By Nick Simonson
No location in the outdoors is quite as legendary as the spot-on-a-spot. You know the place, it’s that one big boulder on a reef, the rock pile in a mud-bottom reservoir, or that place on the sunken hump that just has a heavier summer weedbed that hangs on all winter and holds fish. Some you know by the waypoint on a GPS, others you know on sight, and others you find again with a few exploratory holes when you’re in the general area. What they all have in common is good fishing.
During the ice season, they’re even more important as these structural elements serve as underwater magnets for fish that aren’t always in the mood to bite, but hang around this magic little point – including the times when they do get hungry. Once found, a spot-on-a-spot is stored in memory for the ages and rarely shared, and in some cases, despite the best dead reckoning skills or more accurate GPS waypoint, finding it again can be frustrating especially after a first successful trip.
While modern GPS units are accurate down to within 10 feet or so depending on satellite coverage, that distance can mean the difference between hot fishing and a bite that seems just okay. What’s more, this season’s dock on shore might be 10, or 20 or 50 feet off of last winter’s storage location, or the big pine that served as the northern reference point may have toppled in a summer storm, further confusing the most basic of marking systems from previous years. Relocating these places, while easier in the era of modern technology, still requires some legwork. With those reliable holes in the ice subject to refreezing and being snowed over, even relocation within the same season can provide an added challenge. What follows are some tips to get you back to that spot-on-a-spot when you’re looking to get on good ice fishing once again.
Investing in Information
The best way to keep track of prime fishing spots is to keep a fishing log. Writing down depths, ice thickness and landmarks to recreate the same day of good fishing in winters to follow will help add context to a GPS waypoint or the general idea of a location based on shoreline objects. Further, making a detailed map of those depths and contours to go with the journal entry, and pinpointing where a spot-on-a-spot is located in relation to those elements will help provide a clearer mental image and allow for on-ice adjustment when returning to the spot. This information is obviously best recorded immediately after the trip, while fresh in your mind. It’s a little bit of work, but documenting great fishing trips is rarely something that people don’t like to do.
If part of your arsenal, use underwater cameras and sonar to get a better picture of the spot – both literally and figuratively – and determine the elements that are keeping fish in the area. Save photos and recordings from cameras, and note shifts in bottom composition from soft to hard substrates – which are typically long to short bottom returns on sonar displays – to get an idea of what is below. As shifts may be subtle or limited to a certain area, make note of that on a map and in a fishing log. Remembering all the elements that create a spot-on-a-spot is a lot tougher than simply remembering the fact you caught fish there. Beyond the photos and the frying pan, taking a few extra minutes after a good trip to put all the information together as part of the investment in future experiences.
Particularly from winter-to-winter, returning to the scene of a spot-on-a-spot from previous ice fishing trips will need refinement upon arrival. The first step is to utilize any waypoint stored on a GPS. Monitor the satellite acquisition process on your particular unit, and wait until the maximum number of signals has been acquired. Obviously, having connections with seven satellites will provide a more accurate reckoning than the base requirement of three. Regardless of accuracy at that particular moment, zoom in and be certain you’re on top of the waypoint. Use shoreline references and landmarks from your previous journal entries to help solidify the location, being certain they’re still accurate.
From that point, drill a grid of holes in the marked area and put technology and your records to work, following the previously-recorded information, maps, and photos to find the spot-on-a-spot. It may be necessary to drill holes halfway in between the initial ones in order to get on top of the desired spot and set up a shack, but the effort is worth it – especially in light of small structures having big fish attracting powers during the ice fishing season. An active bite will be the best clue, but if things are slow at the moment, try to find the spot-on-a-spot. Odds are fish will come through eventually, but if they don’t, adjustments can be made.
The One Constant
In still waters, a true spot-on-a-spot rarely changes, but fish movements and seasonal factors may vary success rates. Additionally, shifts in water elevation – especially on reservoirs or those lakes fed by springs or other flows – may change how fish relate to the elements that have provided good bites in the past. The general caveat for ice fishing still remains: “stay mobile and find fish.” Odds are, with the attractive power of a nearby spot-on-a-spot, they’re not far away from where they’ve been found in past seasons.
Good ice anglers know where a spot-on-a-spot is. Great ice anglers know where many of them are. Don’t get hung up on any one particular place. Look for areas on lake maps that may provide similar base contours in other places on a body of water and when not on a fish-fry mission, get out and explore. The sunken boat on a point in 12 feet on the west end of the lake might be a group of boulders in 14 feet on a similar point 300 yards up the shore. These near-magical points exist in other locations and concentrate a particular area’s populations of fish. Don’t stop with just one spot-on-a-spot!
Put some time in describing and delineating the location of each discovered spot-on-a-spot and why it produced good ice fishing. This will make it easier to relocate later in the winter and in ice fishing seasons to come, and help limit the amount of looking required to get back on it, while adjusting for seasonal variations and giving you an idea as to what to look for in locating a new one on other waters. Success will come faster and faster with each return trip to your spot-on-a-spot catalog.
(Featured Photo: Take Me Back. Utilizing good records, a GPS, maps and a little elbow grease will return you to the great ice fishing found with that super-secret “spot-on-a-spot.” The more information you have, the more accurate you are; the more accurate you are, the more fish you’ll catch! Simonson Photo)