I remember when I started ice fishing. I had seen it in the past and out of winter boredom and decided to give it a go. The toughest question was “where do you start”? Starting a new hobby is the toughest part, so lets breakdown some ice fishing tips for beginners to make it as simple as possible.
Research: take out the guesswork
When I put my mind to something, I pretty much go petal to the medal. Research is the last thing I want to do. The good news is that we are living in the information age. We have access to endless amounts of data right at our finger tips. There are a few good places to start gathering information.
This goes without saying. I’m assuming you understand this one or you wouldn’t be here. Start at your local fish and wildlife department website. Most keep updated conditions, fishing reports, etc.
There are groups for everything on social media, look up ice fishing groups. Find friends who have fishing pics on their profiles. Fishermen are generally a pretty friendly bunch and love to talk about their recent catches.
This is the most expensive option. If you really want to catch fish and don’t want to invest a ton of time on research, this is the way to go. You can look up guide rankings all over the internet. Not only will a good guide put you on fish, they will also give you the insight that you can use to catch your own next time.
Local Bait Shop
This is my go to. Head to the local bait shop and start asking questions. Avoid large chain sporting goods stores unless you have no choice. The people at the local shop will be able to recommend where to go, what to use, etc. They will also be happy to sell you these things. Once they give you good advice, you will be back.
Keep it simple, stupid
Its your first time out ice fishing. Find out what the simplest approach will be. What fish are generally the easiest to catch through the ice? Which will work better, lures or bait? Which baits have been successful lately? FInd out what times of day have been the best. Do everything you can to get as much information during your research that you can make sure to get the items that you need and have them ready. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, let the fisher people tell you what to do. Once you leave the bait shop, you are on your own, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Equipment- Arrows in your quiver
You have gotten the advice you need to be successful. Now for some equipment basics. These are the must-haves.
Warm clothes and boots
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Ice cleats or crampons
So you don’t bust your butt. 15 to 20 bucks well spent.
You need something to get through the ice. You can buy a hand (manual) auger for a few bucks more than a chisel. Electric or gas augers get much more pricey.
Keeps the hole clean and thawed.
I’ve seen people use regular rods, but I would recommend spending a few bucks for an ice fishing setup. Most places allow you to fish up to two poles with proper license. Increase your odds…
I typically have both handy. Jigs tipped with a worm or minnow are a good bet for a variety of species. Jigging spoons or blade baits are usually solid lure choices. There are also a ton of plastic baits that work as well. Make sure to have at least a few different color combos to experiment with.
Here fishy fishy
Now that we got all that done, it’s time to execute. Here are a couple things to consider that can help tip the scales in your favor.
Is the weather stable? Is there a cold or warm front moving in? Weather patterns can have big effects on feeding patterns. Generally, fishing before a cold front comes in will be more active, as pressure is falling. Once a cold front hits, the fish will be more lethargic and tougher to catch. Warm fronts also bring lower pressure and thus help the fishing.
Time of day
As a rule of thumb, fish are generally more active in the mornings after sunrise and as it gets close to sunset. This can vary some depending on what you are fishing for, but I would almost always choose one of these time slots over any other.
If there happens to be a body of water in your area that you may be familiar with, you should start here. Any spots where you had success when the lake wasn’t frozen are a good place to start. While our approach may be different in the winter, there is a good chance that the fish will still may be holding in similar areas.
We are at the lake and ready to fish. Where should we start? One thing to look for are recently drilled holes. You might even see signs of fish caught (blood, guts, etc). If there seems to be an area where there was a concentration of fishing, you may want to try here first. Chances are there is some sort of underwater structure that may be holding fish.
If there is nothing to obvious, keep in mind that predator fish tend to like areas where they can hide and ambush smaller fish with minimum effort. Things like drop offs, rocky humps, and underwater structure like trees or boulders are great places to start.
Think Fishy Thoughts
The presentation is going to be much different when it comes to ice fishing. With the colder water temperatures, fish are less active, so we are going use more small, slow motions. With jigging, it’s more of a flick of the wrist. The same goes for lures. Smaller, slower motions to mimic slower bait fish.
Ice fishing is also a vertical presentation. This means that instead of having to cast and reel in, we can drop the bait straight down on the fish. This gives us the advantage of being able to keep it in the zone until we trigger a strike.
We are also no longer confined to fishing the spots that our casts can reach from the shore. This means we usually have access to the entire body of water. Don’t get married to a spot unless you are sure there are fish there or you recently caught something. As a general rule, I move every 30 minutes or so until I find the fish.
If you aren’t catching anything, don’t be afraid to talk to other people fishing as well. People usually like to show off their catches and talk about what they used to entice them. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If it worked for them, it will work for you.
Fundamentals tip the scales for success
This is a brief explanation of a large topic. I would love to hear other tips or comments from you guys on other things that you do to catch more fish. Feel free to tell let me know in the comments below.
As always I wish you tight lines and good times!