Ice-fishing Tips

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What's the best bait going for under the ice?

Minnows Will Catch Everything

There's not a fish swimming under the ice that won't take a minnow.

Very small flatheads are required for crappies and bluegills while slightly larger ones will suffice for yellow perch and walleyes. Northern pike prefer 6-inch chubs or suckers, or even larger minnows. Hook a minnow through the lip or behind the fin on its back. Avoid the backbone to keep it lively. Minnows can be allowed to swim freely on a tight line or under a float to keep them at a particular depth. Just make sure the presentation is natural.

   
Are fish locators feasible?

Use a Fish Finder

Electronics have been improved dramatically over the last several years. Once an open-water only tool, specially designed ice-angling fish locator's are available and gaining popularity. Drill several holes in a likely area and then check the holes when you're ready to fish. You can locate good cover or even keep moving quickly as a school of fish swims by underneath you.

   
How do I deal with cold fingers?

Pack Your Gear With Cold Fingers in Mind

Pack small ice baits, lures and floats separately in plastic sandwich bags. Trying to pick just one from a tangled mass with cold fingers is a challenge you won't want to face.

Battery-operated handwarmers are a welcome addition to your arsenal of cold-finger cures. Even if you use a handwarmer for only the few minutes it takes to set your tip-ups, overcoming the bumbling of frozen fingers will make your trip on the ice more enjoyable.

   
How can I be safe on the ice?

Safety First

Don't venture onto the ice without ice claws. These inexpensive hand-sized grips with a sharp point should be in your pocket and easy to get to at all times. Going through the ice is easy but getting out is difficult, and without ice claws to get a grip on the ice to pull yourself out with, hypothermia and drowning are just minutes away.

For those wanting to be even safer, an inflatable vest, special protective clothing and a cell phone are indispensable items. At least one buddy with a rope to throw is even better.

   
Can I catch big fish through the ice?

Regular Rods for Big Winter Fish

If you're targeting big northern pike, steelhead trout or other larger gamefish through the ice, use a regular warm-water rod and open-faced spinning reel instead of a tip-up or small ice-rod. Big fish can make mincemeat of lesser gear.

When you hook a large fish, plunge the rod tip down into the hole and fight the fish from there. You'll avoid fraying the line on the ice and have more room to play the fish as it lunges and runs. Ice on the reel and line can be overcome by warming it up and temporarily switching to another rod and reel.

   
Should I fish at different depths?

Fish Differing Depths for Different Bites

Use your legally allowed number of lines to fish at various depths. If you put all of your baits in the same place you may miss out on double bites and limit your catches.

Double bites on the ice are fish caught at varying depths, whether they be from the same school of yellow perch or the deep northern pike as it moves into range of the panfish nipping at your shallower bait. Keep your options open throughout the water column.

You may get bluegill on one bait and a crappie on the other. You can also catch a perch at every depth you're fishing. You never know what you'll catch on a double bite until you try.

   
How can I improve my footing on the ice?

Improve Your Footing on the Ice

That ice can be slick is an understatement. Improve your footing around your hole by spreading a few handfuls of sand or fine gravel. It may not cure the tendency to take a spill but can certainly improve the situation. Carry a bag of grit with you on your ice sled or even a small amount in your pocket.

   
Can I find live bait in the winter?

Collect Your Own Live Bait

Collect your own live panfish bait ahead of your ice-fishing trip. Goldenrod grubs are found in the swellings on the stems of goldenrod plants. Store the bulbs in the refrigerator or the freezer for up to several weeks. Don't crack open the bulbs until you're ready to use the grub.

Goldenrod plants grow in open fields and along railroad beds and roadways. They're considered a weed and no one will object to your taking them. If there's a hole in the bulb-shaped swelling, don't bother collecting it. The grub has either matured and left the plant or a predator has broken in to eat it.

   
When is the best time to ice fish?

Early Ice is the Most Productive

Early ice has the best bite. Once the first ice forms, fish are still active and become brave with the security of cover overhead. Fish shallow with small grubs and worms for panfish and use minnows for
walleye and northern pike. A minnow will even take an occasional bass. First ice can also be dangerous. When you first go out, drill a hole
and check for ice thickness. Early ice can be inconsistent and
deceptive.

   
Why do panfish keep changing depths under the ice?

Panfish Movements

Under-the-ice movements of bluegills and crappies are not only made horizontally, but vertically as well. Zooplankton are microscopic organisms that move about in the water column at the whim of water temperatures and wave action. They tend to rise in invisible clouds during the morning hours and then sink again in the evening.

Panfish follow the zooplankton movements, eating as they go. Anglers will find fish at various depths throughout the day and will have to adjust fishing depths accordingly.

   
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