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By Jason Brooks
There is something about sitting on a bucket staring into a dark hole cut in the ice while waiting for a trout to bite. Maybe it’s the freezing wind cutting into your bones or that you can walk out to your favorite hole and leave the boat at home. Regardless of why you enjoy ice fishing, there are a few things you can do to increase those bites and put some fresh trout in the frying pan.
It should go without saying, but for some reason each year there tends to be a few anglers who risk their safety for a fish. Ice should be thick enough to walk on it without hearing any cracking, as well as no overflow, which is where water is standing on top of ice. Overflow can come from a rare winter rainstorm after the ice has formed, a warm day melting the top ice and snow, or from a hole that has some pressure underneath, such as near a spring or a creek that flows into the lake. Stay away from “soft ice,” which is slushy, as that can also indicate a warm water spring underneath.
Get an ice auger to cut the hole in the ice instead of chopping it with an axe. In my younger days all we used was an axe but looking back on it now, I don’t know how we didn’t create cracks. Chopping the ice can lead to unintentional breaks as well as flying ice chips and an eye injury.
With today’s mapping systems it’s not hard to find a productive spot without having to cut too many holes in the ice. Look for deep holes, shelves, and points. Anything that might have structure to it is where you will find the fish. Trout will be feeding on aquatic bugs and baitfish. The bugs will be larvae or pupae and the baitfish are such things like sculpins, muddler minnows, shiners, and other small fish.
If chumming is permitted, then make up a bucket of chum. This is easily done with some crushed chicken eggs shells and salmon eggs (you can find chumming eggs, which are crushed eggs with the left over “juice” from the curing process, or make your own when you cure salmon eggs in the fall). Another way to chum is to use a can of tuna fish or even corn. Punch a hole through it and tie some paracord, drop it down into the hole and lower to the bottom and then pull it up a few feet.
If chumming is not allowed, you can still attract the fish to your location if bait is allowed. There are several scents on the market but be sure to get water-soluble products. Pro-Cure makes several water-soluble scents, including Shrimp, Sand Shrimp and Bloody Tuna. You can soak baits that will absorb the water-soluble oils, such as salad shrimp, bread, and corn. It is even a good idea to put it in a jar of salmon eggs overnight and let it soak in. I know anglers that cut up a kitchen sponge and will tie a piece onto their line and soak it in the scent.
Water-soluble scents are important and a serious game changer when it comes to ice fishing because of the cold water temperatures. Other bait oils are often fish oil, mineral oil, or vegetable oil base and will not disperse in the cold water. Instead, they ball up and float up to the top. If you drop your bait down and then start to see oil in the hole, it is likely that the fish are not being exposed to the scent. Water-soluble oils will mix with water and create a “scent cloud,” drawing in more fish. You can also add a sticky scent, such as Mack’s Lure UV Bait Scents, which will stick to the bait and when a trout bites down they are likely to hang on a bit longer, allowing you to set the hook.
The dark days of winter and a thick layer of ice on the lake means very little light is penetrating. What is penetrating, however, are the ultra-violet rays, much like a “black light” and U.V. will make your bait glow under the ice.
Mack’s Lure has a plenty of lures that are U.V. treated, such as the Sling Blade 4” as well as offering an “Ice Rig” Value pack, which comes with a Sling Blade dodger and either Glo Hooks or a Hum Dinger spoon. Use the dodger with an 18-inch leader to a Mack’s Glo-Hook tipped with a maggot or piece of cooked salad shrimp that has been soaked in water-soluble Bloody Tuna scent.
To weight this rigging, simply use a sliding 1/2-ounce egg weight above the dogger. The idea is that the dodger looks like a feeing trout due to the UV finish glowing under the dark ice and the Glo Hook tipped with bait is what the trout is chasing. The Glo Hooks are the best hooks to use when fishing bait as the hook itself will attract fish. If your bait falls off the hook, it will still work by drawing the trout’s attention. The Glo-Fly is another great option, especially if bait is not allowed as it mimics an aquatic bug and glows to attract fish. The Sling Blade and Hum Dinger make a great non-bait rig to catch trout under the ice, as well. It is the same concept as the dodger with a Glo-Hook, which looks like a larvae, but instead the Hum Dinger looks like a small baitfish that the trout is chasing.
Jigging small jigs such as the 1/8-ounce Rock Dancer in white and red tipped with some bait is another good way to catch fish. The chenille collar holds scent well and the jigging motion will create a cloud of scent to attract the fish. Another lure to try is the Sonic Baitfish and it comes in several glow colors, as well as small sizes, such as 1/16- and 1/8-ounces. These are great to jig in waters where you encounter trout, as well as perch. Jigging is a fun way to catch fish under the ice as it helps you pay attention to the technique, as well as anticipate the bite instead of thinking about how cold it is outside.
Now that winter has set in and several lakes are covered in thick ice, it is time to go ice fishing. It’s a fantastic way to spend the few hours of daylight we have and catch some fresh fish for dinner. It does not take much gear and there is no need to worry about washing the boat once you are done. Just pack everything you need in a 5-gallon bucket and head out to the ice. Remember safety is always first, and once conditions change to “rotten ice” it is time to put away the auger and start getting the gear ready for springtime.