Ready for The Mid-Winter Ice Fishing Blues?

 By Todd Reed.

As the crisp and frigid air chills your body, snow covers the landscape as far as you can see, the sight is somewhat magical on this early February day. However, as you drive to your ice fishing destination that beautiful sight reminds you that you are smack-dab in the middle of the “winter blues”. The winter blues occur each winter when ice fishing becomes the most difficult of the season. As anglers venture through this part of the winter they must change things up to be able to continue having success on the ice. Here are a few things that I focus on more during this challenging time.

#1- This is a great time in the ice fishing season to change your line. Line is a critical part of any ice fishing set up, and people that fish a lot will tell you that it is as important or more important than the reel you use. Fresh line will increase the sensitivity of your presentation. Anglers will be able to detect bites much better with new line as it will not be coiled and have memories from past days on the ice. If panfish are your target, two-pound test line is plenty, if you are chasing walleyes and bass with larger baits, then a six-pound test line on your reel would be a good choice for those species.

#2- When fish become lethargic, like they do every winter during this time, it is time to finesse them. Using smaller baits will definitely increase the number of bites you will get and in turn help you catch more fish. Small jigs such as 2mm tungsten or tiny lead jigs are a good start. You also have to change the way you bait your jig too. During this time, I may only use one euro larvae (also known as spikes) or a part of a waxworm. Some ice fishing plastics have great scent, and can be terrific to lure in more fish. However, in this mid-winter slump you must trim those plastics to entice your next bite. A lot of ice fishing plastics are way too large to trick a panfish during this time, a quick trim before you slide it on the jig will have you catching more fish.

#3- Fish have been under the ice for a couple of months now. Hundreds if not thousands of anglers have been walking and riding around on the ice trying to find the next best spot to fish. Many areas, also known as community spots have been beaten up with hundreds of holes, popular brush piles rank very high on this list of old holes and high pressure. All this commotion and constant action on and below the ice will make the fish cautious. This time of year, like no other, is the time to venture away from the crowds. Even on the smallest of lakes scattered throughout Iowa, there are good areas to fish that may not have a hole drilled on them.

Sometimes just going 20-40 yards away from the popular fishing areas can land you on some fresh fish that have not been pressured. These fish will be more apt to like your baits and bite. Finding small areas away from the popular areas have resulted in many good days during this mid-season lull.

#4- Like mentioned in the last paragraph, anglers are subject to repeat themselves and go to similar areas time after time. In this mid-season lull for fish, it is time again to open the lake map up once again. Fish become lethargic this time of year due to oxygen levels which is most likely caused by snow cover. Fish still need to follow their prey to eat. In doing so, fish will gather around tight contour lines. When looking at a contour map you want to find the lines that are tight to each other. These lines represent a steep drop in the lake bottom. These areas are great for fish because they can explore many different depths of water by only adjusting their swim bladders, using little to no energy. These drops also become the highways of fish during the winter. They can travel up and down them and follow them to explore different areas of the lake while maintaining quick access to deep and shallow water. The Iowa DNR has maps on their website and their mobile app. Another great app is the Navionics Mapping, which uses your GPS on your phone to pinpoint exactly where you are. There is a cost to this app, but it is worth every penny. Look to the contours for your next “out of the way” ice fishing spot.

#5- Be mobile. It can be crucial to move around the lake this time of year. By finding those out of the way spots, you can find fresh fish that haven’t been pressured for two months. Getting your bait in front of as many fish as possible a day will increase your catch. This can be a lot of work, especially if there is snow on the ice. Many ice anglers like to sit and wait for the fish to come to them. Some days this works, while most days it does not. You will give yourself the best chance during any ice fishing trip, especially one this time of year, if you try many different areas. Make sure and include structures like drops, points, brush piles, and weeds in your search. These are the typical places where fish will live, however figuring out the depth that they prefer that day will include a lot of holes in the ice.

Adaptation is a part of survival, fish this time of year are in survival mode. They need proper oxygen, a constant food source, and safety from predators. These five changes will allow you to track down hungry fish and be successful catching in the toughest time of the year to ice fish. As always, please stay safe on the ice, travel with a partner and have safety equipment like a rope, flotation device and ice picks if anything terrible may occur.