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An Angler’s Evolution In Ice Fishing

It’s interesting how things evolve. Change is part of the world that we live in. If we don’t accept change, we’re not going to be as productive as we could be. I’ve learned that especially with computers and digital cameras. They’ve made my life easier (usually) and more productive (sometimes). In a recent conversation with a fishing friend, I learned that my attitude toward moving from hole to hole while ice fishing needs to evolve if I wanted to be more successful at catching fish through the ice.

John Crane is an avid ice angler. He’s on the leading edge of ice fishing techniques and technology. In a recent conversation with John (J.C.) the talk turned to ice fishing. I asked J.C. how long he’ll sit on a hole if he doesn’t see a fish on the sonar. His answer surprised me a little. Not a lot, but a little. He said that if he doesn’t see a fish on the sonar, he doesn’t drop a line. He moves to another hole.

I’ve fished with J.C. several times through the years. In the past, we’d pop 20-30 holes in the ice in an area that we suspected held fish. We’d put a sonar transducer down the hole and then drop a bait down. If we saw a fish, we would hold the bait a foot or two above the fish and try to get it to come up to the bait. Most fish are more likely to feed up than to feed down. If we didn’t see a fish on the sonar, we’d move the bait in hopes that a nearby fish out of the transducer’s cone angle might be attracted to it. If nothing showed up, we’d jiggle the bait a little more aggressively. We were trying to draw a fish to the bait. If nothing showed up after a couple of minutes, we moved to another hole.

For a long time, that worked well and it still does. However, in the past couple of years with advancements in technology, J.C. doesn’t drop a bait if he doesn’t see a fish. He uses sonar that can scan an area and will show where fish are in relation to where an angler is. J.C. can go to the holes where the scanning sonar says the fish are. He then drops his down-looking sonar transducer in the hole. He will usually see a fish, and if he can see it, he can usually catch it.

Not all of us have sonar that scans. I don’t, and many of the people that I fish with don’t either. However, we have traditional sonar. We know that sonar will help us catch more fish through the ice. The Vexilar FLX-20 that many anglers prefer provides outstanding target separation. It will show within inches where the tiniest jig is in relation to a fish on the screen. In the past several years we’ve realized even more that if a fish isn’t on the screen, move along to the next hole.

J.C. has also been evolving from live bait on a jig to plastic bait on a jig. The evolution is almost complete. J.C. says he rarely takes live bait on the ice, and never does if he’s after panfish. Plastic comes in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Live bait doesn’t offer those options. Plastic baits are also much easier on the hands: You don’t need to put your hands into freezing water in a minnow bucket to get a plastic bait, and plastic bait stays on the hook longer and doesn’t die. It’s much less expensive than live bait. When the crappies, perch, or bluegills are wanting a slower presentation, he shows them a Drop Jig tipped with a Maki Jamei XL or a Maki. These plastics wiggle even when the jig is barely moving. If a faster presentation is employed, a Maki Mino or Mino XL is threaded onto the Drop Jig.

In our conversation, I did a lot more listening than talking. I learned that an angler can catch fish through the ice using traditional techniques. I also learned that we can catch more fish through the ice if we change our techniques a little bit. Fishing is like so many things in life: We can do things the way we’ve always done them, or we can evolve and often times do things better. I’m looking forward to evolving on the ice this ice fishing season.

– Bob Jensen of

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