughs.
“When we first showed tackle buyers at Cabela’s, Scheels, Bass Pro Shops and other stores our products, they told us they’d never seen anything like it before. We were the first company to bring tungsten ice jigs to the U.S. market. It took some time and education for the market to accept the higher cost of these premium products.
Today, all our FISKAS Wolfram Jigs are still made in the same factory, using premium tungsten molded bodies and the finest Japanese fly-tying hooks. Every lure is hand-soldered and painted by artists with tremendous attention to detail.”
All these years later, tungsten jigs have become big business, with numerous other companies jumping at the ‘heavy metal’ hype. “Anglers have a lot more choices now,” observes Olson, “but what we’ve found is that most of our customers remain loyal to FISKAS and Little-Atom because no other company can match our quality and our personal service.
Interestingly, more and more anglers are also discovering the advantages of heavy tungsten for their spring and summer fishing. They’re just so much more versatile and an awesome alternative to lead.”
Indeed, even with a surplus of new tungsten ice jig entries—including models from much larger companies—top anglers continue to choose FISKAS. At least six NAIFC Championships have been won by anglers using FISKAS / Little-Atom plastic combos to date, including titles in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Interjects Tony Boshold, NAIFC and World Ice Fishing champ and longtime FISKAS-Little Atom aficionado. “When you add up all the championships and other tournament wins, FISKAS jigs and Little-Atom plastics are without question the money-winningest ice lures of all time. Even though a lot of imitators are out there now, word on the street about who’s got the best stuff has never strayed from the lures we’ve always used.”
ABOUT YourBobbersDown.com Acknowledged as the finest one-stop-shop for premium, cutting-edge ice products, YourBobbersDown.com continues to bolster its product line with elite items. Beyond FISKAS and Little-Atom lures, Olson has added popular J&S Plastics, ASSO technical fishing line, Fiskas Balances, and bi-metal tungsten jigging spoons. Select complementary products such as Jonttu palm rods, C9 Scent Formula, Cold Snap Products, Ice-Strong Titanium Spring Bobbers and Bug Luggage jig boxes put the good stuff within the reach of all anglers.
Most people who go fishing on the ice will agree that sonar enables them to catch more fish. Sonar will reveal fish that are down there, and it will show how the fish respond to the bait that you’re using. When I first started ice fishing forty-plus years ago, the use of sonar wasn’t popular, mostly because there weren’t a lot of sonar units available for ice fishing. When I finally got an ice unit, and when I got familiar with it, and it didn’t take long to get familiar with it, I realized that I had been missing a key component for ice fishing success. Following are some actual on-the-ice lessons that convinced me that sonar needs to be part of an ice angler’s tool kit.
One day several years ago I shared an icehouse with fishing pioneer Gary Roach. We were on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. The area that we were fishing had stained water, and our house was over about thirty feet of that stained water. Typically, walleyes prefer to hang near the bottom when the water is stained. We kept a close eye on our sonar units and caught some walleyes. It wasn’t fast, but it was okay. Every now and then, we would see a fish mark on the sonar about fifteen-feet down. Because walleyes usually hug the bottom in stained water, we ignored those marks, or at least I did. I assumed that the marks were a whitefish or something other than a walleye. Gary didn’t assume that. After seeing a couple of those high riding fish, Gary started pulling his spoon up to them. Gary likes to catch fish. Any fish. He figured that it was better to catch a whitefish than not catch a walleye. Come to find out, those marks were walleyes, and by pulling our baits up to them, we added significantly to our catch for the day. Without sonar, we would not have seen those fish, and without seeing them, we wouldn’t have caught them.
Some anglers like to tie a swivel into their line a foot or so above the bait. The swivel reduces line twist. On a sonar unit, you can see the swivel and the bait. At times, panfish will come up and nip at the swivel. We want them nipping at our bait, not the swivel. Again, I’ve seen this happen on the sonar. When we realize what’s happening, we can adjust. Maybe we need to go to another bait to get the fish’s attention, or maybe we just need to lift the bait we’re using up to the fish’s level. Again, without sonar, we wouldn’t realize what’s happening.
I’ve got a friend who spends a lot of time on the ice. He will admit that he spends too much time on the ice. However, he has become an expert at interpreting what the sonar is showing him. He genuinely believes, and I believe him, that by closely watching his sonar, he can see the waxworms, spikes, or whatever wiggling on his hook. When the wiggling slows down, it’s time to put on livelier bait.
He’s also convinced that he can see if his bait has fallen off the hook. Many times, I’ve heard him say that his bait fell off. When he reels it in, sure enough, the bait is gone.
I have another friend who started ice fishing just a couple of years ago. He was convinced that he didn’t need a sonar. Nonetheless, one day he asked to borrow mine. I had a Vexilar 12 that he took with him. This is a nice unit and does a decent job. It’s not the highest end sonar unit though. When my friend returned it at the end of the day, he wanted to know where he “could get one of those sonar things.” He quickly realized that sonar will indeed help an angler catch more fish through the ice.
As winter sets in, many Vermonters are preparing for one of the most popular cold weather pastimes in the state – ice fishing. Anglers spend more than 400,000 days each winter ice fishing in Vermont, and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department is encouraging more people to give it a try.
Department fisheries biologist Shawn Good says ice fishing is a fun, social, family-oriented activity, and that there are many great reasons for Vermonters new to the sport to try it this year.
“Ice fishing is generally more accessible than open water fishing,” says Good. “Almost anyone can walk out on a frozen lake or pond and fish through the ice. And once you’re out there, there’s lots of room to spread out.”
Ice fishing can also be more sociable than open water fishing, with friends and family gathering on the ice for cookouts and winter fun along with the fishing. With an uptick in anglers trying the sport last year as a way to get outside with friends during the pandemic, Good expects to see a lot of action on the ice this winter.
“For many, it’s not just about the fish. Kids love ice fishing because they can run around and slide on the ice or play in the snow. I’ve seen families with grills, food and hot drinks having a great time. They set their tip-ups, build snowmen, play football, and even skate in between bouts of fishing.”
Ice fishing is inexpensive and simple to get started. “An auger used for cutting holes in the ice is the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll need,” says Good. “But you can get a 4-inch or 6-inch hand auger for under $50 and share it with others, so not everyone needs one. Add a scoop for cleaning out the holes and an ice fishing rod and reel combo or a couple tip-ups with hooks, weights and bait and you’re set for a fun day on the ice.”
When you’ve had a successful outing, bringing home a meal of healthy, locally caught fresh fish is a delicious benefit. Videos from the department’s Vermont Wild Kitchen partnership are a great place to find fun recipes for fresh caught fish, like lake trout or crappie.
“I think fish taste better in the winter,” says Good. “There’s something different about pulling a tasty perch, bluegill or bass from ice cold water. They tend to be firmer and have a milder taste than in the summer.”
Good says it is normal for new anglers to worry about venturing out on frozen water, but with a few basic precautions and common sense, ice fishing is safe.
“A minimum of three to four inches of clear black ice is safe to walk on,” advised Good. “If you’re unsure about ice thickness in your area call your local bait and tackle shop. They’re always up on current conditions and can help you get started with gear and advice, too. You can also look for other people out fishing. Experienced anglers know how to read the ice, so if you’re unsure, go where others are or have been.”
Good says that with the mild winter so far this year, most anglers are finding that ice fishing opportunities have been restricted primarily to Vermont’s smaller ponds or higher elevation areas that have formed good ice. Where ice is thick enough for safe fishing, access has been broadly simplified this year with Vermont’s new 2022 Fishing Regulations.
“Many large lakes still have not developed thick, solid black ice,” noted Good. “Some haven’t frozen over at all yet. Anglers looking to get out should focus on smaller waters and make the effort to check ice thickness frequently as they venture across the ice.”
It is important to know that ice is not always uniform in thickness. Areas around pressure cracks or near stream or river inlets can be thinner and weaker than surrounding ice. Good advises anglers to carry a set of ice picks, head out with a partner, and let someone know where you will be fishing, your access point, and when you plan on returning home.
Good says dressing properly is key. “On a calm sunny day, you’ll be surprised how comfortable you feel. Even with the thermometer showing single digits, the sun will warm you right up. Make sure you dress in layers and keep your head, hands and feet covered and dry, and you’ll be quite toasty,” said Good.
No matter where you are in Vermont, an ice fishing opportunity is close by. Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in winter, offering a fun, unique winter experience.
To learn more about ice fishing for beginners, visit Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s “Ice Fishing Basics” webpage.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Philosophies borrowed from the boat prove highly effective on the ice
Dr. Jason Halfen The Technological Angler
from The Fishing Wire
Open water anglers have long recognized the importance of a two-pronged approach to mobility. First, we burn untold gallons of gasoline motoring around the lake in search of active fish. Then, once we find evidence of our quarry, we churn the water to a fine froth with both vertical and horizontal presentations. For anglers across the Ice Belt, however, mobility must be redefined during the winter months. How does the intrepid ice angler remain mobile with respect to location and presentation?
Once ice thickness is sufficient to support travel by snow machine or vehicle, anglers can generally access the same range of locations they visited in the warm water months. Moreover, with access to a gas, propane or electric-powered auger, there is no limit to the number of holes that might be punched. Thus, aside from the thin-ice periods of early- and late-season ice fishing, mobility with respect to location does not differ significantly from the open-water period.
Let us turn our attention to eliciting strikes from our cold-blooded targets. At its heart, vertical presentations reign on the ice. Through one hole, we can target walleyes and perch close to the bottom, crappies and bluegills in intermediate depths, and marauding pike and late-season panfish mere inches beneath the ice. We make vertical adjustments by simply letting more line out, or reeling up a bit, often in response to the flicker of sonar signals.
But to break our presentations out of a vertical column requires more creativity than simply turning the reel handle.
Baits that tumble or swim well outside the column are particularly advantageous when targeting active, cold-water species like pike or trout, and for times when more sedentary targets, like walleyes and crappies, are experiencing a short-lived surge in feeding activity. Indeed, presentations that move within the horizontal plane are more visible to fish swimming nearby, and exhibit more vulnerable, realistic movements than the simple yo-yo of baits that are restricted to purely vertical motions.
Perhaps best known within this class are minnow-shaped jigging baits like the Rotating Power Minnow (RPM) from Custom Jigs and Spins and FISKAS Swimmer. Both swimming baits feature precisely-tuneds tails, which cause them to swim outside of the hole on the lift and dart erratically on the fall. Present both baits with a medium power rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28M, to aggressively work the bait through the water and drive hooks home upon a strike.
Fluttering spoons represent a broad class of baits that swim and roll outside of the hole. Their lightweight construction and variety of sizes makes such spoons a versatile option for targeting everything from bluegills and bass to walleye and trout. A classic example is the Pro Series Slender Spoon from Custom Jigs and Spins, which couples flash with a wide-wobble. Be sure to rig the Slender Spoon with the included snap to enhance its action.
A related fluttering spoon is the Demon Tongue from J & S Custom Jigs. This panfish-sized spoon features a precisely-machined hole in its body, adorned with a thin flicker blade that imparts incredible action as the bait comes to rest. The 1/16-oz Demon Tongue is best presented using a sensitive, ultralight rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28UL. If you enjoy spoon-feeding your icy quarry, Slender Spoons and Demon Tongues belong in your arsenal.
A horizontal swimmer that defies being categorized is the Fin-Wing from Keweenaw Tackle Company. This uniquely-shaped metal bait, with a patent-protected design and the versatility to be fished “as is” or dressed with a live or soft-plastic bait, is an emerging superstar on big fish waters like Lake Winnipeg and Lake Erie. The Fin-Wing swims outside of the hole on the lift, and then slowly descends toward the bottom with a unique, lifelike wobble on the fall. Sumo walleyes can’t resist the Fin-Wing’s unparalleled action in both the horizontal and vertical planes. When pursuing apex predators like walleye, pike or giant lake trout, choose a rod with power and resiliency like the St. Croix Mojo ICE MIR36MH for spinning reels or the MIRC34MH for casting gear.
Baits like the Rotating Power Minnow, Slender Spoon, Demon Tongue and Fin-Wing probe the water column in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions, allowing you to cover water more efficiently and present your baits to more fish on each trip. As the ice season continues, resolve to increase your mobility, both above the ice as well as beneath it, and watch your hardwater catch rates soar!
About the author: Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, a company dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more and bigger fish. Learn more at www.technologicalangler.com .
First ice is a magical time to pursue many species of gamefish, and members of the trout family are no exception. Just ask veteran trout and salmon guide Bernie Keefe, who plies the high-country lakes around Granby, Colorado.
“Rainbows, brookies and browns are all hungry right now,” he says. “The spawn is over and trout are feeding up before the winter crunch settles in.”
As a bonus, a lack of fishing pressure in recent months often has trout at ease. “Nobody’s fished them for awhile, so they’re ‘dumbed down’ a little bit compared to the rest of the year,” he laughs.
Keefe targets skinny water in early winter, where trout pursue crayfish, baitfish and other sizeable sources of sustenance. “They eat insects, too, of course,” he concedes. “But trout have big appetites this time of year and prefer larger forage when they can get it.”
He focuses on depths of four to seven feet, especially where bottom transitions sweeten the pot. “Changes from rock to sand or muck can be trout magnets,” he offers. “And green weeds can be a plus where available.”
On the flip side, vertical inclines are out. “Forget steep drop-offs,” he says. “Gentle slopes and flats in the backs of bays or alongside points are ideal.”
When he finds a promising fishing area, Keefe quickly pops a trio of holes and sets up shop. “I drill two holes 30 inches apart, which allow me to fish two lines,” he explains. “Then I add a third hole in between, so I can sight-fish both outer holes simultaneously.”
To maximize comfort and manual dexterity while fishing, he pops a Clam portable shelter over the work zone and fires up a Mr. Heater to ward off the chill. “I like fishing without gloves for better feel, as well as the ability to quickly unhook fish, rebait hooks and retie lines,” he says.
In one hole, Keefe drops a flashy attractor lure like an 1/8-ounce Clam Leech Flutter Spoon. In the other, he deploys a more subtle presentation, such as Clam’s tungsten Caviar Drop Jig. Spoons are often fished without tippings, but traditional jigs are tricked out wit h a small soft-plastic or live bait dressing. “Berkley Gulp! and Maki Plastics work very well,” he says. “Mealworms and waxies are always good choices if you like live bait.”
Spoons are fished with flair. “Give the spoon a 6- to 8-inch lift, then let it flutter back down,” he says. “Dance it in place, pause and repeat the process. When you see a trout rush in, kill the theatrics. Most fish prefer to crush it on the pause.”
Keefe cautions to keep your spoon performances well grounded. “You don’t have to pound the rocks or stir the mud, but always keep the spoon within a foot of the bottom,” he says.
Jigs are fished with a slower hand, tighter to bottom. “Jigs like the Caviar Drop Jig imitate fish eggs, which don’t jump around a whole lot,” he says. “But you have to add a little movement to get trout’s attention. I favor slow, methodical, 1-inch lift-and-drops, but nervous shakes also have their moments. With either approach, keep the jig within an inch of the bottom.”
Whether jigging or spooning, Keefe wields a 28-inch, medium-light Jason Mitchell Meat Stick ice rod, which he says offers a great balance between strength and sensitivity. “The high-vis tip also makes it easy to see light bites when you can’t see the lure,” he adds, noting that 4-pound Berkley Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon is his line of choice.
Since trout are on the bite, Keefe rarely lingers in an unproductive area. “If you don’t get bit within 10 minutes, move,” he says.
Most days, the bulk of the action comes early in the day. “Under clear skies, it’s usually over by the time the sun hits the ice,” he says. “But it’s a great way to spend a morning. And cloudy conditions can prolong the action until noon or later.”
Keefe says the first-ice flurry usually lasts around three to four weeks, depending on fishing pressure. “When crowds move in, trout slide out to deeper haunts,” he says. “They’re still catchable, but the early season magic is over for another winter.”
The Clam Outdoors “Caviar Drop” jig is an excellent first and last ice trout jig. Watch Bernie’s video to learn more.