By Nick Simonson
Midwinter is the trough of the natural world, and the challenges above the ice reflect what’s going on below it. Conditions are rougher, colder and there’s less movement out there. Everything that runs, flies or swims sometimes seems to be saving up its energy for the warming days coming in just a few short weeks. But all of those creatures have to eat, and there are times when movement is required, and the same holds true under the ice. By adjusting presentations, tweaking lures and making sure everything is on point and in position with a few tips at the midpoint of the ice season, successful ice fishing can be had in the traditionally tougher part of winter.
Small and Slow
By midwinter, fish may be keying in on smaller offerings or whatever remains for food in their environment. Consider downsizing lures and baits for active presentations or offering up smaller minnows on deadsticks and bobber rigs to match the forage available. Smaller presentations also tend to provide more natural looking action in the water, and less for fish to scrutinize before striking. Utilize tungsten-based jigs to still get down to fish fast when the feeding frenzy is on and provide a heavier yet more compact package. Consider reducing the number of jiggles, jumps or jigs from an early season presentation as a fish comes in and instead, utilize taps of the fishing rod with a finger, or slower rises and falls to entice a bite. Action can still be incredible during peak periods, or when a school is moving through, and no modification is required. However, when things do get challenging, like after a cold front, adjust baits and presentations accordingly to turn neutral or negative fish into biters.
Get the Angle
I had a favorite spoon one ice season that had gone through the wringer. Paint had chipped from the base and hooks on its treble were bent being pulled from so many fish and rebent back into place, but it still worked and better than many other offerings I tried in its place. What I noticed in all of that reforming of the business end of the bait is that one of the three trebles bent out at a slightly wider angle, as opposed to going straight up back to its original 90 degrees. It wasn’t much, say maybe five degrees, but the more open point on that portion seemed to stick out just a bit further, and it happened to be the one that got the job done more often than not. Consider using a forceps or small pliers to tweak a hook on your treble, or slightly open the hook on a jig. The wider angle can help better connect with fish, while still keeping them hooked in the bend on the way up to the hole.
Toe the Line
By mid-ice, fishing line has been through the wringer. Especially when angling for panfish through the ice, the torque caused by fish circling under the hole can add up to stress on the line, making it twist and changing its structure. This in turn results in that stored energy in the line and its twist being transferred to a lure when it is at rest below the hole, making for a very unnatural rotating display in front of an incoming fish. Things are tough enough as it is this time of year, as fish generally go neutral or are negative, and any cue that the offering isn’t something good to eat, such as a weird pirouette caused by twisted line, should be eliminated. Luckily, a quick snip of the monofilament, and a removal of the first 10 to 20 feet from the reel will take care of most of the affected line. Simply drop an offering into the hole and watch to see how it behaves. If it spins, it’s time to trim that line for the second half of the season.
Turn to Tech
Finally, while I recognize I am in danger of utilizing “when I was a kid” as part of this column, technology has certainly helped anglers advance on the ice, particularly when finding a favorite spot and the options available today make eliminating water so much easier. From phone apps and pin drops from friends to GPS chips and pre-loaded contour maps that can be downloaded right off agency and company websites, there are fast and effective ways to regain the spot-on-a-spot where all of last weekend’s fish were and at least a solid starting point for mid-ice adventures. Where time was once spent squirting water on the ice and positioning a sonar puck to check depth or drilling a bunch of holes that wouldn’t get used, a phone or GPS screen can now provide the same information, or at least limit the need for an expansive grid of ice holes to be searched and reduce the area requiring work. Utilize technology – some of which is free or part of a phone package – to make midwinter exploration easier, eliminating unproductive water and helping to find fish faster.
Keep the success on the ice rolling in midwinter with these tricks and others undoubtedly picked up along the way. Stick with what’s working, but be willing to adjust and monitor equipment to get the most out of every outing right up until the melt begins…in our outdoors