Modern Electronics Make Ice Fishing Easier

When it comes to ice fishing, there’s a big difference in what the old adage “paying your dues” meant when I was a kid compared to today.

During my days of youth, paying one’s dues meant many (and I mean many) fishless days standing on the ice, out in the open, suffering through wind and nasty weather while learning the lay of the underwater land; thus, where fish lurked under a lake’s frozen surface. Sometimes it literally took decades before really being able to figure it all out.

Now I admit, I had both a father and grandfather who had already spent tons of time on the frozen waterways near our home in Michigan’s southwestern Lower Peninsula; thus, the toll I paid was small, compensated within years only measuring in single digits rather than ten at a time.

How lucky I was.

But it was years later, when my elders were too timeworn to spend a lot of time on the ice with me, in which I realized just how difficult it could be to catch fish on bodies of water I had never fished before. Holes drilled here, bored there and pierced just about anywhere when in search of fish.

But then sonar came along, then GPS and later underwater cameras. And because of the advent of all of these morphing into the modern electronics we have today, there’s no doubting we have it made when it comes to being spot on when drilling a hole in the ice, as well know immediately if there are fish in the area. Add to this fact that within seconds after a lure’s lowered, we can figure out if the fish are interested in our offerings or not, as well can figure out the precise moment we’re are about to get a strike.

Like anything we do, practice makes perfect, and the education we gain each and every time out just from reading electronics alone increases our odds of catching more fish during future trips, whether on the same body of water or a different one.

Oh, how lucky both you and I are now.

But just because we own the newest GPS couple with a mapping program, sonar and underwater camera doesn’t mean we’ll be filling a five-gallon bucket with finned critters in no time flat. There’s more to catching fish while using them than just turning on the power.

Beyond routine
The first question I usually get asked when I’m giving ice-fishing seminars throughout the Midwest or during my “Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools” is which, of all the electronics I take on the ice, is the most important. Although my answer, “All of them,” may sound routine, the fact of the matter is it’s true.

As an example of the importance of each, I’ll tell of the average day on the ice for me and how each piece of electronics comes into play.

Right to it
Before the arrival of GPS, it often took hours to find structure, and valuable fishing time was lost in the process. Now all I have to do is look at the screen of one and know right where I am, as well where I want to be next.

The first thing I do, after hooking up my Otter shelter to my snowmobile, is boot up my GPS mounted on the dash.

I use a Lowrance Elite-4 color GPS unit, and rely on Navionics maps that load in an SD card. Using this technology, I can drive right to humps, bumps, holes, points and breaklines—all important areas to fish, all of which used to be a lot harder to find on top of a frozen lake.

Immediate gratification
Once I’m over structure, I drill a swath of holes. I already know the approximate depth, from looking at the GPS map, and now I put the sonar unit (Lowrance Elite-5 in my case) down each hole, looking for structure, cover, and fish.

My favorite presentation when searching quickly for fish is a Jigging Rap or jigging spoon (I use Northland spoons). My best results come when I tip the bait with a Gulp minnow or lively shiner.

With sonar, I can see fish move in on the bait and prepare myself for the strike. If several fish swim off without striking, I know I have to change up my jigging motion, change lure colors or the type of bait. Before sonar, I wasted hours just wondering if there were even fish in the vicinity, let alone it they were interested in my offering or not.

Clear as a bell
Underwater cameras are great tools. They will help you find structure, how a fish reacts to your offering as well see strikes as they happen.

What I’ve learned by using mine (a MarCum) has been invaluable. From determining what species it is I am marking on my sonar, to watching how fish respond to lure, direct camera observation has taught me so much.

With an underwater camera, I have caught fish by setting the hook the moment I saw them strike. And these are fish that may have gone totally undetected otherwise. Species like walleyes, whitefish and trout often eat bits of the bait and then spit it out in one motion, often without the angler even knowing they bit. By seeing this happening on the camera, I can set the hook before ever feeling the strike.

Underwater cameras are useful for getting right on the edge of structure. As an example, I have drilled holes only to figure out I was not right on weeds as the day wasted away. But the camera shows you the structure and cover clearly, and my MarCum unit has a direction indicator, so I know which way to drill my next holes.

More power to you
Without a doubt, you could go fishing without the aid of GPS, mapping programs, sonar and underwater cameras, but why?

Because of modern electronics, we all have it made when it comes to being spot-on when drilling a hole in the ice, and knowing if fish are below––and knowing when we just got bit. I promise you’ll catch more fish if you learn to use modern electronics on the ice this winter.


Mark Martin is professional walleye tournament angler who has a passion for hunting white-tailed deer. He is also an instructor with the Ice Fishing Vacation/Schools taught throughout the Midwest. Check out and for information.