How Long Should Ice Fishermen Stay on One Hole

Flip over the Clam shack, start up the tracked 800SX, and take off. The Navionics map shows your next favorite spot is a mile away, so we will be fishing again in 10 minutes, 20 minutes max. We would likely just have sat and stared at the blank screen anyway, so it’s time to move. Everyone has a slightly different set of steps that come next to set up on the next spot, and their own triggers for starting the next ice fishing location change. It’s the age old question, how long should ice fisherman stay on one hole?

This subject obviously has some gray areas. Our personal fishing style as well as the daily situation affects exactly when to make the call. Are we fishing for big fish? Trying to catch fish for dinner? Showing the ropes to an in-law in town for the weekend? First time on this lake? Additionally, how many days are we fishing? Are we fishing a flat, a rock pile or a basin? How is the weather? Each of these answers lengthens or shortens a fuse in our head that goes off at some point after the sonar goes blank.



That timer starts to tick while researching a trip to a lake. If a guide, friend, or online report says the fish are biting, the team will likely want to hop around until we can recreate that level of action. Rarely does the first spot knock the top off our expectations. No one ever fully trusts reports, so anything in the ballpark is a good sign that we should stay in the area. Again, it poses the question, how long should ice fisherman stay on one hole?

The first day of a multiple-day trip has us moving more. We often have three or four preselected areas marked on the map. Ending this day with some solid knowledge is the goal, so we use the camera more, drill more, and likely spend less time setting up an elaborate dead stick system. The second and third day can be spent dialing in the details and catching more fish. The first and last spots of the day receive more time (two hours or so), as we do not want to miss the magic low-light hours walleye bite. Otherwise, twenty minutes of fishing without a mark starts the countdown for everyone.



If a cold front moves through, or we are looking specifically for big fish, then an hour at a spot without seeing a mark might be more applicable. As expectations drop to a handful of bites a day, we scrutinize every encounter. The team focuses on presenting a perfect presentation with a reliable bait and goes from there. We have seen enough tough fishing days to know that the bite is likely off everywhere, so we dig in.

On tough days, we grind it out on the best spots we have, relying on a small change in the weather or something to trigger a bite window. Suddenly, the cameras are rolling, lines are tight, and the day’s feeling of success grows. Just as quickly the bite stops… leaving us glad we were not on the move when the opportunity arose.

Anytime we can move faster than the fish and still trigger bites, we troll. With lightweight Ion electric augers combined with accurate mapping from Navionics, following the edge of a reef, blindly covering a flat, or swiss-cheesing a basin not only produces fish, but also gives us a wealth of knowledge about an area. At some level, moving and seeing nothing is better than sitting and seeing nothing.

A one-day trip to a lake is the toughest. Trying to balance learning about the lake with actually landing a few fish makes the whole process compressed. No one remembers the tough days of a five-day trip, where one or two days were off the charts. But somehow, we still expect every Saturday to be the best day of the year.



The other half of the equation is efficiency and preparedness. There are no right answers as to how long to stay at a spot, but the end-of-the-day review between groups leaves no doubts. No one wants to admit they stayed too long because of the weather or general inertia, so here are some ideas for making moving spots a top priority for any day on the ice.

Visiting a spot multiple times in a week makes drilling easy. If holes are still visible, previous efforts found the spot-on-spot. For a new area, the key is to, “Drill until you know the lay-of-the-land.” This might take two or twenty holes; it just depends on how much it takes to convince ourselves we should settle down.

Since walleyes ambush their prey, putting your bait right on the edge of a drop-off or weed line makes a difference, and is often worth an extra hole or two. Drill three to six holes perpendicular to the drop and, after checking the depth with our sonar, we add an additional hole right at the edge. An extra minute with a camera verifies the edge and shows weeds, rocks and even fish. This cross-shaped hole pattern makes it easy to move up and down the break, set up a dead rod if warranted, and generates a visual understanding of the area before settling in. Another person in your party immediately knows where the exact drop exists. In the end, this method generates confidence that we are on the best spot for the area.



Anything that makes the next few minutes efficient makes it easier to move to the next spot. Sturdy racks and accessories on your snow machine make grabbing the auger and extra shelters easy. The thicker fabric on the Clam X200 Pro reduces the days where we setup and light a heater. Sometimes, carrying fewer rods means less time fiddling with tangles and rod cases. Two or three small tackle boxes organized under the seat means they do not flop around. A small console keeps everything else at hand.

Gloves come off and go into jacket or bib pockets, not in the sled. Live bait or Berkley Gulp plastics are easily accessible, so they stay fresh—and we change often. Knowing that you just need to zip up the Lowrance sonar and cover the Clam Shack before moving makes sure we do not stay a second longer than necessary.

The whole reason for this preparation and even extra work at the spot is to make sure that, when whole the team is ready to move, you move; no ifs, ands or buts. Waiting in a shack for the next fish that seems to show up every twenty minutes is one thing, but still being there two hours later without much action is another. Smoothly transitioning from spot-to-spot is a sure sign that we are chasing the next bite.



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