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By Mike Hall, Mack’s Lure Pro Staff
I picked up the mail the other day and was excited to see this year’s ice catalogs. Cooler weather and new stuff is what fuels my soul for winter fun on the hard deck. Ice brings many friends with that shared passion to my lakes for good times and great adventures.
Now, let’s get started with the nuts and bolts to equip you with the knowledge to make your ice fishing season a success in 2022 and beyond. We’ll start with how to locate fish when ice fishing, then jump into lures and attractors, as well as effective jigging techniques.
We live in the information age with the Internet and social media front and center. Hot spots are announced hourly and pictures of and for success are everywhere. Smart phone apps show you detailed maps of nearly all water and GPS will plot the places to try. On top of that, a fish finder and underwater camera will show you the fish.
Ultimately, the real keys to locating fish when ice fishing are temperature of the water, currents, and preferred food resources. Be versatile in your search and move if you do not see fish on the finder. Early in the season, fish are likely in or near inflows of lakes because the temperature is stable. Late in the season, fish tend to be toward the main lake basin and deeper because water at that depth is generally warmer.
All fish inhabit an area or depth for a reason. Find that reason and you will be more successful when ice fishing.
Panfish, such as crappie, blue gill and yellow perch, are a favorite for ice anglers. They’re a social fish and tend to school in numbers. Crappie and yellow perch can be found in the main lake basin during winter months, suspended or close to the bottom and tend to move around.
When ice fishing for perch or crappie, try areas around the edges of the main lake basin with underwater drop-offs or points. Particularly, look for hard bottom, underwater springs, trees or rock piles, which can all be bonanzas. Crappie will often chart on the finder as clutter or clouds of fish, but perch with show up as single fish or in small groups. Both crappie and yellow perch are found from 10- to 15-feet of water as a rule.
Bluegills are found in less than 20-feet of water and near or in weed beds. Generally, they will stay in an area for several days or weeks. These fish like weed edges, holes in the vegetation, and submerged trees or bushes.
Trout can be found suspended in open water near underwater river channels and often visit weed lines and underwater points to feed. Trophy trout are generally single fish, but will inhabit areas that hold other trout. Feed types are the deciding factor when locating trout through the ice. For example, keep an eye out for minnows and insect life.
Kokanee, on the other hand, school up and are near the edge of the main current line and are suspended whereas walleye are more versatile predators and can be found in water from shore to center of the lake, making them trickier to find. Focus on finding bottom structure and work those areas over well.
Lures have five group types: spinners, jigs, crankbaits, spoons and top water. Pointing out the obvious, top water lures are paramount for ice fishing. Although, the other groups have offerings that are commonly used for ice fishing as a vertical pursuit, as well.
Ice fishing lure size is both detrimental and relative for success. Small lures and offerings are very popular but are not always the answer. Using a small tear drop when fish are actively feeding on three-inch minnows can have its drawbacks. Try matching the lure to both the activity levels and the feeding behavior of the fish you’re targeting.
Fish bite a lure for several reasons: anger, hunger, instinct, territory, or spawn, to mention just a few. When it comes to size and ice fishing, neutral fish generally respond to smaller lures, whereas active fish generally respond to larger lures.
In addition to addressing the size of your lures, it’s also important to pay attention to the color of your lures when stocking your inventory of ice fishing offerings. Colors you should include or incorporate into your presentations when ice fishing include: silver, brass, copper, pink, orange, chartreuse, white and, especially, glow in the dark.
Target neutral and metallic patterns and colors when ice fishing in clear water, painted lures in murky water and glow in the dark lures, such as the Mack’s Lure Glo Hooks, in dark water.
Now, let’s talk attractors for ice fishing. They are generally tied in-line, 6- to 14-inches above the lure and aid the fish in finding your offering and enticing a strike. They come in all sizes ranging from the smaller Smile Blade to the larger Sling Blade.
Thinking outside the box, attractors can also be used effectively by themselves on a sperate line in an adjacent hole. These are extremely productive for attracting especially large or schooling fish, such as kokanee, to a certain location.
Again, size plays a large role in success. Smaller, more subtle attractors including the Flash Lite Troll, when jigged slowly, are fish magnets. These can also be suspended at any depth to attract walleye, perch, crappie, trout or salmon.
Jigging spoons are a favorite lure for many ice fishing anglers, as they will catch anything that swims. At the top of this list, of course, is the Sonic BaitFish because of the range in sizes (1/16 oz. to 1 oz.) from small to large, and for its success with bass, crappie, yellow perch, rainbow trout, burbot, lake trout, kokanee, salmon and more.
This lure will work right out of the box with no tuning required. There are 12 different ways to rig this amazing spoon and endless applications to catch whatever swims.
Ice fishing is a vertical presentation of a lure, commonly termed jigging. These jigging techniques can be used on the ice and are also effective in open water for year-round success on your favorite waters.
The number one rule for effective jigging techniques when ice fishing is the keep your line as vertical as possible. Allowing the line to drift to the side will aid in attracting fish, but for perfect presentations, pause and hold the rod still and allow the line to again become vertical.
This gives the angler absolute control over the rise and fall rate, as well as the lure action. This is important because once you find an effective wiggle, you will need to be able to repeat the presentation.
Here are four simple methods of presentation to make you a master at ice fishing and jigging with any lure, but especially with jigging spoons.
The trick is to watch the fish finder as the lure falls and stop where the fish are. Small bits of your favorite bait are just as effective as a plain lure. Be sure not to add too much bait to the lure, as this tends to restrict the action. Try using un-baited lures if the water is clear but remember the thickness or snow-covered ice restricts the light levels and fish may not be able to see an offering. Perhaps this is the reason the glow in the dark lures, such as the Glo Hooks, are the most popular.
Lift and drop the rod, allowing the lure to free fall backwards. The lift and drop can vary from a few inches to several feet. Different waves are also effective. For example, slow up, slow down; fast up, fast down; or mix them. This action allows the lure to roll and flutter with full action.
Don’t be a tourist, though. Jerking or waving without purpose may make you seem friendly with others, but won’t catch dinner. However, moving the lure with intention will. Remember, the strikes are often very soft, and your full attention is absolutely necessary. Most strikes are felt, and some are indicated by the lure stopping or the line becoming slack.
Gently pump the rod with small lifts and drops but remember to add long or short pauses to the pumping acting to incite fish to strike. This imparts action not only to the lure, but to the bait on your hook, making the lure appear alive. Again, pay attention to the finder as fish attracted to this action show up. Simply pause and wait for the strike. If the fish seem disinterested then very slowly lift the lure, as this often incites a strike.
Adding a small blade or glow bead to the hook is a tremendous way to increase catches with this presentation. Pounding the bottom, lifting the lure and pausing is another dynamic way to be effective when ice fishing for any species. This is a big aid in attracting fish to the offering.
Swim or drag the lure side-to-side, but make sure to slightly pump the lure when moving it. This bring reaction strikes and lifelike attraction to the lure. Keep in mind, using the zoom feature on your fish finder will help you to see fish and the lure better. Most often, fish swim upward to bite a lure, so presenting the lure above the fish will be the most effective method.
An exception to this, though, is pounding the bottom and leaving the lure to rest on the bottom. I’ve found that this produces walleye and lake trout quite often. These four presentations can be varied or mixed and matched to find tune any catch. Watch your fish finder to see which presentation is effective in attracting fish and exciting a strike, then repeat it.
The ticket here is (as is the case with all fishing) to become versatile. Information is everywhere, but it doesn’t work if you don’t use it. Move if you’re not seeing fish on the locator, try a different presentation or lure but, above all else, be flexible in your approach.
Beginners only have a few ways to catch fish, but the pros have thousands of ways. A great fisherman is one that learns to climb the informational ladder to the top. The payoff is more fish, more fun and an increased interest in this sport that we all pursue. Be safe in your endeavors and remember to enjoy and share fishing with others.
I’ll see you on the lake.