Tips for Ice Fishing

Do you want to freely enjoy your favorite winter sport without the constant worrying about the outcome?

Ice fishing may be easy in the eyes of a passerby. However, many questions arise the moment you decide to pack up your stuff and head out on the ice. For example, which fishing spot is the best? What are the fish habits in this area? What kind of jigs and lures should I pack? 

Ice anglers dig pilot holes, move from place to another and experiment with different techniques to increase their yield.

Here, we present to you the most helpful suggestions and tip-offs from professional ice anglers to help you improve your ice angling skills. 

1. Natural or Artificial bait

While many fishermen insist on the superior efficacy of artificial lures over natural ones, you should rely a little on both.

The thing is, artificial baits are indeed bigger and flashier, which attracts more fish to the area. Nevertheless, sometimes fish get used to them being fake quickly and stop biting. Hence, using artificial baits together with live ones can do the trick.

Artificial baits can lure the fish to the spot while the natural ones get them actually hooked to your jig.

2. Lure Selection

Baits and lures come in various types, sizes, and colors. The dilemma of which lures are the best can be concluded by the kind of fish you’re aiming for and their habits.

For instance, walleyes act differently according to the season. Summer walleyes tend to suspend over drop-offs in deep water, so you can catch them with big baits. On the contrary, winter walleyes are bottom feeders. Thus, you can target them with smaller baits to reach the bottom. 

It’s worth mentioning that walleyes prefer minnows, leeches, and nightcrawlers when it comes to natural baits. Hence, it’d be useful to mix them with artificial ones like powerbait ice wishbone or artificial whipworms.

Furthermore, as a general rule, a lure’s color should match the surrounding light. On a sunny day, opt for bright and vibrant lures to draw fish. When in low light or cloudy conditions, switch to dull and darker colors like black and white.

3. Jigging Movements

Contrary to popular belief, vigorous jigging movements can scare the fish away instead of luring them. 

Fish aren’t different from any other animal when it comes to cold weather. They tend to conserve energy by avoiding any type of strenuous activity. Hence, if you jig too fast, fish may find it too troublesome to catch the lure and so they move on.

Your best option is to aim for small up and down movements for ten seconds then stop. Repeat this action over time, and you’ll notice the difference.

Another trick is to twist the line instead of jigging it, or hold the line between your fingers and roll it. You’ll find that fish respond to this jig spins more often, especially in shallower water.

4. Tungsten vs. Lead Jigs

Many ice anglers recommend replacing your lead jigs with tungsten ones. Since tungsten is almost twice as heavy as lead, you can use a smaller jig with the same weight as the one you usually use.

For one thing, you’ll have a small enough jig to catch small fish like bluegills and perches. For another, a heavy jig offers better movements and drops faster in the water.

5. Use a Slip Bobber

Although some pro anglers consider slip bobbers outdated, they’re still of much use to novice anglers in order to set the depth of the line. 

If you’re after crappies and bluegills, set the bobber stop at a shallow depth since they usually swim a little higher above the bottom. Walleyes are bottom feeders, so it works best to set your bobber so that your lure hangs a few inches above the bottom.

To sum it up, you generally use the bobber stop to set the bait a little above the level where the expected type of fish tends to be.

6. The Right Fishing Time

Pro anglers have a good understanding of the nature around them. Hence, they usually trigger fish at their feeding time. 

That’s the time when the fish are on the move and most vulnerable to anglers’ lures. Fish usually feed in transition hours. Therefore, the best fishing time is between an hour before and an hour after sunrise and sunset.

Now, this may feel a bit like a weight on your shoulder if you’re a late riser, but luckily early winter mornings are not as early as summer mornings, so you can still get your rest.

7. Block the Light

The difference in light intensity sometimes acts as a warning to fish to avoid the spot, especially in shallow areas. Consider covering the hole with some of the ice shavings to block the light from passing through the surface. 

However, take into account that light may be beneficial with some species like crappies. It attracts small planktons, which, in turn, draw crappies to the spot.

8. Chum the Hole

Prebaiting the hole with some leeches, minnows or wax worms before the actual fishing attracts lazy fish to an excessive degree. You can say it turns the table on all the fish’s attempts to stay away from the hole.

The chum fills the water with the scent and visual targets that invite many trouts, whitefish, saugers, and many other species. Even after the prebait is eaten, fish are attracted and stay longer around the spot, which guarantees a profitable fishing process.

What is more, for bottom feeders like bluegills and perches, pro anglers recommend bouncing your jig off the bottom. This, consequently, stirs up some mud and debris off the ground and attracts fish from afar.

9. Be Quiet and Watch 

When you’re on ice, silence is a critical success factor. Since the water’s depth may not be big enough to conceal any noise on the ground, attempt to limit any sound and disturbance to a minimum, and likewise reduce your drilling.

Moreover, it may look like there’s no need to keep an eye on the water since the jig and bait are all set up. However, watching your line thoroughly for any slight movement improves your reflexes and helps you set the hook as fast as possible.

Also, when anything out of the ordinary happens, act smart. For example, if your lure stops sooner than it was intended to while you’re dropping it, that could mean that a fish struck your bait. Set your hook quickly and try to catch it before you lose the chance.

10. Release The Big Fish

To preserve aquatic life and ensure a better outcome in the long term, fishermen have come up with the rule of releasing the big fish. 

Mature fish are essential for a healthy fish population, given that they’re responsible for the large number and good quality of eggs.

Ignoring this rule can only result in less fish later on and further manipulations in fish’s genetics.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the best advice we can give you is never to stop questioning and learning. Anglers come up with new techniques and methods to trick the fish who got used to the old ones every day. That’s why you should stay in the loop.

Try to read updated articles now and then. Moreover, ask the local fishermen and residents of the area about the best fishing spots and fish habits.

Bear in mind that nothing beats personal experience. Grab your jig and set out with the mindset of a learner who wants to master ice fishing.