Ice fishing can confound even experienced anglers. Many are the men who have gone out on the lake with their buddies and seen one guy bag over half the fish while the rest of the group stood around drilling holes and asking how he was doing it.
This is because ice fishing is exceptionally challenging and requires a whole set of skills that are mostly unrelated to conventional fishing out on your favorite lake, river, or stream. Even getting started with ice fishing can be difficult, at least if your intention is to go out there and actually catch something instead of getting skunked for the umpteenth time in a row.
Ice fishing isn’t fishing for a relaxing afternoon while you cast and listen to the wind blowing through the trees. You have to constantly be paying tons of attention to what’s going on and adjusting what you’re doing to match the specific scenario that you’re in that day. What worked last week won’t necessarily work this week or next week. Subtle differences in bait freshness, the noise you make on the ice, and the hook size to line diameter can make a huge difference in your level of success.
Observation and Experimentation
We know a lot of guys just don’t like technology, so it brings us pain to say it: you absolutely need sonar if you’re going to have a successful ice-fishing trip. There’s simply no other way to carefully observe how the fish are responding to your presentation in real-time. Without that valuable information, you’re basically just fishing blind. Sure, you might catch some fish and you might even have the odd great day, but ultimately, you’re just buying lottery tickets and hoping to win some fish.
Beyond just being able to see whether there are actually fish there or not, you’re going to be able to see how they react to your presentation. Some fish like a gentle jiggle, some fish want you to absolutely let the line rip before they go after your bait. A flasher or similar device is going to give you insight into what is attracting their attention, what isn’t and what has them running for the hills.
You Need A Map
One thing that separates the men from the empty-bucketed boys when it comes to ice fishing is a map. Specifically, you want a bathymetric map, which is a fancy way of saying an underwater topography map. This will help you to intelligently and strategically choose your drilling and dropping locations.
Some fish are going to cluster near a sunken river channel bend, others are going to huddle up in a shallow shoal. There are naturally existing chokepoints and areas of attraction for fish. You want to know what you’re fishing for, know how those fish behave and purposefully drill your holes where that type of fish likes to gather on its own. That’s going to dramatically increase your chances of coming home with a full bucket.
You can get apps that will generate maps for you. They’re not the cheapest things in the world, but hey… you’re going out on the ice to catch fish, right?
Patience Is Not Your Friend
Lots of guys go out on the ice, drill a few holes, drop a few lines, sit around all day waiting for the fish to bite, and go home empty-handed. They think that patience is their friend when it comes to ice fishing. It’s not.
You’ve probably heard the old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results. That’s basically what you’re doing when you drop a lure and just sit around waiting for the fish to bite. If they’re not biting halfway through the day, what makes you think they’re going to bite later on?
You need to be more proactive in your hunt for fish. That doesn’t mean running around like a madman, drilling a new hole every 20 minutes. It does, however, mean knowing when a specific area just isn’t the treasure trove of fish that you thought it was and moving on somewhere better. This is a lot easier to do when you have some kind of sonar and have done your biological and topographic research into what fish are there and where you’re going to find them.
If you’ve been having trouble catching fish on the ice, these are three good places to start increasing your chances. Otherwise, you’re just repeating the same old mistakes over and over again.