While there won’t be early ice as many hoped, it’s time to get ready for those angling opportunities that will come when the ice is finally ready.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that ice-on-the-pond was going to happen soon. Today, it doesn’t look like that so much. Not so long ago, for many of us, it was a pretty sure deal that we would be ice-fishing on or shortly after Thanksgiving. In today’s world, that bet is off. But the bet is on that we’re close to freeze-up, and when that happens, we want to be ready. Following are some things that we can do to be ready to get on the ice when the ice is ready for us.
First off, do all you can to make sure that the ice is safe. You don’t need to be the first one out there. However, we’re excited and anxious to drill that first hole, and action can be good on early ice. Not so long ago, early-ice anglers wore a life-jacket on the first few trips of the year “just in case”. Today, there are flotation parkas and bibs available that provide both safety and comfort. The Rise and Ascent parkas/bibs are two of the best. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and provide flotation. With that said, it’s still a very good idea to fish with a partner and to bring along some ice picks and a long, thick rope, again, “Just in case”.
Keep in mind that early ice is thin ice. The fish below can detect our presence more easily than they can through thicker ice. They can feel you walking on the ice and they’re much more sensitive to motion. Be on your spot before you think the bite will start. Often the bite is better later in the day.Get to your spot, drill some holes, then sit still. If no fish are showing up under the hole that you’re fishing, move quietly to another hole that has already been drilled.
Regardless if it’s early in the season or later on, the fish will be aggressive sometimes and not so aggressive at other times. Let their aggressiveness help you decide what type of bait to use. Most anglers use sonar to see if fish are present and to help determine how to present a bait. A good Rule-of-Thumb is this: For hungry, aggressive fish, use big baits and give them a good amount of action. Jig the bait quickly to attract fish. For finicky fish use smaller baits and put less action on the bait.
How can we tell if the fish are aggressive or finicky? Sonar will reveal that. I’ve been using an FLX-28 sonar as long as there’s been a FLX-28. It tells an ice-angler all one needs to know. If you see a fish come into the viewing area quickly and it readily eats your bait, you can assume they’re aggressive. If they come in slowly and hover near the bait without eating it, they’re probably in a finicky mood.
More and more, ice-anglers are using plastics to tip their jigs or spoons. Plastic is durable, it comes in lots of sizes and colors, and it doesn’t spoil. When the fish are active, start with plastic.
Live bait is still the go-to for many anglers when the fish are finicky. Live bait will wiggle all by itself and there is some scent. When panfish are being selective, it’s hard to beat a tiny Drop XL Jig with a couple of spikes or waxworms.
When we talk about tiny jigs, tiny is relative. In open water for walleyes, tiny is 1/16th of an ounce. When ice-fishing for panfish is the topic, tiny is 1/64th of an ounce. When using tiny jigs under the ice, some anglers will add a split-shot up the line a bit to help get the bait down faster. Sometimes though, that split-shot attracts the panfish and they’ll peck at it in an attempt to eat it. Sonar will reveal when this is happening, and when it does, it will probably be more productive to take the split-shot off.
Ice-fishing season is very near and even here in some places. If you keep these ice-fishing reminders in mind, your early-ice action will be better. Remember the first rule of early ice: Be careful.
Bob Jensen, Fishing the Midwest TV
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