Here are ten tips to help beginning ice fishermen catch up to more seasoned anglers.
- Choose a light action rod. Ice fishing baits are small and bites are usually very light. If your ice rod is too stiff it will be hard to detect bites. Your line should correspond to the rod’s action. Select four or six-pound test. A high visibility line will also help you detect subtle bites, but you should tie about a three-foot fluorocarbon leader for virtual invisibility.
- Fish one hole, keeping the rod in hand. Vary jigging action with frequent pauses until you establish a pattern that fish will attack. Keeping the rod in hand will buy you precious microseconds between the bite and setting the hook.
- Be mobile. I’ve watched fisherman take ten minutes to set up and start fishing. The more equipment and time it takes to set up the less likely you will move if your spot doesn’t produce. Pack and travel as light as possible. Fifteen minutes is about the limit. If the fish don’t bite – move. Sometimes a short move will put you on fish, sometimes it will be a long walk. If you are fishing with friends, leapfrog each other until you find a hot spot.
- Organize your lures. Multiple small boxes, each with a different kind of lure make it easy to find what you’re looking for. Sort your teardrops, spoons, blades and swimmers. Ask for recommendations for starter lures from friends or sales staff. You’ll soon find what works well for you and build your inventory from there.
- Eye-crossing hooksets are not for ice fishing – leave that to open water bass fishing. Keep your elbow tucked to your side and learn to just snap your wrist. If you miss, your bait will still be in the strike zone and you won’t have to reel as frantically to recover line on the retrieve.
- Don’t rush your fish through the hole. If you retrieve your line too fast you may bump the fish’s head on the bottom of the ice and lose your fish, or worse, break your line and lose your lure. Take your time and ease all fish through the hole. Should you hook a larger game fish, you will be surprised at the size of fish you can bring through a relatively small hole. Tire the fish and manipulate the line to steer the head in the hole. Then, with a little pressure on the line, use your other hand to grab the fish over the top of the head or under the gills and lift it out of the hole.
- When you find a hotspot, use your smartphone or GPS to make a waypoint. It is extremely difficult to find that hotspot by dead reckoning, even the next day. If you lack that technology, observe landmarks and make notes for future trips.
- Exercise stealth. Loud talk, banging buckets, augers and other equipment on the ice will scatter fish. Just talk in quiet tones and place things on the ice.
- Watch the action of your jig at the surface of the water before you drop it to the bottom. This will help you visualize how your bait reacts to the action you impart.
- Sight-fish when you can. If the water is shallow and clear you can learn much by watching how fish approach and react to your presentation. It also adds a whole new element of fun to the ice fishing experience.
Try these ideas and your learning curve will be shorter. Who knows – soon you might be coaching others in the great winter sport of ice fishing.