The first and foremost thing we need to talk about here is safety, and that is NEVER give the ice more credit than what it is due. Make sure to have crazy amounts of caution when fishing the ice, the last thing you want is to break through and risk hypothermia. That being stated, always remember the buddy system: ice fishing is not something I suggest anyone do alone. If you do go somewhere alone, make sure there are other people in the area and you tell people where you are going. It is always a good idea to wear flotation clothing just for ice anglers, or perhaps what I do and wear a life jacket. I know they are big and bulky, but its better safe than sorry. The suggested ice thickness that everyone I know abides by is 4” to walk on, 6” for an ATV or snowmobile, and 12” for vehicles. Always have a spud with you to check the ice thickness.
This is one of my favorite times of year to fish because the best eating fish can be caught. Those include the Panfish, Bluegills, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and Crappie. Yes, I know you will have to brave some crazy elements to make this happen; but it is well worth it when you can get on a good pile of them. This time of year; however, the fish have to eat to generate some sort of heat. So if you drill your hole around them and have a hardbait that is UV with rattles, it’s typically not hard to get them to bite.
What to target:
This is where experience on the lake you are ice fishing really comes into play and so does a good depth finder and mapping system. I typically want to target some piece of structure and weed lines, and fishing the warmer months in open water is really the only way to find this. You can certainly find some solid weed lines and edges in 6-12 feet of water that are holding fish. This is because the chunk rocks in these areas hold healthier vegetation and heat, which the fish will relate to. Structure though, is where I find the better walleye and crappie. So it pays off to know the best areas of structure of transitions off flats.
This is where it gets a little bit tricky to justify when the best times to go are, because it is always cold. As much as I hate to say it for the anglers that do not like the cold, the night time is the best time to get out there. The last few hours of daylight in the day into the dusk/night fall hours have always seemed to be the best for me. I believe this is because the moon and gravity force become less at night allowing the fish to move around a little easier in the cold conditions.
What to take with you:
Flasher/sounder/camera- a combo of a flasher and camera is pretty much all you need. I’ve found that an LCD display sonar is great for larger fish generally, as you have history on the screen which you lose when you use a flasher which provides real-time feedback on fish and lure location, but there is no history.
GPS – ideally you’ve done your homework ‘ground-truthing’ spots during open water with your boat – the GPS is also great for new spots, and finding your way to safety if you’re in whiteout condition.
Gas powered Drill with 24” bit- This is for drilling your hole to drop your flasher/ camera and fishing out of.
Biggest Mistakes by Beginners:
Panfish – line too thick, and lure size too big for the size of the presentation and the species target.
Larger predators – for walleyes – fishing the wrong times of the day or targeting them in water considered to be less than optimal in depth, there are always exceptions to the rule here if you have some history to go off of. Very common today for people to use a braid and fluorocarbon leader – often the fluorocarbon will be added to a swivel if you’re using a rotating presentation. Because of dropping strait down, this will create line twists. Braid can be problematic in very cold temps – if you’re in a hut, you’re in business. Larger fluorocarbon requires a larger size spool to manage the stiffness of the line.
Yo-Zuri Product to Take:
-Hybrid line in 4lb test, this is definitely a style of fishing that you want the smallest diameter line you can get away with.
-8lb TopKnot Leader, this is something I like to use when fishing for bigger walleyes. I also think it helps the bait sink faster when I see a fish on my camera or flasher.
-NEW Rattl’N Vibe Mini, this is a bait designed specifically for ice fishing anglers. I definitely love the UV colors since I fish so much at night, but also my favorites are Firetiger, Gold with Black Back, and Hot Perch
-3DS Vibe, this is a bait I catch a lot of bigger walleyes on and it seems to have a great falling action through the water column. Usually the fish eat this bait on the initial drop.