By Scott M. Petersen

Contributing Writer

A fter a slow start to ice making, Mother Nature came through
and did her part, over the holidays. For this soft-water bass
chaser, ice fishing means big bull ‘gills and slab crappies. If
this is what you will be chasing when you hit the ice, grab the
rope of your shelter, and let’s consider a few tactics for early
ice slabs and bluegills.

When hitting the ice in January, green weeds still play a role
in finding ‘gills and crappies, especially in a year like this with
low snow cover (better light penetration) in the metro area.
Bluegills will still be drawn into shallow areas looking for food.
Crappies, however, tend to hang off the weed edges as they did in
the fall in deeper water. In the ‘gill’s case, the bigger these
flat areas the the more fish these areas will hold.

With crappies, look for dropoffs leading to deeper water. These
are the corridor areas crappies use to get to and from deepwater.
One note: If it is a lake you are fishing the first time, bring a
lake map to find these areas.

Once you have a few locations, it’s time to find fish. In the
past you may have gone into an area, drilled a few holes, and
started fishing or using your depthfinder to find active fish. But
there is a faster way to do this without drilling any holes.

Bring a bottle of water and put this into your coat pocket to
keep it warm. Pour a little water onto the surface of the ice and
set your transducer into the small puddle. If you are shooting
through solid ice you will get a good reading. If there is any air
in the ice, it will foul your reading, so move your transducer a
little. When you have snow on the ice, take your foot and clear it
away. This little trick will cut your hunting time in half when
looking for structure and active fish.

When you find fish, punch a few holes in the area and you’re
set. Electronics will play an important part in telling you the
mood of the fish, so pay attention even when you are dropping your
bait down the hole. If the fish rush your bait on the drop, great.
When you can see the ‘gills or crappies shying away from your bait,
change your presentation.

How are you tipping your jig or lure? Is it fresh? Do not use
the same bait for more than 10 minutes. A positive scent after 10
minutes becomes a negative scent. If a bait change still causes the
fish to shy from the lure, change the bait altogether. Many times
I’ve found that all I needed was a bait change.

I also have seen days when fish get into a funk and will only
take one bait over all the others. After a bait change, if I still
see the fish act negatively, I’ll change lures a different color or
even a different lure style.

Line size is probably the biggest key to consider during your
winter fishing, and this is where many ice fishermen make a big
mistake. Using summer line will cost you fish. Many fishermen have
one set of reels. I use my reels on my ultra light rods spooled
with 4-pound-test for summer fishing. I also use these same reels
for my ice rods, but before I hit the ice, I change the line to
either 2- or even 1-pound-test line. The smaller line gives my bait
a more natural look meaning more bites by the day’s end.

Another trick: When the bite gets extra tough and downsizing
helps but does not quite do the trick, switch to a fiberglass rod.
In today’s fishing we are always looking for an edge. One of those
edges in ice fishing is the use of graphite rods. In the past we
would sit on the ice, just a spool of line in our pockets with a
bobber attached to the line waiting for it to go down. Now we sit
in heated shelters with the most sensitive graphite rods that money
can buy.

I believe that not only can we feel the fish much better, but
the fish can feel us as well. Thus, they drop the bait much faster
when the bite gets tough. The fish are shy to begin with, and any
little movement of the bait will scatter them. So maybe it’s time
for a step back to a fiberglass rod.

What will fiberglass rods give us? Answer: a lack of feel,
mostly of is on the fish’s part. You will still have the advantage
of your electronics, but you will lack some of the feel on your
side that a graphite rods gives. Concentrate on your electronics,
then when you see the bite about to occur, switch your eyes to the
rod tip and wait for the slight sign that the fish has the bait.
Then set the hook. In the whole picture this will mean less feel to
the fish, and more fish on ice.

Make the most of your trips to the ice this year. When it comes
to early ice ‘gills and crappies, look for green weeds. In the
early part of the ice season weeds are still vital to fish
location. Keep your bait fresh and keep your line size down. Also
pay attention to what your electronics are telling you. By knowing
the mood of the fish, you can adjust to put more odds in your favor
and catch more fish.

Remember to practice CPR (catch, photo and release). The future
of fishing is in your hands. For more timely ice tips and tactics
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