Ice fishing, often overlooked in the winter, can be very productive and a real change in pace. Finding a good place to fish is the starting point of a successful ice fishing trip. Midwest lakes and reservoirs provide an abundance of ice fishing species and action.
Basic equipment for ice fishing includes an auger, a slotted scoop to clear ice from the hole and several short poles, 2-3 feet in length. A small spinning or ice fishing reel can serve as a line holder and should hold 25-50 yards of 4-6 pound test line for panfish or 10-20-pound test line for pike.
Many anglers fish with more than one line. They’ll jig with one line and use tie-ups to fish additional lines. Tie-ups hold the bait at a preset depth. The reel turns the tugging fish and releases a flag signaling a hit. When a flag flies, fishermen race for the tip-up to set the hook.
Ice fishing tackle for bluegill, perch, crappie, walleye and trout requires No. 8 or No. 10 size hooks or small tear-drop jigs in a variety of colors.
Ice fishing bait choice depends on the species being fished. Grubs, mousies, wigglers and waxworms catch most panfish species. Minnows work well for walleye, perch and pike.
Hook minnows through the back so they hang normally in the water and can swim freely. Some ice fishermen prefer grubs over minnows so hands can be kept dry when baiting the hook.
Fish usually stay near the bottom, although at times they suspend. A depth finder, a heavy weight which clips to the end of your line, quickly determines the depth under the hole. Some fishermen use portable sonar units which tell the depth and signal fish.
Once you’ve determined the depth, adjust the bait so it’s 24 inches off the bottom. Some fishermen add a small one-fourth to one-half inch diameter bobber to mark the exact depth. Jig and twitch the bait, letting it sit motionless every few seconds. Fish will be attracted to the motion and usually hit the bait just as it stops moving.
For walleye and pike, jig a tear-drop tipped with a minnow or use a spoon such as Swedish Pimples or Kastmasters. Six-pound test line gives these lures good action. Jig the spoon, pulling it 1-2 feet off the bottom. Use quick jerks several times a minute. As the spoon sinks, it imitates a wounded baitfish. For further inticement, hook a live or dead minnow or a piece of fish to the spoon.
Ice fishing in shallow water generally produces fish, but try different depths until fish is located. Fish around dropoffs, weed beds, and any other submerged structures because fish congregate in these areas. A topographical map of the lake may be helpful.