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Ice Fishing can really help you break Old Man Winter’s hold.
There’s nothing like wetting your line for the first time of the year. For some, that means drilling holes in the ice, while those a little less hearty might wait for a good springtime thaw.
Although the streams are running high with the seasonal snow melts, there’s still ice on the water in some Northern states. And where there’s still ice, there’s still going to be ice fishermen. For several more weeks, you can find places to go ice fishing.
Catch & Release? Not Today
Panfish are some of the first fish to spawn in the spring. They congregate in the warming canals, harbors, and shore lines, drawn in from deeper water. Big schools offer lots of opportunity.
Sunfish, Perch, and Calico Bass are super fun to angle, and these are the fish everyone can catch. It doesn’t take a great deal of fishing finesse to land a mess of them. Limits are generous, and the table fare is excellent. After all, they don’t call them pan fish for nothing.
This is a perfect activity to shake off some of those winter blues. It’s also the perfect activity to share with a youngster or someone new to the sport. They are sure to stay enthused with all the action.
Ice Fishing Techniques
The water is still cold. If you’ve ever dunked in this time of year, you can verify that (and so can I!). Because of the water temperature, fish tend to be sluggish now, so you have to adjust your angling techniques to the conditions. Here are some tips to do just that.
1. Slow things down a bit.
Add an extra split shot weight to your line. Fish are hovering and suspended in the water column. Set tip-ups in multiple areas at various depths to find where the fish are. If the bite slows, go down a lure size to trigger more strikes. If one area of your tip-up setup starts getting hot, be as mobile as you can and focus your lines in that area.
If you’re stream fishing, they’re likely holding in a current-break resting spot or hugging the bottom.
Fish aren’t too apt to chase down your presentation. Your offering needs to come to them. For stream fishing, this means you should drift it right in front of the fish. The cast needs to be made up stream, naturally flowing down with the current. They need time to decide to take it. If you’re jigging, make your vertical stroke shorter and slower than you would in the summertime.
2. Less is More
• You’ll catch more fish with a subtle approach. Use smaller jigs and flutter spoons, and add a little vibration to the presentation. A light strike indicator attached to the tip of your rod will really increase your catch. Use small floats that are more sensitive to a subtle bite.
• The visual flash of the flutter spoon gets the fish’s attention, but it might not be enough to make it bite. But attaching a little bait, with its natural scent, can seal the deal.
• When you’re selecting a fly, the basic rule of thumb is your offering shouldn’t be any larger than your little finger nail.
• Go light with your fishing line too. You’ll get more action out of your lure with the lighter line and it will be less likely to be spotted by the fish. Since the water is so cold, you won’t need the stronger poundage line to fight in the fish anyway.
• Easy does it. Even with no leader, you can land a big, toothy monster.
A few years ago, I was ice fishing for perch with a buddy, when suddenly, something really heavy took hold of his line. We were using 2 pound test with little tear drop jigs. He immediately set the drag light on his reel, and carefully fought the fish.
Twenty minutes later, he hoisted a respectably sized Northern Pike onto the ice.
3. Scents Make Sense.
Scent makes a huge difference, especially when ice fishing or in any cold water situation. If you opt not to use real bait, try one of the over- the-counter fish attractants. They do work; I’ve tested several. The one I’ve had the best success with is Dr. Juice. The Berkley brands work well, too.
Anise Isn’t Just for Licorice.
Remember when you were a kid and the tackle shops used to sell those hook rigged plastic worms that smelled like licorice? They were supposed to be great for bass. Well, that anise extract is really effective on trout, steelhead, and salmon too! Pick up a bottle the next time you’re at the grocery store. Don’t go fishing without it.
I heard this tip from an old timer, but I didn’t really believe him. How could such a sophisticated group of fish fall for that old trick?
However, trying it on one salmon trip, I realized just how effective it was. Add a drop to your presentation about every half hour. It works on your bait, fly, spinner, or plug and will increase your strikes by about 25%. No kidding.
Spice it Up with Garlic Salt.
Some years ago, I learned another lesson. If you keep an open mind, you can learn a lot from other sportsmen. I’ve always said, “You’ll learn a lot more if you listen and ask questions more than you talk. I know what I know, but I want to know what you know too!”
One cold spring morning, I was schooled by one of my fishing buddies. It was shortly after ice out. We were calico bass (or as some call them, crappie) fishing. The spot was a canal that flowed out into a lake.
I came prepared with a bucket of live minnows, a tackle box, and a spinning rod with float. He was just carrying a rod and whatever he had in his pocket.
We split up a ways along the canal and went to casting. I caught an occasional fish but wasn’t really doing so well. But it seemed every time I glanced over toward my buddy, he was reeling in another one. I moved his direction thinking, “There must be a school of fish over there.”
Still I wasn’t doing any better. Knowing him well enough, I unsportsmanlike-ly crowded his spot. I did catch a few more fish, (taking some name calling and verbal abuse for my intrusion). Yet, he continued pulling them in regularly.
Having fancied myself as quite an accomplished fisherman, it wasn’t easy, but I finally humbled myself and asked him how he was catching so many.
Two words came from his mouth: “garlic salt.”
He pulled the container from his pocket and popped the lid to reveal a handful of tube jigs in the pungent salt. He threaded a fresh pink-colored one on the jig hook and flung it out. The line hardly hit the water before the bobber disappeared.
I couldn’t figure it out. He was suspending his bait the same depth under the float as I was. “Want to try one?” he asked. I wanted to keep with my old standby. After all, what could be better than live minnows?
But, seeing is believing. I quickly re-rigged for the garlic salted jig. In no time, we limited out. Funny, now when my wife goes to the spice rack, we always seem to be out of garlic salt and anise extract!
Other Smells Fish Like
The same old timer who clued me in to anise extract told me to try Vicks VapoRub too. Next time I have a cold, I’ll give it a shot!
I also know some good fishermen that swear by WD-40 as a fish attractant. I personally haven’t tried it, but I’ve watched them using it on casting plugs in the Great Lakes, and they landed some monster brown trout.
Go Ice Fishing!
There is something very exciting about reeling a fish up through the hole. The spring spawning run starts now for many species of game fish. Northern Pike are the target big game, but there’s some fast action to be had with trout. Walleyes are one of the top sought-after species this time of year. You can expect more bites as the water temperature warms.
Also, remember, the ice is getting thinner. I went through a couple years ago. (It seems I always have to learn things the hard way…and yes, it was very cold.) Whether you’re angling in open water or still skating on the ice, fishing this time of year is great.
Do you have any ice fishing tips? Share them with the community in the comments below!
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