One of the things about ice fishing that never changes is the approach you have to use. It's always going to be vertical. Vertical is the thing!
It's impossible to troll through a six to ten inch hole. You can cast I guess, but once the lure hits the opening it's still going to drop straight down, although when you think about it, you could get pretty accurate for the open-water period. No matter how you look at it, ice fishing means vertical jigging.
With that in mind, let's look at the variables. Location, lure choice, lure color, action of bait, these and other things might affect your ability to catch fish.
A good example is line. I'm using the two-pound test diameter Fireline
for ice fishing because it is very sensitive. I have yet to sense that the high-visibility of the line has caused fish to pass up my offering. Not to say that this wouldn't happen. I'm prepared with some four-pound test XL Green
and some six-pound test Sensithin just in case.
Location is a big factor in ice fishing. You can't catch fish if they aren't there. And I have found it doesn't pay to wait for them to arrive. Drill a lot of holes and use a good sonar to locate fish and work them with different combinations until they either start biting or they force you to keep looking.
Lure choice is totally dependent on one thing. How aggressive are the fish? When fish are on the bite you should use bigger, flashier lures, to attract fish and trigger bites. When the fish are neutral or even negative use smaller lures and cut way down on the action. Sometimes a lively minnow's tail movement, as the bait and lure are resting, will be all that's necessary to get a fish to inhale the bait.
I find color to be important. The water is usually much clearer in the winter and colors tend to be more visible at greater depths. If you have fish swimming up to the bait and just looking at it no matter what kind of action you're using, try changing colors.
One time I was fishing perch up on Winnibigoshish and they were hitting orange FireEye Minnows. All of a sudden I noticed the fish quit biting even though they were still on the sonar screen. What happened is the clouds blew over, the sun was shining, and the fish became slightly negative to that color. I tied on a green and chartreuse FireEye and they started biting again. The action you impart to the bait is critical. In a cold-water situation fish aren't going to chase and charge after a lure. They're going to swim up, look the bait over, sniff it a couple of times, maybe even take a little taste before committing. If the bait is being jigged and hopped and popped two feet up and down non-stop, forget catching any fish.
Not to say you don't want to use a hard jigging approach to attract fish. It's just that once you get the fish to the bait, let the bait rest and give the fish an opportunity to look the bait over, sniff it a couple of times, maybe even take a little taste before committing. Once the fish commits invite it to join you above the ice, for a short conversation about what's on the menu for dinner.
Noise can be a big factor when ice fishing. All that stomping and clomping around on the ice can spook fish, even deep fish when they're in a neutral mode. Don't decrease your chances to catch fish by forgetting to take the noise factor into account.
One of the great things about ice fishing is it forces anglers to work a small area thoroughly. This is the ultimate in finesse fishing and as many of you know, finesse fishing is my favorite way to fish. So work a good spot hard, and if you don't get lucky you know it was the fish and not you. If you do catch fish, you also know it was your ability to put all the variables into the right order and you can feel that great sense of accomplishment that comes with success.
If you're fishing "hard" water, Cabela's Owatonna, MN store carries an excellent array of ice fishing lures. Cabelas.com also carries a number of ice fishing products
suitable for novice to addict.
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