How to Catch More Fish by Staying Mobile
Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually very easy to get too comfortable while ice fishing. Sure, you’re out on a frozen piece of water in some very chilly weather. But if you use a fishing shelter with a small heater, it’s pretty easy to take your jacket off, kick back, and enjoy a sandwich and a beverage. Even if the fish aren’t biting, you can still have a great time on the lake. This is why it can be so dangerous.
How could being comfortable possibly be a bad thing? Well, sometimes you’re actually out there to put some fish in the frying pan or freezer. And it’s hard to do that when the fish just simply aren’t below you. There’s no trolling in ice fishing, after all; at least not in the traditional sense. You’re pretty much limited to a cone about 10 to 15 feet wide, depending on the water clarity and how bright and loud your presentation is.
If you watch many ice fishing videos, you’ll notice one trend that really stands out: success usually comes to those who move around a lot. It’s not even revolutionary among ice fishing ideas, but in order to consistently catch fish, especially on unfamiliar lakes or waterbodies, you need to stay mobile and jump around until you find the right structure and some actively-feeding schools. In some cases, you may even need to chase them around throughout the day. Fish move to different areas as the day progresses, which means you need to move too. Knowing that, here are some ice fishing tips to keep you on the action all day long.
Before you pack the truck and head to the lake, you should take a look at some maps. Particularly if it’s a new lake or waterbody you haven’t been on before, this will pay dividends when you arrive. You can do something as simple as reviewing a lake map from one of your state agencies, or as complex as using a handheld GPS to show you exactly what contour line you’re standing over. Look for promising structure points, including humps, saddles, points, and drop-offs. Look at Google Earth software to see where the vegetation grows thick in the summer photos, and this can give you a good starting point to find the right depth too.
If you absolutely hate technology or plan on going to an off-the-grid type of lake, you can do it the old school way too. When you arrive, just take a moment to review the topography around the fringes. If the land gently slopes into the lake and you notice emergent cattails or reeds sticking through the ice, it’s fairly safe to say that the side you’re on is very shallow. However, if you notice the land pitches steeply into the water, it will likely also continue to a deeper basin below. Using these context clues, you can eliminate over half a lake right off the bat, saving you precious time to find the fish.
Drill, Drill, and Repeat
When you get onto the ice, it’s time for the real work to start. Instead of drilling a couple holes and parking your shelter over them immediately, take some time to use an ice fishing locator. If you don’t immediately see fish below you, even if it’s pretty shallow water (less than 10 feet), you may want to check another hole. Numbers is the name of the game. You may have to drill dozens or more, but don’t settle on a spot until you see promising schools below.
If you’ve never drilled dozens of holes at once, you’re in for a surprise. It’s a lot of work! So pay attention to your body and be smart. Take breaks between every ten or so holes. Make sure you’ve got extra batteries or gas along to get your ice auger through all of the drilling. Also be courteous while doing this task. If you’re surrounded by other anglers, don’t make Swiss cheese of the ice and spread out everywhere.
If you don’t have a fish locator, this step will be more or less impossible. You’ll have to rely on your lake maps or intuition to put you in the right spots. If it’s earlier in the winter, target shallow weed edges where fish tend to feed. But in mid-winter, like right now, you’ll have to fish over a deeper basin. Drop a line down with a weight and measure the depth to see if it matches your hunch from the map. If not, keep moving until you hit your target depth.
While active ice fishing keeps you on the move and you stay pretty warm, it’s the times when you sit down to actually fish that are dangerous. Your body can cool too fast and too far if you allow yourself to sweat while doing the work. It’s critical to layer your outdoor clothing so you can add or remove layers to suit your activity level. As always, avoid cotton! Use wool or synthetic materials like polyester that will help wick the sweat away from your body.
Moonshine has several options when it comes to sportswear, and many camo patterns to match your personality and activity. The Undertow series is a perfect fit for fishing in either summer or winter. The Undertow Camo Hoodie works great for active ice fishing due to its breathable polyester construction, and front kangaroo pocket to warm up your hands between fish. If it’s too cold for a hoodie alone, add a Soft Shell Protek Vest, which has a zippered chest pocket and two side pockets to store your pliers or some plastic bait. With the mobile approach, your ice fishing clothes are about your only protection, so you need to stay warm.
If you’re constantly on the move looking for more schools, it can be a hassle to fish within a shelter. So when you plan on moving around a lot in cold mid-winter conditions, consider setting up your shelter and getting a heater going inside anyway. Just locate the shelter in a central spot between all of the holes and use it to warm up occasionally. Alternatively, you can set some of your best tip-ups while you head into the shelter, so you won’t miss any fishing time!
Wet Some Lines
That brings us to the real point of being on the lake in the first place: catching fish! If you’ve located a school on your fish locator or seem to be fishing at the right depth near some structure, then you need to act quickly. Your ice fishing equipment had better be ready to go! You can either actively jig or use a bobber system.
If you’re not using electronics while ice fishing, it’s probably best to put some live bait on your ice fishing jigs and watch a slip bobber. First set your bobber stop so that it suspends the jig about one to two feet off the bottom. Use larger or smaller bait depending on what species you’re after. Whether you’re looking for panfish, jumbo perch, or walleye ice fishing tips, this approach will work for you.
If you have a fish locator with you, then you can get pretty serious and jig to find active and aggressive fish. Often times in mid-winter, the fish along the bottom of a basin will be lazier than the fish up higher in the water column. Suspended fish, for example, are usually larger and feed more aggressively than their counterparts below. These are obviously the fish you want.
Lower your jig and bait until it is near a fish on the locator, and then slowly twitch it. Watch the locator to see how the fish responds. If it quickly strikes, the fish are aggressively feeding and you should get your line back in as soon as possible. If they are more lethargic, you may want to switch up the jigging cadence or pause it completely. If they still don’t bite after 20 minutes, try a different color or a new presentation altogether. Sometimes you have to throw the whole tackle box at them, but you should keep switching until you find what they’re looking for. If the action really slows down, feel free to pick up and move to another hole to graph some more fish. If they’re simply not there, it’s pretty hard to catch them. That’s what mobile ice fishing is all about!
We won’t tell you it’s the most comfortable way to go ice fishing, because sometimes moving around a lot and drilling dozens of holes just stinks. But if you’re wondering how to catch more fish this winter, it is an often-overlooked method that works more times than not.