10 Ice Fishing Tips
I live in the central Midwest so I do not do much ice fishing, but there have been winters where the ice is thick enough. I have also lived further north where ice fishing is much more common. I am not a professional with the hut and the space heater. When we go, we use an axe or pick to start a hole and then use a hand saw to finish it up. We sit on five gallon buckets for seats and rely on coffee and warm clothing to keep us warm.
The one thing I can definitively tell you about ice fishing is that nobody wants to cut the hole, freeze their butt off, and then come home empty handed. One of the most common stories I hear is that an angler gets settled, catches two or three fish, and then heads home because they stop biting. This is simply unacceptable for me. It is not worth the effort and discomfort to come home with two or three fish.
In this article I will cover some tips to help you get the fish biting and keep them biting. This guide is to ensure you will end your day of fishing encouraged to go again next time. After all, is that not the goal? You want to catch enough fish and have enough fun that you are driven to go again as soon as possible. With ice fishing, this is especially important.
When fishing on the bottom, regular ultralight line has too much stretch to feel the fish. Panfish have a very gentle bite, and a stiff line is required if they are more than a few feet deep. Powerline is the thickness of a one pound test line but has the rigidity of an eight pound test line. This eliminates the flex that can cause problems at greater depths.
Alternate Horizontal and Vertical
When jigging, most people use a vertical jig that is teardrop shaped. This works well for some fish, but they will get tired of it after a while. To change it up, pull off the vertical jig and switch to one that lays horizontal in the water. This will draw different fish and give you a surge of activity.
If you have been holding the rod all morning, take a break and set it down. Despite the fact that you may think you are holding your rod still, any little movements make your lure move in the water. This works well for a while, but some fish will only strike on still lures. Set down your rod and catch a few fish before resuming your normal activity.
Try Visual Fishing
Some of the fish you are targeting will suck in a lure and spit it out so subtly that you never feel it on your rod. To target these fish, try looking down the hole at your lure. Suspend it in front of larger fish, and set your hook when you see the lure move. Do not wait to feel it on your rod. To do this well you will need to use a bright jig, and are best to stick to a horizontal one for a larger profile to view.
You may start with a medium sized jig, but do not stay on that size all day. When you find a color that is working and the bites die down, go up in size. Catch some larger fish and then go much smaller in size. This will ensure that you catch as many fish as possible in your spot.
Most people jigging will stick to an up and down motion. However, fish get bored with this after a while. You can keep your jig at the same height and twist it in your fingers to make the jig rotate in the water. You can also move the jig around the perimeter of your hole while keeping it at the same depth. This is an excellent movement for fish less than five feet from the surface.
Switch From Live to Lure
You may love the reaction of live bait, but after a while try switching to plastic lures. The small ones with thin quivering tails are perfect to give the fish lots of motion even with minimal motion from your rod tip. This may attract some additional fish.
Hit the Bottom
Some fish will always be attracted by the sound and vibrations made from your jig hitting the bottom. You can either bounce the lure off the bottom, or you can let it hit and then leave it to lie on the dirt. Either way, it can draw in fish from quite a distance.
Get them Feeding
To give you some extra activity in your spot, try crushing up some live bait and throwing it in your hole. This will attract fish specifically to your area. It will also get them in the mood to eat, which can be tough in cold temperatures.
Block the Light
Specifically in shallow water, light coming through the hole can scare away fish and eliminate the contrast needed to get bites. Try throwing some ice shavings in the water to help block the light from your hole. You can pair this strategy with a glow in the dark jig to add some light contrast to your lure.
If you follow these tips and keep changing up your strategy, you should rarely come home with just a couple fish. You can be sure that if you shiver all day, it will be worth it. At the end of your day you should have a bucket full of fish, along with fishing stories that will drive you to head back out to the ice the next chance you get.