The predominate species of these smaller bodies of water are bluegill and yellow perch with a few crappie thrown in to add to the fun. Some ponds even hold those fabled "pounders" that are hard to get through an ice hole.
While larger bodies of water have the allure of big fish and greater success; that is more often only an illusion that thrives in the fertile mind of fishermen. Small ponds offer exclusivity, solitude and if you pick the right pond -you'll have the prospect of a recently unmolested fishery.
One of the best aspects of fishing a small pond is that you don't have to cover a lot of "ground" to find the fish. There are only so many places they can go, and with the frigid temperature of the water, they won't be going anywhere fast. With a little planning, you'll have fewer spots to check and should be on fish much faster.
The techniques are the same as on any body of water, or more to the point - any slab of ice.
On any body of water, finding fish through ice can be difficult for the novice, but there are ways for it to be done with relative ease. The most obvious is to know the body of water and at what depth the fish are to be found. If you've fished the pond in the late fall when the water was "soft", then you've got a pretty good idea of where the fish tend to hold in cooler temperatures. Discussions with anglers and at local bait shops can often lead to that information as well. It also helps to know the habits of the fish you are targeting. Bluegills and perch are typically found near the bottom, and crappie love to hang out around submerged trees and brush.
A portable fish locator will indicate if fish are present and at what depth. This is important, since fish tend to stay in a comfort zone. Since fish look for food at eye level or a little above, knowing where they are will help in placement of the lure or bait. Fish tend to school up in winter, so you don't want to look for just a fish or two. On a larger body of water that attracts lots of anglers, you can take the community approach and simply follow the crowd. On a pond, where you are looking to get away from the crowd, you'll have to do your own exploring. The good news is that when you strike it rich, you won't have to worry about someone drilling a hole right next to you.
It is a good idea to drill a number of holes and try them all. The actual drilling process is very simple. The blades should be kept sharp on the auger. The type of water and bottom should be watched carefully. Water that is mixed with sand before it freezes or a very shallow area, where the drill may break through and hit a sand bottom can dull blades quickly. If one hole is not producing fish, move to the next one. The fish will move but generally not very far.
The "traditional" approach
If the body of water is unfamiliar, and a fish locator is unavailable, then try drilling pilot holes. Begin by locating an area with cover. It should have a good route from deep to shallow water. During colder, low light conditions, start deeper and fish tighter to cover. With high light and warmer temperatures, fish shallower. If possible find weeds. Drop offs, weed beds and any other submerged structure will attract fish. Drill a pilot hole and measure the depth. A weight placed on a fishing line works well. Once the bottom is determined, adjust the bait so that it is 2 to 4 inches off the bottom.
Drill four holes on an angle to the bank or parallel to the slope of the bottom. Each hole will have a different depth. If a certain hole starts to outproduce the others, move to that depth and drill more holes. Each hole over a similar depth of water will probably produce about the same size and number of fish.
One thing that hasn't changed over the years is mobility. An ice angler should be ready and willing to move when a hole isn't productive. That is especially true of small pond fishing. Many use snowmobiles and pull a portable fish house with a supply of fishing tackle, but a small sled can be dragged over the ice with relative ease. When making a move, having a sure grip on the ice is important. Ice Creepers boot covers will help you do just that. An auger, power or manual, is needed to drill holes. A skimmer will clean out the ice that falls into the hole. A small portable heater or lantern will help to keep one warm. Together this equipment is the "bass boat" of the northern winters.
As for poles, there are a number of good, short ice fishing rigs on the market. They are usually about two to three feet in length and many will have small spinning reels attached. Others will have ice-fishing reels that will hold about 25 yards of 4 to 6 pound line. Many ice fishermen use tip-ups in addition to jigging rigs. Tip-ups hold the bait at a certain depth. The reel turns from the tug of a fish and releases a flag signal. When the flag flies, it is time to take in the fish.
Hooks are usually number 8 or number 10 size. Small teardrop jigs in a variety of colors are also good. Bait for bluegill, crappie and perch is usually grubs, mousies, wigglers and waxworms. Small minnows, hooked through the back, can also be effective when they are able to swim freely. A small bobber can be used to keep the minnow or other bait at a precise depth.
Twitch the bait and then let it set motionless. The movement attracts the fish. They will strike when it is still. Just don't get carried away with the action. If fish are reluctant to hang onto a bait, try using a fish attractant. Attractants are at their best in cold water.
Finally, there's the issue of timing. I've always found the best time to go ice fishing is any time you can. But, when the ice thickens and the action slows during the mid-winter, try to key on warming trends, abrupt weather changes and low light periods.
If you're too busy in the daytime to go fishing, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Nighttime is a great time for ice fishing. With a night sky filled with stars, and a small pond filled with 'gills and crappie, it's an experience that is well worth the effort.
Safety is an important aspect of ice-fishing, especially on remote ponds where you are less likely to be observed floundering in the water after a breakthrough. If you're a novice ice-fisherman, or even an experienced angler that has never considered the full scope of ice safety, check out "How Safe Is Safe". It could make the difference in having a safe outing or an unhappy ending to a promising season.
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