Become a Traveling Ice Angler

Being well traveled is a valued asset in many areas of life, and it’s definitely true in ice fishing. No matter how much time you spend on the water, if it’s always the same water, you can easily fall into a rut.

Go to the same spots, fish with the same lures, jig them the same way.

Traveling somewhere new forces you to think more, to explore not just highways and restaurants but the entire process of finding and catching fish. Real tournaments, like the NAIFC series, show us that there is almost always more than one way to catch fish, even on the same body of water.

“Going to a new place,” says Dave Genz, “kind of kick-starts your thinking. One of the first things you should do is go find a group of local fishermen, and observe what they’re doing. Spend time talking to them.

“You can do this more in the winter than in the summer. Ice fishermen tend to fish closer together, because the wind isn’t blowing everybody’s boat around. You feel like you get to know these people, and you share ideas, which doesn’t happen as much when everybody is in a boat.

“You can watch and see what they’re doing, what lure they’re using, how they work it. And you can see what kind of spot they’re fishing. It might not be the spot you would pick, for that point in the season, on your home lake. It opens your eyes to new ideas. You might see that those brown-and-down weeds do hold fish. You might end up catching fish in a shallow bay that you wouldn’t think could be holding fish.”

You often catch more than a few fish on that new lake, says Dave. The experience can open your eyes to possibilities on familiar waters.

“When you get home,” he says, “you might discover fish in some of those same places on your lakes. One pattern (that he found by traveling) is shallow manmade channels at first ice. Now I look for that around here (central Minnesota) when I’m home at first ice.”

Becoming a traveler
Because of the revolution in everything from clothing made specifically for ice fishing, to the latest augers, flashers, rods, reels, and lures, ice fishing has gone from a season of resignation to a season of excitement. People no longer fish through the ice because there’s nothing better to do! Many anglers are more serious about their ice fishing than their open-water fishing.

Because of the growing popularity, tourism groups are competing for the attention of ice anglers.

To get started, all you really need are warm clothes and the desire to broaden your horizons. Even if you would typically go out and rustle up your own fish near home, you can choose to take advantage of services in some great destinations.

“Especially on larger bodies of water,” says Genz, “you find these services where they’ll drive you out to a fish house in a heated vehicle and set you up. They put the houses on good spots, drill the holes, and all you do is sit down and fish.” You find these services on Lake Erie, Lake Simcoe near Toronto, Lake of the Woods, and more.

“Out in Devils Lake, North Dakota,” continues Dave, “is the famous Perch Patrol guide service. You can catch the Amtrak from Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, and tell stories all the way out to Devils Lake. They meet you at the station, put you up and feed you, and take you on a guide fishing trip where you might catch walleyes, northerns, perch. It’s a relaxing, trouble-free adventure.”

This type of trip can get you kick-started on becoming a traveling ice angler. “It can become addicting, too,” says Genz. “There are people who go out to fish with the Perch Patrol every winter.” As you gain experience attacking unfamiliar waters, you can also choose to begin packing up your stuff and heading to new regions, and doing the hotel thing, “Trap Attack” style.

At this point, you are in charge of finding your own fish and working out the presentation puzzle. While daunting, this becomes a big part of the lifelong fascination many people have with this aspect of ice fishing.

“I get great satisfaction going to a new lake and just catching something,” says Genz. “It’s fun to figure it out on your own. You don’t always catch a trophy.”

One of the great wonders of the ice belt is that there are many lakes just waiting for you to drill holes on them. Some are famous and popular.

Others are ripe, and waiting to be discovered.

“We drive by lakes all the time that have nobody on them,” says Genz. “If there’s boats on ‘em in the summer, that means there’s fish. The fish didn’t get out of the water.”

One great source of tips on places to travel is, especially in the Message Board area. You can have virtual chats with other ice anglers who love to travel, and get ideas on where the bite is on.

Another suggestion, one that can help you build confidence without making a long drive, is to check out a few of those lakes you drive by near home. “Take yourself out of your comfort zone,” says Genz. “Go to a new lake and try to figure it out. Then, when you go on a real adventure, you have a better chance of being successful.”

Traveling to fish through the ice reveals new waters, but it also builds your experience base. And that can pay off big, whenever and wherever you fish.

“On the tough-bite days,” says Genz, “it can come down to details. (By traveling and trying new wrinkles) you can learn new tricks that might work at home, too. You might come back from an adventure with a new trick in your arsenal. Do that enough times and you have a bigger set of weapons.

“The best fishermen are the ones who know the most little things, and can put them together at the right time. That’s what traveling can do for you. People who say they only fish one certain way are limiting themselves.”