The On-Ice Odd Couple

By Nick Simonson

Fishing – and particularly ice fishing – is a fun amalgamation of old and new, fast and slow, low-tech and cutting edge.  From new-age augers that run on lithium ion batteries like an on-ice Tesla, to tip-up models that have stood the test of time and continue to be top sellers, the mish-mash of advanced and ancient are what keep ice angling fun and successful.  Combining one such odd couple can provide fast action, as a sonar screen and a simple spring bobber will help put fish on the ice with just a little bit of practice and experience combining their features.

Electronics on ice are like the American Express card of the 80s – never leave home without them.  But partnering any flasher of an angler’s choice with a spring bobber, especially when after panfish like crappies and perch, makes for a one-two combo that no angler should be without.  The sonar allows an angler to see fish in the water column, and the spring bobber can detect those subtle or lethargic bites that fussy panfish are so well known for. Thus, knowing if fish are below, and how they’re reacting (and if they’re reacting at all) to an offering can be surmised with the combination of sonar and spring.

A favorite tactic, when a fish creeps in on a sonar display, is to raise a small offering slightly above it.  First, most fish in this area of the world feed either forward or upward – rarely downward. Positioning the bait in their cone of vision, and strike zone, will give them something to focus on.

Active or neutral fish will rise up to the jig or small spoon tipped with any variety of tiny bait – maggots, waxworms or minnow heads – negative ones will not.  The latter should be ignored and active or (at worst) neutral fish should be targeted.  Generally, fish in an active or a neutral mood can be enticed to rise a few feet further, but only the active ones will take a swing at the offering leaving no doubt that they’re there.  However, even neutral ones may take a peck at a lure.

That’s where the glint of a metal spring with a bright flashy bead really shines.  A spring bobber telegraphs the tiny take of fish like bluegills, perch and crappies, especially neutral ones just going in for a check, and helps convert strikes that are normally undetectable on a standard rod.  The spring tip also converts the tiniest vibrations of an angler’s hand into small pulses of movement that wintertime fish often need to commit to a bait.

Follow the fish on the sonar display, focus on where they are in relation to a bait, and how they react. When a fish closes in on the final jiggle-and-pause combination, turn your attention from the sonar screen to the spring bobber.  A slight tug which bends the spring down or a quick jump upward by the bead signals a strike and requires a quick hookset to convert the telegraph into a fish on the line.  It takes some time and practice, but by keeping the spring near or in line with the sonar display one can make a quick visual shift from the flickering lines to the spring bobber. With some experience, an angler can even develop the ability to keep an eye on both at the same time.

Combining complex technology with a simple spring makes icing fish all the easier and learning the process of pairing the two expands an anglers knowledge and bag of tricks. Try putting together these very different tools and a combination of high- and low-tech for a new way to find fishing success this season and for years to come.

(Featured Photo – Marrying the high tech of a Vexilar with the simplicity of a spring bobber can help convert fish like crappies, which sometimes have subtle strikes. Simonson Photo)

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