Four Tips for Mid-Season Ice Fishing Success
from The Fishing Wire
Changes in strategy can put more fish on the ice during the mid-winter blues.
MADISON, WI – After the rush to punch holes during first-ice, hot bites tend to cool off. Many ice anglers are left scratching their heads. Some call it the mid-season blues and leave it at that, but there are a number of tactics that can help adaptive anglers ice more fish, despite changes in fish behavior. All it usually requires is a change in approach.
Here are a number of tactics culled from anglers who spend countless hours on mid-season ice and consistently prove the period can be just as productive as first- or late-ice.
Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rod
WALLEYES & PERCH—UNCONNECTED, OFFSHORE STRUCTURE
For walleyes and perch, look for offshore, unconnected structure from the shoreline—humps, reefs, crowns, etc. Bigger, more dramatic structures are usually better because they exhibit more nuances and, therefore, tend to hold more fish. That said, smaller isolated structures—tiny humps or rock piles—will still often hold fish, just not as many, so don’t overlook them. Ideally, find larger, offshore structure that’s adjacent to a flat, not a super-hard no-man’s-land break. Such flats provide a cruising area for fish and a comfortable approach to the structure. Look for depths in the 30s or 40s that shift into the 20s at the structure, keeping in mind that the deeper the tops of the structure, the longer the bites will last. Also, you want a larger structure crown—ideally, a big, flat crown with some mixed habitat perhaps including rock on one side, a slow taper on one side, and another side with a hard break. This means you can maximize your time by investigating a lot of different situations on one piece of structure.
From a mapping perspective, a mobile app like Fishidy is indispensable, which features mapping layers, contour lines, structure/vegetation, and Fishing Hot Spots. This can help you eliminate 90% of unproductive water from the get-go, saving time and energy. Then, once structure is located with the app, run the perimeter of that structure with your ATV, snowmobile, or vehicle to get a better picture of that structure’s area and pre-drill all your holes before ever dropping a line. It could be six holes or it could be 30, but you want to make sure you hit the entire piece of structure. If there’s fresh snow, all you need to do is follow your tracks around the structure as you fish or use your Fishidy app. And remember to drill three holes in each location—one on top of the structure, one on the break, and one off the break in deeper water. If someone gets on a bite, be prepared to drill a second sequence of holes in that spot, so keep your auger close while fishing.
WALLEYES—FIND GREEN WEEDS
Walleyes aren’t always out roaming the flats and reefs chasing shiners; a lot of times they’re in the weed beds snatching up young of the year bluegills and crappies. Savvy anglers know that not all weed beds die off in the winter, particularly coontail and some cabbage. Finding green weeds can be more challenging during the mid-season, but can still be accomplished with the help of hi-tech mapping and sonar, a tool like the Fishidy app, or the use of an Aqua-Vu underwater camera.
Once green, standing weeds are located, catching walleyes typically becomes a matter of working the holes and corners of the bed.
This is where tip-ups come into play, because you might be really stretched out. You may find a hole in the weed bed that’s 300 feet away from where you’re jigging. That said, green weed beds can be a great place for family fishing. Use lots of tip-ups and jig sticks to cover the most area possible, and a family or group can enjoys some banner mid-season days on the ice!
In summary, the magnetism of weeds doesn’t change throughout the winter. If anything, the remaining green weeds become super congregating areas for fish during mid-season, holding more fish in less area.
MID-SEASON LARGEMOUTH BASS
Don’t overlook the fun that largemouth bass can present during mid-season. A good place to find them is on the giant, shallow-to-mid-depth flats in bays or the mouths of bays adjacent to spring spawning areas. Green weeds are not a prerequisite in these areas, but if you find them, it’s game on. Contrary to what many believe, bass feed continuously throughout the winter and are not turned off at all. In terms of presentation, it’s tough to beat live bait on tip-ups in this application, like a shiner or sucker. Also consider hobbling the bait by cutting a fin or gills so the bass don’t have to chase it. Bass will also readily hit jigging spoons and even small jigs tipped with waxies or spikes like those used to target blugills and crappies.
Mid-season ice fishing success doesn’t have to involve live bait. In fact, some artificial presentations—in the right circumstances—can outperform live bait. Jigging minnows and lipless rattle baits can be formidable weapons, and the latter is a real superstar in just about any mid-season situation because it fishes myriad depths, from shallow to deep. Something like a LIVETARGET lipless rattlebait fished on Seaguar braid with a fluorocarbon leader produces an ideal combination of strength, sensitivity, natural falls, and easy hooksets.
Cadence is key. The free-fall is especially important with rattle baits; you’ve got to limp line the bait down so it does everything it’s supposed to do without forcing it to have an unnatural wobble on the descent. Because the body profile of rattle baits is so natural, a lot of times fish will hit them on a dead stop with no movement. You can literally have one sitting motionless for a minute or more and a walleye will come up and hit it. The silhouette—even at a standstill—resembles young-of-the-year fish that spend much of their time barely moving, almost in suspended animation.
If walleyes are approaching small bluegills or crappies at dusk in the weeds and the panfish are shut down and the walleyes are still active, they are used to motionless prey. So, your jigging cadence doesn’t always have to be wild or active. Experiment with slower movements and even dead-sticking.