By Nick Simonson
The days of first ice are well behind us, and the late ice pre-spawn surge is still a month or so away. In between, a bite can still be had but it might take a little more elbow grease to add a few fillets to the frying pan. The mid-winter stretch with its thick ice, tougher conditions and generally more sluggish fish can be overcome with a little extra effort.
Take Down the Grid
Locating a fast bite in February requires some searching, and only through punching holes and checking each can fish be found. Hit historical hotspots and start the search by drilling a square grid of 10 to 15 holes over a favorite spot or a new area, such as a breakline with deep and shallow stretches along a point or an inside turn. The key this time of year is finding active fish or triggering a strike from neutral ones in an area, and exploring all options as to location helps locate them.
Once the grid is laid out, rig two rods. One should employ an attractor lure such as a jigging rap or a rattling spoon tipped with a minnow head. The other should have a subtler presentation, like a jig tipped with a minnow, or for panfish a waxworm or spike. Using a sonar, drop the spoon or other attractor lure down and work it aggressively to see if any active fish in the area come in. It may be that they do but are reluctant to bite. If that is the case, quickly reel up and present the smaller, quieter lure with more subtle motions to convert those neutral fish. If no fish show after the aggressive lure is worked, or nothing rises to the smaller presentation, move on to the next hole until fish are found, or nothing shows up. Then it’s time to move.
Stay In Motion
Whether familiar with a lake, or just following a map, have high-percentage areas targeted ahead of time. The key to midwinter success is staying in motion and finding those active fish. Whether its an area with the last receding weedlines, rock reefs or other structural elements, having a few places to jump between on any given day will up the odds for success. Don’t slow down until fish are found and a bite can be established, or the changing light of dawn or dusk triggers increased action.
With the thicker ice of mid-winter, hardwater travel over great distances can become a lot easier as the two feet or more can support the weight of a truck or car. Be wary of areas with suspect ice, such as inlets and outlets, bridge areas, pressure ridges and spring-fed places on a lake. While traveling to find fish, be aware of the surrounding ice and watch for sketchy stretches in the journey between points A and B; and remember, no matter how thick it is, ice can never be trusted.
Kitchen Sink It
What worked at early ice might not work now, fish have seen a lot of things and have grown more lethargic as winter wears on. Color, bait and even presentation preferences have most likely changed. When fish are found, throw everything at them, as It may come down to the smallest difference setting off a bite. Have a variety of lure options and a few choices of bait ready to deploy and utilize sonar and camera options to better gauge how fish are reacting to each offering. Use quick-change clips to swap spoons and other lures quickly and experiment with a variety of offerings in the cold.
With a little trial-and-error, the proper pattern can be figured out, and a successful outing is the feather in the stocking hat of any angler proving his or her mettle at mid-season. With the advantage of electronics, a cache of GPS waypoints, and some solid sticktoitiveness, a showing as strong as early and late ice can be had this time of year when the right pattern and presentation is found.
By exploring high-percentage areas thoroughly and in an orderly fashion, staying on the move to locate an active bite, whether in a small area or over an entire lake, and being ready to try new lures, baits and presentations, the cold days of mid-winter can be red hot on the ice.
(Featured Photo: Spoons are still useful at mid-ice in finding active fish, but have subtler presentations on a back-up rod when fish are neutral. Simonson Photo)