By Mike Frisch
This winter is definitely different weather-wise from what we are used to! As I write this, however, I am looking ahead to some cold weather that will make for thicker and more consistent ice conditions. As the ice on lakes does finally thicken, our ice-fishing tactics should change a bit if we want to be successful. Early in the year, when the ice was thin, a more sedentary approach was often more productive. Fish under thin ice can detect movement better, and movement from above spooks them. Therefore, the angler that sits on a good spot and doesn’t move much will often be more successful.
As the season progresses and ice gets thicker and snow gets deeper on top of the ice, and as the fish go deeper, an angler’s movement isn’t as much of a factor: Because of reduced light penetration, the fish can’t see what’s going on above the ice. Now is when an angler should be moving around on the ice. For the next few weeks, even until the end of the ice fishing season, the angler that moves the most will often catch the most fish.
Now is when some of the most successful anglers on the ice implement a plan that they often refer to as “trolling on ice”, or “hole-hopping”. They drill several holes on a structure at various depths and locations on the structure and move quickly from hole to hole. They keep moving, just like you would when trolling open water in a boat.
Or, they might not be fishing structure. Sometimes big flat areas are home to roaming schools of fish, mostly perch and crappies, but also walleyes and pike on some lakes. If this is the case, they again pop a bunch of holes on a more random basis and again, they just keep moving.
This trolling on ice can be as complex as you want it to be. With the development and improvements in sonar, GPS, and mapping chips, it’s possible to go right to a structure and be close to any breaklines or fingers or whatever on the structure. You can start drilling holes close to where you think the fish will be.
Or you can do it like we have done for a long time: You go to an area that has produced in the past and just start drilling holes until your sonar tells you you’ve found the structure you’re looking for.
Now that the holes are drilled in the area to be fished, it’s time to drop a bait. Although we won’t be spending much time at any hole unless we see fish, it still works well to move from hole to hole with a portable shelter. You can carry all your stuff in the portable, which enables you to wander off a bit if you want to drill more holes at the end of your “trolling” pass. Also, they’re a lot more comfortable to fish from, and sometimes they provide a windbreak, which is always appreciated. The folks at Clam are the pioneers and leaders in creating portable shelters. They have units with features that will appeal to any angler that wants to cover the ice.
As we move from hole to hole, we’re going to let our sonar unit tell us how long we should stay at that hole. We also use lures that call the fish in quickly. If nothing shows up in a couple of minutes, move to the next hole.
If something shows up on the sonar but doesn’t bite, again, move to the next hole. If you get fish to look at your bait at several different holes, but they don’t eat it, then you need to spend a little more time trying different baits, colors, sizes, and jigging actions. Eventually you’ll find what they want. When you determine what they want, it’s time to resume your “trolling” pass. If you keep moving on the ice this time of year, you’ll catch more fish, and that’s one of the best reasons to go ice-fishing that I can think of. As always, consider including a youngster in your next outdoor adventure!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series on the Sportsman Channel and several other networks as well. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com to see all things Fishing the Midwest.