Fishing New Water Under The Ice

By Ben Leal

One of the challenges we all face, whether you’re fishing from a boat or standing on the ice on a new body of water, the question becomes, “where do we fish?” With the advent of modern technology, and much of it portable now, we can make some very educated guesses in answering that question.

So let’s start with the simple stuff, shall we? The Iowa Department of Natural Resources maintains an extensive database of all of the lakes and rivers within the State where we can fish. Much of that information is available on their website at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Fishing. For those who haven’t truly embraced all that modern technology has to offer, you can visit the website and start looking at some of the maps for local area lakes. Many of these contain information like fishing structure, depth, and contour lines showing you the changes in the lake’s depth and where you’re likely to find specific fish. Other information available is some of the amenities these lakes have. However, during the winter, you’re not too interested in whether it has a boat ramp and how shore access is since, well, everything is accessible when you’ve got 12 plus inches of ice under your feet.

One of the first things you can do when deciding to venture out on to a new body of water is to study these maps and figure out where you’re most likely to have success. If you’re chasing after panfish, look for areas where you might be able to find some weed beds.Where there’s weeds there is likely fish. Keep in mind that while you’re taking a peek at the maps, some determining factors for weed beds are the amount of snow covering the ice. The sun gives life to the weeds, and in turn, the weeds will produce oxygen that the fish need to survive. A lot of snow cover will cause weed beds will begin to die off, eating up the lake’s oxygen. The ultimate result is the fish will push off to greener pastures. I digress a bit, but as you’re looking for areas that have the potential to hold fish, look for spots where creek channels come in and move into deeper waters. These are great highways for predatory fish who are cruising in to have a quick meal. Sharp drop-offs with a good weed bed above, and you’ve got a formula for success.

Electronics
With the advent of cellular technology, we can safely add the cell phone to our modern electronics list that we can use for fishing. Some great apps can help you while you’re on the ice and even before. Navionics is an app that I’ve used over the last several years with great success. It does several things for you; first off, you’ve got a lake map right at your fingertips. You can scout the lake out before you get out on the water, and then with added GPS function, you can drive or walk your way out to the spot you’ve scouted! You can zoom out to get you close to finding that pinpointed location as you close in on your target spot. Once you’re fishing and you’ve found success, you can easily mark your place on the map so you can come back again and again.

There a quite a few extras you can get with this app, and if you have the time and patience can customize your views so that at one glance, you know what you’re average depth is rather than having to find a contour line with a number. Older dudes like me, well, we have a hard time with the itty bitty numbers!

Let’s throw in some of the electronics that many of us use below the ice. While the maps are great to get us from point A to point B, there are other tools we can add that will increase our chances of success. Electronics such as the Vexilar FL28, the MarCum LX-7 Color LCD Sonar, and the Humminbird Ice 35 Flasher will help locate active fish. Some of the newer open water fishfinders can also be modified for use during ice fishing and are a great asset if you have GPS built into them along with lake mapping software. If the fishfinder you use during open water season has a Navionics card installed, try going to the iced over areas you marked earlier in the year. Chances are you’ll have success on the ice as well.

Augers
Okay, so we’ve walked through how to scout out new bodies of water that you’ve never fished on, right? Maps that you can download from the Iowa DNR; navigation apps you can load on your phones and electronics will help you see what’s below the ice. Another aspect that many don’t consider is the auger we use while we’re ice fishing. And your asking, “why is this a factor in exploring new water”? Well, I’m glad you asked!

In recent years there’s been a trend going from powerful gas augers that can punch holes up to 10-inches in diameter to smaller battery-operated augers that can cut through the ice a lot quicker. In many cases, the holes are smaller, but the options are there for larger cutting augers. Many are 18-volt drills with an auger that slides into the chuck. Clam Outdoors has a “Clam Drill Plate” that can modify the drill so that you’ve got handles like you would in the old gas style augers. As these drills have become more and more popular to use as an auger, many drill companies like Milwaukee and Dewalt have started producing batteries that will last quite a bit longer than the stock one that comes with the drill.

Here’s where that becomes advantageous. As you use your lake maps and start searching out areas to fish, you can quickly punch a hole through the ice with the auger, slide your Vexilar or Marcum transducer down the hole and see if you are marking any fish. If you do, give it a shot and see how active they are, and if you find that they’re not too interested in your offering for the morning, move off to another spot and punch another hole. The benefit of these drill augers setups is that they are lightweight, and you can move from one location to another and search for active fish quickly. You’ll find you’ll have greater success with the increased mobility. Don’t forget to mark your maps when you find them you’ll want to come back another day.

Dissecting and scouting out new water bodies has become easier with the advent of mobile and portable electronics. The equipment has become faster and lighter, and intern we’ve become more efficient. Don’t forget to reach out to local area bait shops and ask questions; most will gladly help with information and tips. While you’re at it, pick up some bait and cold beverages and some snacks; they all can use our patronage these days.

Remember that there is no such thing as safe ice; use caution regardless of the time of year. Tell someone where you’re going and when you are planning on returning. Carry safety equipment with you so that should you go in or a fellow angler, you have a greater chance of getting out the water and getting home safely. Stay safe and tight lines, my friends.