By Nick Simonson
As we settle into the heart of ice season and the challenges of the middle stretch come to be, there are some little changes that can help up the odds of success and make things easier, when conditions might conspire to make fishing tougher. What follows are a few tips, tweaks and tactics to get the most out of each day on the ice.
Get the Angle
An awesome tweak on the advantage of modern ice sonar is a tactic dubbed “the swirl” that came to be through a chance happening. While fishing for suspended crappies on a small lake a few seasons ago, I dropped my Vexilar transducer into one of a number of holes I had punched over a likely basin. Immediately, there was nothing on the screen. Having seen this throughout the morning, I knew it was best to just bump on over to another hole to find the fish that were suspended, and generally more eager to bite.
As I reached down to pull the transducer out of the hole, the foam float slipped from my grasp and plopped back into the water. As it did, the transducer spun around its axis, firing beams angled off to the sides of the hole. Green flickers appeared suspended three or four feet off the bottom. Thinking they might be fish, I dropped my spoon back down and began jigging aggressively above where the lines had appeared. The faint lines again appeared on the display, and then reddened into those signals of fish directly under the hole that had come in to my spoon. Shortly, two keeper crappies lay on the ice.
Now, when nothing shows on the Vexilar while I am searching for suspended fish, I give the foam float a quick swirl around the hole, effectively widening the angle of detection. If a flicker of green shows up in the water column, chances are it is a fish. This tactic is best for fish like crappies and bluegill that are found up in the column and should be used when a unit is out of zoom mode and the whole column is visible.
When it comes to tip-ups, most companies offer two settings for the triggering of the flag. Use these options, along with how the tip-up is aligned in the hole, to prevent false flag activation due to wind and to adjust your tip-up to the species you are fishing.
Most standard tip-ups have a T-bar which holds the flag in the down position. On many T-bars there are two arms, each with notches. One arm has a notch that is wider and deeper and the other has one that is smaller, or even absent.
When fishing for aggressive predators like northern pike, the flag can be set into the large notch of the T-bar without much fear of the fish noticing resistance on the take. For generally light-biting fish, like walleyes, it is a good idea to place the flag in the small notch, or on the smooth side of the T-bar. This way, as the T-bar rotates when a fish takes the bait, the flag has a smoother release, making the fish less aware of the fact that something isn’t quite right, because there is less resistance.
In addition to the notches, tip-up anglers can play the wind to their advantage. When fishing in stronger winds, it is wise to rotate the desired arm of the T-bar to point into the wind. Then place the flag on the windward arm of the T-bar so the wind holds it in place to prevent a premature release due to a gust which push the flag out from under the leeward side of the tip-up.
When fish don’t respond to standard offerings like spoons or jigs, a dropper can offer a smaller morsel, or a less contested piece of bait, and trigger bites. Theories abound as to why a dropper works well – particularly on perch and walleye – but the one I buy into most is the “feast or famine” rule. This is evidenced by smallmouth bass that will eat the regurgitated food of another hooked smallmouth on its way to the boat. In nature, animals will take what they can get when they get it.
So, when using droppers, it isn’t uncommon that fish-profiled baits equipped with a dropper trigger the same response. Try removing the treble hook of a Rapala Jigging Rap, or a Buckshot Rattle Spoon and adding on a Northland Dropper Hook, or a Nils Master Hali dropper chain. Spearing on a minnow, a minnow head or a couple spikes gives the illusion that there’s a bigger fish eating something, and a piece of that something just fell away – the perfect easy meal for other opportunistic fish.
Oftentimes, a fish will bite on a spoon-and-dropper combo with just a seductive little wiggle or bounce which shimmies the bait in a natural way. Work droppers in the hole before sending them to the depths to get an idea as to what it will look like in the strike zone. Tailor your own droppers to your needs with a Hali chain or a stout piece of monofilament about two inches long and a Gamakatsu hook, a small Genz Worm, Flu Flu or other jig.
No Penalty for Clipping
For fast-paced searching, it’s tough to top a clip for quick changing of spoons, minnow baits and other search lures. A size 2 clip is perfect for small ice lures. It does not detract from the action and allows anglers to adjust their presentation as needed. A simple flick of the wrist opens and shuts the clip on most lures.
Use a clip when jumping from hole to hole, or trying to find the right sized spoon for your target fish. It is much easier than cutting and retying, and also allows for a looser connection that, like the Rapala Knot, results in a freer swing of lures in the water.
These tips should help improve your fishing this time of year, and along the way you’ll probably discover more.
Featured Photo: Giving the transducer on a Vexilar a quick swirl around the hole shoots beams in angles that can pick up fish outside of the normal cone area, letting you know they’re nearby and to keep working an active lure to draw them in.