By Bob Jensen
The pond froze over early this year, at least two weeks early and in most years it would still be a month before ice comes to the small body of water that I see most days. Although the ice isn’t safe yet, if the weather stays like it has been the past few days, we’ll be walking on the ice within a week. This time of year, safety is the Number One consideration. There’s no need to take an icy bath just because you want to catch a few fish through the ice.
There are a few things to keep in mind throughout the ice-fishing season that will help you catch more fish from under the ice from now until ice-out. The most important thing to do for ice-fishing success in the mind of many of the most successful anglers is to trust your depth-finder. Do what it tells you to do. Several years back I shared an ice-house on Lake of the Woods with Mr. Walleye Gary Roach. We were after walleyes and were catching a few, but not as many as we wanted. We were fishing within a foot of the bottom in about twenty five feet of water, right where walleyes are supposed to be. Quite often we would see on the depth-finder a mark about halfway to the bottom. We assumed it was a whitefish or northern pike or crappie or something like that: Walleyes usually don’t run that high on Lake of the Woods, or so we thought at the time. Once when Gary saw a fish up high, he raised his bait up just a bit over the mark. The fish hit the bait: It was a walleye. For the rest of the day when we saw a mark up high, we brought our bait up to it and most of the time caught a walleye. Good learning point!
Also a few years ago when the crappie extravaganza was in full swing on Upper Red Lake: In the height of the boom, crappies would fill the sonar screen from just below the surface to the bottom. As the crappie numbers dwindled, they weren’t running up high as much. The remaining giants were right on the bottom and looked just like walleyes usually look on an ice-fishing depth-finder screen. You had to make sure your sonar was tuned properly for maximum bottom separation to see and catch these crappies. Vexilar is the leader in ice-fishing sonar. Check out the new FLX-28. It provides all the features you need to be more successful on the ice.
Something I learned while ice-fishing for perch in South Dakota a year or two ago: When you can see a group of perch below your hole, if you catch a perch and plan on letting it go, put your bait back before you release the fish. It was proven pretty conclusively to me that if you release the fish first, the school might get spooked, or, if the released fish doesn’t go straight back down to the school, the rest of the perch may follow it somewhere else. A little thing, but it pays dividends.
Last thought for now: When a school of fish is on the screen right below you and they won’t bite what you’re showing them, show them something else. Try a different color, try a different size, try a different action: Just try something different. There’s no need to keep showing them something that they don’t want to eat.
And now really the last thought: Keep your bait above the fish. They will go up for a bait much more readily than they’ll go down for a bait.
Trust your depth-finder when you’re ice-fishing. If you do, you’ll catch more fish from under the ice.