Things That Ruin Ice Fishing Success

By Ben Leal

Ice fishing has been a passion of mine since 1990, it doesn’t seem possible, but the allure of cutting a hole in the ice to catch fish gets my blood pumping every winter. Growing up during my school days I eagerly awaited Sundays when we would trek out to the backwaters to stare down a hole waiting for bluegill to come along. As with any fisherman, not all days are great, but learning from those mistakes have made me a better angler throughout the years. This month’s topic includes things to not do while ice fishing so you too can have more success on the ice.

There are many things that can ruin a day of ice fishing. Eliminating as many of these examples will definitely help you put more fish on the ice the rest of this winter and hopefully help you for years to come.

Most days, while ice fishing, the fish will need some type of bait on the hook. Spoons with no bait can work on crappies, walleye or yellow bass. On some days plastics will work, however not having fresh live bait can ruin a trip on the ice very quickly. Each day I am on the ice I typically will start with plastic baits on my jigs. Fish are more eager in the early mornings and tend to bite the best. However, it seems as the morning goes on those eager fish become fish that stop biting. This is when live bait, either waxworms or spikes will help to continue that bite all day. Always carry live bait with you, even though some days you might not need it, there will be some days when that is all the fish will bite.

A lot of anglers do not take this into consideration enough. Being able to move on the ice quietly can make or break a day. This is vitally important when fishing shallow water (6 feet or less) or during first ice. Fish will “feel” you coming with the big footsteps and gear you may be dragging. Travel light and walk light when fishing in these unique environments, you will most certainly catch more fish.

Rod and Line Choice
In the world of ice fishing the supply of ice rods have increased tenfold in the past 10 years. Today, there are literally hundreds of companies selling ice fishing rods, while just a couple decades ago it was just a handful. Not all ice fishing rods are made for the typical bluegill and crappie fishing. They are simply too heavy or stout to indicate a soft bite. When using small jigs you need a rod that has a moderate tip, one that bends easily on those light bites. Most bites under the ice are very subtle, at times only detected by a slight movement of the line. Choosing a rod that has a built-in spring bobber is a wise choice. These light wire bobbers will detect the smallest of bites. The line choice can also determine your success or not on the ice. A lot of anglers use too heavy of a line, which coils under the ice tipping off panfish and not allowing you to see and feel the bites. Two pound test line is a favorite of mine, and don’t let that number 2 fool you, you can bring fish weighing twice that and more to the top of the ice each season using the small line.

Lack of Electronics
While electronics, such as a flasher are not necessary for ice fishing, they sure do make the day much more successful. When using a flasher, such as a Vexilar, you are able to see fish moving under the ice and how they are reacting to your jigs and spoons. They can also tell you to move to another location, if you are not seeing any fish on the screen, it is time to pack up and try somewhere else.

Not enough holes
This can and will ruin a day of ice fishing probably faster than any of the above mentioned. When I am traveling around the state I see too many anglers/groups not searching out fish. Every time you drill a hole is like making a cast. Would you sit in a boat and cast to the same exact spot 10 times without catching a fish? I certainly would not. Drill, drill, and drill some more to be successful on the ice.

Food and water
If you like to spend a whole day on the ice, you need to treat your body right. Drinking fluids and eating throughout the day will keep your energy up and keep your body working correctly. Without enough fluids you will be lethargic and lose energy that you could be using to move around and catch more fish. Some of my favorite snacks include deer sticks, crackers, and trail mix.

Last but probably the most important is your safety on the ice. Getting wet, losing equipment, hypothermia or worse will obviously make your day one to forget. Always fish with a buddy, and bring equipment such as a rope, flotation device, and a set of spikes to ensure your safety.

People die every year in Iowa due to falling through the ice, please, please make safety your number one priority when loading the vehicle for a day on the ice.

Ice fishing is a fantastic way to spend a day in the outdoors. I hope these tips will allow you to enjoy a few more days on the ice here in Iowa during this 2021 season. Stay safe out there, keep what you can eat and let the rest be for another day.