Ice anglers are faced with the challenge of finding fish that are bordered by a foot or more of ice. Despite this, there are still a number of tips, tricks and strategies that you can employ to help find where the fish are hiding.
Aside from using a good quality ice auger, here are the most effective tactics that you have to learn.
Search Near Structure
Fish alter their behavior and habits in response to things like temperature, photoperiod, plant growth and the movements of their prey — so they may not be in the same place they were when you were catching them in the summer.
Regardless of the season, most species continue to relate to structure throughout the year. You won’t find may fish lazing about in featureless expanses. They’ll more likely be clustered around weed lines, amid sunken timber or over old river channels.
Others may seek out more subtle forms of structure, such as humps or depressions at the lake’s bottom parts.
You can locate structure through a variety of means. Perhaps the easiest way to pick up clues to the underwater world’s formation is by examining the form and contours of the shoreline.
For example, the land slopes gently on one side of the lake, the lake bottom probably also features a gentle slope. By contrast, steep cliffs alongside a lake indicate that the underwater terrain is likely steep as well.
Find Them by Sight
If the ice is thin or is really clear, you may be able to see some fish through it.
In fact, primitive people would often hunt for fish in this manner – they’d spot and then sneak up on unsuspecting fish before slamming the ice with a large club. This would stun the fish long enough that they could break through the ice and retrieve the stunned fish before it regained its wits.
However, it is hard to use this strategy in real time. Once you see the fish and begin drilling right over them, they are sure to scatter and seek out safer waters. But they usually return after the commotion calms down. This is particularly true if the area offers a resource they need, such as food or shelter.
Modern ice anglers have various tools that can help locate fish, and the most useful is a fish finder. This can help you decide when it is wise to drop a bait down a particular hole and when you’d be better served by looking elsewhere to fish.
Ice Fish finders
A fish finder features a remote transducer that fires a sonar signal down to the water and interprets the sounds that bounce back. The incoming information is then presented in a visual format, allowing you to see things like the bottom depth and composition, weeds and other forms of cover and, most importantly, the fish themselves.
Many fish finder companies have created special sonars for ice fishing, like:
- Lowrance Hook 5 Ice Machine
- Humminbird Ice Helix 7
- Garmin Striker 5 Ice Fishing Bundle
Most ice anglers use simple fish finders, called ice flashers, to locate fish through the ice. While flashers have a more rudimentary display than proper fish finders do, they are often considered better at spotting small items. In fact, some anglers are able to identify their jig while using it.
You can learn a lot about the fish’s whereabouts by watching and talking to other anglers. Be careful not to step on anyone’s toes or bother anglers that aren’t interested in chatting. But most ice anglers are happy to swap and share tips and tricks – including the location of the fish.
While you don’t want to cut a few holes in the ice right on top of your angling neighbors, you can take over their spot after they leave or on the next day.
It is also a good idea to talk with other ice anglers that aren’t on the water. You may get some great tips from the staff working at a local tackle store or from other anglers hanging out at a local coffee shop.
Seek Out Your Quarry’s Habitat
Some fish species like to relate to a particular type of structure or cover.
For example, walleyes are attracted to transition zones such as where gravel substrates give way to soft mud. By contrast, sunfish prefer staging along weed lines adjacent to steep drop offs and crappie prefer hanging out over deep holes or submerged timber.
Try to identify these areas – you can use either a fish finder or a topographical map of the lake, and spend the bulk of your time working near them.