The Need for Speed
By Rod Woten
Sometimes Mike and I call it our hurry-up offense. It’s that mode we go into when time is short during a tournament and we need a few more kicker fish…or we need to finish out our limit. It’s a technique that Mike Riley, my tournament partner, and I developed over several years of fishing in the North American Ice Fishing Circuit. It’s an ultra high speed method of covering lots of water in a short time and picking fish up as we find them. Statistically speaking, it makes sense if you really think about it…the more holes we can drop our jig down, the more chances we have that our jig will be in the face of a hungry fish. It only stands to reason then that the more holes we can fish in an hour, the more fish we will put topside in that time. Now don’t get me wrong, we didn’t invent this technique by any means. We observed a lot of other teams doing the same thing during the waning minutes of NAIFC events, trying to take advantage of every fish-catching second available to them. We just adapted it, and tweaked it to make it work for us.
Now, I probably know what you’re thinking. Sure speed fishing is all fine and good for a tournament fishing team, but what possible advantage would it have for those ice anglers not fishing in a tournament? For starters, it’s a great way to FIND fish. Rather than spending five or ten minutes jigging in a hole that contains no fish, we don’t even fish a hole until we see fish on the flasher. Only then do we drop a jig down to that fish. Instead of wasting most of a day trying to find fish, we’re quickly eliminating non-productive water and identifying productive water. Speed fishing is also a great way to round out your limit in those last few minutes before you have to run home because supper is waiting on the table. Only have thirty minutes for lunch? That shouldn’t be any reason that you can’t speed fish your way to a few fish. Speed fishing is also a great way to cover large expanses of water. This is especially attractive to perch anglers as they chase those schools of perch that roam the massive mud flats of lakes and crappie anglers that chase those roaming schools of suspended crappies over the massive main basin areas of the lake. That doesn’t mean that speed fishing is limited to those types of scenarios however by any stretch of the imagination. Speed fishing is also a great way to pick apart a weedbed for bluegills, or dissect offshore reefs and rock piles for walleyes, just to name a few.
Finding Active Fish
Even once you find some fish, you have to make sure you’ve found the right fish. The right fish are the active feeders that will bite without too much enticement. Sitting on top of neutral or negative fish and trying to tease them into biting for fifteen or twenty minutes will bring your speed to a grinding halt. Leaving fish to find fish is one of the hardest things to do as ice anglers. Trust me, I know all about it. But if there are eager and wiling fish that you can put topside in a matter of seconds, wouldn’t you rather spend your time pulling several of those up through your hole than spend the same amount of time trying to get that one negative fish to bite?
Tag Team Approach
If you’re fishing with a partner you can take speed fishing to the next level by dividing and conquering. One partner leads the way with the auger drilling holes while the second partner follows behind and checks each hole with the flasher looking for signs of fish. Typically, the second partner will not even drop a line down the hole until fish are marked. This is relatively easy to do with crappies because they will often suspend above the bottom making them easy to see on the flasher. Bottom hugging fish like bluegills, perch and walleyes are a little more difficult to see, however, so the partner with the flasher must really know how to read the signals being received and detect those fish as they move along the bottom. The checking partner can leverage the power of his flasher if he swings the transducer in a small circle in the center of each hole. This will “tip” the cone angle of the flasher to the outside of the hole, and allow fish that are outside of the usual cone angle to be detected. By making note of where those quick flashes appear in that circle that the transducer travels as it is swung, it can easily be determined which direction to the “hidden” fish and the checking partner can direct the auger operator in that direction for the next hole.
Speed fishing requires that you get a jig down to the fish quickly once you find one and get it back down to the next fish every time you catch one. One of the bet ways to do this is use tungsten jigs. Tungsten is denser than lead which means a tungsten jig will weigh more than a lead jig of the same size. This does two things for us. First of all, it falls faster through the water column, thus getting the jig to a waiting fish just that much quicker than a lead jig. It also allows us to go smaller for neutral or negative fish and still have the same rate of fall as a larger lead jig. Another good way to fish heavy is by using larger lures like jigging spoons. I especially like jigging spoons because not only will they catch the fish you find waiting in the hole as you’re checking, but they put so much extra flash and vibration in the water that they actually attract fish from further away. Sometimes a jigging spoon can be a little too much for a neutral fish, so I prefer to add a little finesse to my jigging spoons by switching out the standard treble hook for a single hook at the end of a short length of chain. This dropper chain allows me to slow the action of the spoon down and by just quivering the tip of the rod, I can make just the hook on that chain dance and can catch those standoff-ish fish that would probably refuse the spoon dressed with a treble. Whenever I am the partner that gets to check, I always have two rods with me. One of those rods has a spoon with a dropper chain on it, my search rod, and the other, my finesse rod, has a smaller tungsten jig on it. If I drop the spoon down to a fish I mark and he refuses, I can immediately drop down the jig instead, before that fish might disappear, and almost always get a strike.
In order to move at the speed that this type of fishing requires, you have to travel very lightly. You really don’t want to have anything more than what you can keep on your person. I like to go with a box of jigs in one pocket and a box of spoons in the other. I also like to keep a small container of euro-larvae in 1 thigh pocket of my Ice Armor and one of waxworms in the other thigh pocket. I use the live bait to dress my jigging spoons, but typically I use plastics to dress my jigs. I keep those plastics in a couple of small boxes in the smaller pockets of my Ice Armor.
For the auger, I like to run a 6” bit coupled with a cordless electric drill. These setups are amazing! The amount of torque that today’s drills generate and the power and longevity of today’s lithium-ion batteries is almost unbelievable. The fact that we get all of that in a package that weighs slightly more than ten pounds makes this type of setup ideal for speed fishing. Even though we drill LOTS of holes with this technique, as long as we bring a couple of fully charged batteries with us, we can drill all day without any worries.
Three or four years ago Mike and I both started using a system that mounts our flashers to a bucket. This allows us to move quickly from hole to hole with a seat to sit on as we fish, and a place to store the fish as we pull them topside. I got to the point where my aging knees really slowed me down as I would kneel at one hole, stand, move to the next hole and kneel again. This system was a great solution to those issues, with the added bonus of a place to store the fish as well as 2 rod-holders to hold my search and my finesse rods and a small pouch to hold some additional plastics.
Speed fishing really is as simple as it sounds. It’s a mindset, as much as anything, that unless you have actively feeding fish in the hole that you are fishing, you keep moving until you do. Speed fishing is easier if you travel lightly but fish heavy, and it requires that you be very good at reading what your electronics are telling you and that you have the ability to quickly drill lots of holes through the ice. Those are all things that most ice anglers already have, so it’s just a matter of adopting that mindset, so get cracking…the clock’s ticking!!!