Ice Fishing - A Plan and a Little More

Posted: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

The days of hook, line and sinker are still around when it comes to ice fishing, but there is a lot that can be added to that phrase.  We are at the height of information and equipment in the ice fishing world and randomly sitting on a bucket in 20 below temperatures is a thing of the past. Shelters, electronics and map/GPS combos are the future.  No matter what species you are chasing there are new tricks, strategies and techniques that improve your odds of catching fish. 

With education and improved tactics your days ice fishing can be filled with more numbers and bigger catches.

Before covering today’s premier ice fishing equipment, it is important to think about the basics of where to fish; There is no magic system that says where fish are biting. There is, however, a rule I use that is just as good. It's called the three "W’s". Ask yourself these three questions:  "What are the fish feeding on?" "Where are they feeding?" And, "what time are they feeding?"  If you can answer these three questions you are left with an idea of where the fish are, what they are feeding on and when it’s best to fish for them.  For example, consider a high mountain lake that is enriched with a lot of weed growth.  Many of these lakes offer great habitat for fresh water shrimp called scuds.  You can bet that any lake that has scuds in it that scuds are a trout’s primary food source.  We’ve answered the first question. The next question is "where?" You can guarantee that wherever the food is, this is where the trout are.  Scuds need a few things to live: sunlight, oxygen and food.  All of these things are prevalent in shallow weed areas.  The sun can penetrate ice in shallow water which means bottom weed growth. Weed growth provides oxygen and oxygen combined with sun light produce food for scuds.  What does this mean? It means that shallow weed beds are the key areas for your food source.  Question answered. The final question wraps it all together - "when?" Think about when the food source is most prevalent. We know scuds need sunlight and we also know they feed when the sun is penetrating the ice.  During a long dark night scuds do nothing but sit tight on the weeds waiting for morning sunlight.  When sun light starts shining on the ice scuds start to become active in weed pockets. This is when scuds are most accessible as a food source to trout. Put those three scenarios together and you have a location, when the best fishing takes place and what food source to imitate while fishing. Thinking this way and executing this plan is the difference between fishing and catching.

Now combine this mindset with today's technology.  There are unbelievable maps available for most lakes and they usually come with GPS coordinates. Take out a map and look for the prime weed areas and once you find the one you want to fish, transfer the coordinates from the map onto a hand held GPS and you can walk right to your spot. Today's hand held GPS's are very accurate and inexpensive.  This beats the days of triangulation and spending all day looking for prime fishing spots.

Once you are on these premier fishing spots there are a few other pieces of equipment that can help improve your success on ice. A shelter is my first piece of equipment.  It keeps you warm and alert which allows you to change your approach when necessary instead of fighting the elements.  A shelter also darkens the hole so you can see into the water and blocks sun light from beaming down your hole causing the "flash light" effect, which scares fish.  Another important tool to use while ice fishing is a flasher graph.  Flashers, like a Vexilar, do multiple things. They tell you depth and also display bottom structure as well as allow you to see fish.  By watching fish on the graph you get an idea of what the fish are doing and how to present your bait to them.

Executing the combination of a theory and a plan and mixing it with today's advanced tackle, you're left with the best odds ever to be successful ice fishing.  I have learned over the past 10 years that location and a good set-up is far more important than the bait you use.  Fish that are in the middle of a major feed are far easier to catch than fish not in feeding mode. So before you hit the ice again spend some time planning and prepping for your trip.  Answer the three "W's" and go on the ice with confidence.

Tight Lines,
Tightline Outdoors

About the Author

Zelinsky recently finished filming his first DVD: <strong><em>Ice Fishing: Trout Edition</em></strong>.  77 minutes of Gear, Techniques and Pro Tips. It is available for purchase at <a href="http://www.tightlineoutdoors.com" target="_blank">www.TightlineOutdoors.com</a>

Nathan Zelinsky fishes over 300 days a year between Professional Walleye Tournaments, guiding through his outfitting business, Tightline Outdoors, fishing with sponsors, product testing and scouting. Zelinsky specializes in monster pike, trophy walleye and huge trout on his home waters of Colorado.

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