Why is it that hunters will spend days scouting the woods in order to find just the right spot to erect their treestands, but those same people ignore the same kind of preparation when it comes to ice fishing? Most people follow the crowd on hard water because of poor scouting or no scouting at all.
"Many anglers tend to follow that first guy on the ice," says Dave Genz, father of modern ice fishing and member of the Lindy Little Joe Fishing Team. "You've just got to hope that first guy did his scouting."
Most often, however, he didn't do anymore than you did. Instead of catching fish you both spend most of the winter on community spots, wondering why the quality of ice fishing diminishes soon after ice up. The common complaint is that the fish have disappeared.
"They have," Genz jokes. "They've gone home in buckets."
It's especially frustrating when you realize the biggest fish caught during the ice season generally are the first ones. Why not avoid that disappointment by finding several spots on your own, far from the maddening crowds? You'll have the best shot to catch bigger fish, and fish stay on less-pressured areas longer.
"Once the pressure comes, fish stop biting," Genz says.
Best time to find those private spots is right now, before ice up, Genz says. It's far easier to locate likely fish-holding structure and cover it with your electronics from a boat in November than to auger through several inches of ice in December. Pick a nice day, get a map of the lake, launch your boat and follow these simple steps. You will enjoy good fishing all winter long.
Tall, green weeds hold fish well after ice covers the lake. Weeds create oxygen that, in turn, attracts microscopic plankton that brings in baitfish. Baitfish draw larger species, from panfish to gamefish like walleyes, northern pike and bass.
"If panfish are there so are walleyes, northerns and other fish," Genz says. "Panfish and northerns will be present during the day. Walleyes move in at dusk or after dark."
First determine the depth of the weedline. Then look at the lake map and find where the contour lines are widest at those depths. For example, if the weedline is at 10 feet, look for places with wide areas from 5 to 10 feet. If the weed line is at 15 feet, then look for spots with wide areas from 10 to 15 feet. That's where weed beds are likely to be largest. The bigger the bed the more fish it will hold. (Narrow contour lines signal sharp breaks that will be too small to hold many weeds.)
Now check out those wide areas with your boat. If weeds are standing they will hold fish. Look for the points, inside turns and other irregularities within the weedline. Mark likely locations on the map and enter the coordinates into your handheld GPS.
Move deeper if the weeds are dying and lying down or the water clarity is poor so deeper weeds are non-existent. In that case, look for likely structure that may hold fish, such as points and inside turns on the breaklines closest to deep water. Look for suspended fish on your sonar. Watch for rock piles, brush piles, fallen logs and other cover fish will use. Enter those spots into your GPS, as well.
When you're done you'll have a good mental picture of what's below. And you'll have done it far easier than if you'd waited for hard water.
Now it's time to get your gear ready. Make sure to do the little things, starting with new line. Old line has kinks and your jig won't hang straight or you'll have a hard time staying in contact with the bait.
Check the eyelets on your ice rods with cotton swabs to identify those with sharp edges. Replace those eyelets to avoid nicking your line.
Go through your tackle box and get rid of jigs that are rusty or which didn't produce last year. Always limit your tackle to what works.
Sharpen your hooks. Even the smallest hooks on ice jigs can get dull.
Check all the batteries you'll rely on. Check your Tazer light so you can charge your Techni-Glo jigs. Charge the battery on the Vexilar, or change batteries on the Bottom Line Buddy sonar unit. Do the same on the Aqua Vu. Charge the battery on the snowmobile and make sure to change the oil and other fluids.
Make sure your light sources are ready. Replace mantles and propane canisters on gas lanterns and batteries in electric lanterns.
Now turn your attention to the ice shanty. On a Fish Trap, which Genz designed, place electric conduit around the edges for extra rods and other equipment. Bolt some onto the bottom to protect the runners.
Order bait, like eurolarvae, and buy nightcrawlers ahead of time and keep refrigerated until needed.
The Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared" should be your motto as you head into the ice fishing season. Be prepared to ensure the best ice fishing season ever.
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