Keys to Becoming a Better Ice Fisherman

In many northern areas, we are now going into a holding pattern and asking ourselves when it will be safe to go onto the ice. Remember, no fish is worth risking your life for, so you don’t have to be the first one on the ice. Make sure the ice has been declared “safe” and “thick enough” beforehand.

With that being said, let’s take a look at a few things that are keys to becoming better on the ice earlier in the season.

Get ready now
This is very important. I know everyone is busy in today’s world, and that you might get the call that it’s time to hit the ice in a few days so you end up scrambling to get all your equipment ready. Prepare your equipment now to avoid being rushed.

Check your shelter
Take a close look at your shelter before venturing on the ice. I had a buddy who threw his shack into the back of his truck, only to find out later that the mice had a field day in his shack in the offseason. After getting to our starting area, he found five holes in the shack when he pulled it up over his head—we ribbed him, telling him he was testing the new flow-through shelter. Take the time to check your shelter, and if necessary, get it repaired or replaced now.

Augers
Take the time to put fresh gas into your auger and start it before you leave home. Also, make sure that your blades are sharp and ready to go. I had a fellow fisherman drive for a couple of hours to hit the ice early last season. He made his way out only to discover he couldn’t get his auger started. Instead of letting him drive back home without the chance to go fishing, I loaned him my auger to drill a few of his holes.

Electronics
I have a couple questions: Have you shown your ice fishing electronics any attention or its batteries? Have you taken the time to recharge your batteries over the summer? If the answer is no, take the time to recharge your batteries now and test them to ensure they’ll last the day. If you only get a few hours out of your test you will need to replace them now. Typically, if they last all day, you should be good to go for the ice season.

Keep it small
In the early-ice season fishing can be a walking affair, so try to keep your trips in November on smaller bodies of water. Or, if you are faced with fishing larger lakes, limit your ice choices to bays when it’s first ice. Do not try to cover larger iced-over areas in the first few weeks. As the season goes on and the ice becomes “safer” you can branch out on larger bodies.

Off-season scouting
One of the biggest things that I’ve been doing these last few years is off-season scouting. When on the water during the summer, I am paying attention to look at key areas to use for the ice season. Often, I’ll drop a waypoint in my unit for use later in the year. If you are where you can hit the water one more time before ice-up, take that opportunity. Things that I look for are fish location and weed conditions. Chances are pretty good that if you get onto the fish and figure out key fish and weed locations, these will likely hold though the early-ice season as well, paying you big dividends.

Stay light and mobile
During early-ice conditions, stay light. Once again, now is a walking affair so do not take to the ice with more equipment than you need. If you’re fishing during the day, bring only what’s needed for that day. If you carry too much and make it difficult for yourself to move, you will not be able to adjust or be as mobile as you’d like if the fish stop biting in one location. Check for action with your electronics if you do not see any signs of fish. You have to bring your “summer attitude” to the ice—if you are not seeing signs of fish or catching fish, it’s then time to move until you can find the active fish. Again, stay light and mobile during early-ice conditions.

Plastics vs. live baits
Plastics are growing fast in the market these days for ice fishing. These baits are making an impact in catching fish in winter, so if you are not paying attention to these today you need to make it part of your arsenal this year.

On the other side, live bait is still the old standby that will still catch fish. But one of the biggest mistakes that fishermen make is to put a bait down the hole and leave it down. To get the best results from live bait you have to keep your bait fresh and alive. Baits that have been down for a long time will not have a positive effect; it will have a negative one. As your bait starts to die it will put off a “negative” scent, costing you bites. Keep a close eye and nose on your ice bait, and when it looks like it is near the end of its time, make a change. I’ve had many days when one of these baits outperforms the other in getting bites. But when hitting the ice, make sure that you have put both in your tackle box as options.

I hope these tactics will help you in this year’s upcoming ice season. November is the right time to prepare for the ice. And don’t wait until the last minute. That way, if you do encounter any problems you’ll have enough time to get things in order properly and start the season off on the right “boot.”