Continue to Seek Structure Through the Ice

We all approach open-water fishing with the thought process that the fish we may be chasing are relating to some type of structure, and we fish that structure in search of our quarry. All too often anglers forget about this strategy when fishing through the frozen surface of their favorite lake or pond.

Ignoring the significance of structure when fishing the frozen surface can lessen your chances of putting more and larger fish on the ice. Just because there’s ice doesn’t mean the fish are going to change their habits and ignore their natural instincts.

Winter will change a fish’s habits and movements, but the one thing that remains the same is their instinct for food and cover. Both are part of their daily movements, and believe it or not, structure has a hand in both.

Structure is a change in the surroundings from one area to another. This is as simple and basic as it gets.

The idea of structure can be broken down into several categories: depth transitions, bottom composition, physical structures and current flow. These all have a role in how fish relate their movements during the day and even at night.

Just as we do on the open water, on ice it is key to use your hydrographic maps. These maps will help you locate any possible areas that may contain structure to focus on. Most maps will give you contour lines, bottom composition and weed beds. If the map has limited information, then you need to use your electronics to help you look for the areas to fish.

Your electronics will allow you to find bottom composition, weeds and depth transitions. By drilling a series of holes along a known contour line you can jump from hole to hole and in essence “map out” the area using your Vexilar or underwater camera.

Mapping out an area can often mean you end up drilling dozens of holes to help build a visual image of what is under the ice. Drill and check your depth, drill again and check again. Mapping plays an important role in locating and targeting fish.

If you drill a hole and find weeds, and then the next hole is void of weeds, you will know that the bottom makeup may have changed and this could be a great area to focus on. Start drilling a circular pattern around the area to find the weed edges and bottom changes in the area. Work outward and soon you will have a very concise idea of what can be found under your feet.

The species you are in search of will make a huge determination to the type of structure that you might be looking for. Early- and late-season bluegills are going to be relating to the green weeds from the open-water season. These provide the fish with cover and a good supply of food and oxygen.

If it is crappies you are after, then you are going to want to be in search of underwater logs, cribs and deep-water transitions. The crappies will tend to school up and suspend over the deeper water following schools of minnows. As the nightfall comes, they will move up in the water column to feed on the minnows that are feeding on the plankton near the bottom of the ice. These fish use deeper water as a safe haven from other predators.

The changes in bottom composition will also key you in onto fish. A hard rocky bottom with a soft muddy or sandy bottom transition will often be a “highway” to feeding walleyes and perch.

The key to any body of water is to locate the given structure that may be present in the area. Some lakes are almost devoid of any sort of structure, and in this case subtle things are often thought of as structure—a simple 1-foot change in depth of the water can create an area that the fish will relate to.

It is important to not get hung up on the thought that structure means there has to be a log or crib in an area or a huge patch of green weeds. Structure will come in many shapes and sizes and is dependent upon the body of water you are fishing.

Depth changes, bottom changes, and even water clarity changes can certainly be considered structure. It is your job as an angler to search out these possible changes and focus efforts on fishing them and learning how the fish are relating to them.

Not all fish like the same type of structure, so it pays to do your homework on the species you’re after, and again, the body of water.

It pays to be mobile on the ice—covering a lot of water beneath and being able to map the areas out with ease. This will in turn allow you to focus on the productive water and eliminate any dead-water areas you might waste your time on.

Use your electronics and focus on keying in on structure. Spending time mapping the water will pay off big in the long run and allow you to have a much more productive day out on the ice.