By Nick Simonson
Time on the ice is enjoyable in part due to the conditions faced, the challenges overcome and the understanding of the efforts it sometimes requires to find fish and catch them. Through experience the climb up the icy learning curve provides little shortcuts, suggestions and whispers from the fishing universe that make things easier and help others follow the same path. What follows are a few of those ice fishing life hacks learned along the way through dozens of seasons on hard water.
Give it a Whirl
If you don’t have the couple grand it takes to gear up with a side-viewing sonar device, don’t worry. A simple hack picked up after a fast run and slow down on one particular ice fishing trip is one that’s stuck around and helps pick up those fish on the edges – especially suspending species like crappies and schooling perch – and it’s called the swirl. Rotate the transducer of any standard sonar in the hole before bailing on the spot and check the readout for any flickers that look like fish. Compare them with the depths where previous ones were caught and consider lifting a lure up to them to see if a bite can be enticed. Many times, that flicker picked up by the beams of the wildly-spinning sonar transducer is a fish and it turns from green, to yellow to red and into a fish on the line. Give the swirl a whirl before leaving an area and see what it picks up.
Pike on tip-ups can provide a lot of excitement with their hard-charging runs and ability to make a spool of black Dacron line disappear in just a few seconds. Part of the challenge in bringing these toothy critters and any other species that come via fish trap is making the battle go smoothly and playing the fish effectively. With the hook set and the battle going, mind the line that comes up the hole and as it’s brought in hand-over-hand, make a conscious effort to lay it neatly to one side, preferably in an area that’s been cleared of snow and ice so there’s nothing for it to hang up on. In even laid-out strips the line can easily flow back down through your fingers and into the wate and not hang up on ice, boots or the tip-up itself.
Get a Grip
For the longest time, a staple in my portable shack was a beat-up leather glove. While not as important as an auger and a sonar, this simple hand covering was a key tool in landing many fish, especially pike when a hot bite was on. When the time came to land one, and a few bigger walleyes to boot, the glove went on and went straight in the mouth of the fish as it breached the water. Pike instinctively close their mouths when being landed, and those gnarly teeth lock down on anything soft. The thick leather protected my fingers and provided an added bit of security as I grabbed the fish by the bottom lip. I have never lost a single one landed in this method, but plenty of others have slipped through bare fingers and even rubberized waterproof gloves. The old reliable, tooth-marked glove also helped keep my standard hand coverings in good condition and untorn. With a new deer hide turned in this autumn, a brand-new pair awaits christening on a nearby pike lake this winter.
Get the Drop
One of the easiest modifications to any ice fishing lure is the addition of a dropper. Whether it’s a hand-tied stretch of monofilament with an octopus hook or a commercial option with a small chain-and-hook combination, removing the standard treble hook with a split-ring pliers from the lure and replacing it with a dropper can trigger bites from finicky fish, especially panfish like perch and bluegills. These species sometimes see a larger lure as competition, or at least another fish on the feed, and the dropper looks like a bit of the feast that got away from their competitor. They’re apt to target this little morsel dangling below the bigger show and snap it up, only to find themselves on the way up the water column after a quick hookset. Experiment with a variety of droppers and utilize fly hooks and thin monofilament to find smaller options when the menu and the mood of the fish calls for it.
One Man Band
Finally, for a quick reset on the ice for any adventure employing tip ups, add a bag of thin rubber bands to the terminal tackle box. Amidst the treble hooks, leaders, quick-strike rigs and single hooks, these little markers are easily snapped and attached to the line that comes off the spool. When whatever offering is set where you want it, simply tie a portion of a rubber band on the line with an overhand knot and trim the excess. Compact and out-of-the-way on the retrieve, this marker knot will allow for a quick resetting of the rig and the line in the hole without having to review the sonar or use a clip-on depth checker after landing a fish as the band typically stays in place as there’s no set of eyes for it to run through.
These are just a handful of fun hacks that make ice fishing more enjoyable and successful. From lure modifications to line management techniques, there are dozens more ready to be discovered. Log some time on the ice this season and add a few of your own tricks to the bag with this helpful start to hardwater success.
Featured Photo: When using tip-ups, managing that black line in an orderly fashion and marking the depth with a small knotted rubber band can help increase success on the ice. Simonson Photo.