Lock it in! Deliver winter ice angling success by understanding "moody" gamefish

Terry TumaThe beginning of another hard-water season looms is underway, and for me that means some of the year’s best fishing has arrived.

Early ice provides some of the best hard-water fishing of the year, but to be successful, we’d better understand the mood of the fish for not just one, but all species of sportfish.

Fish mood affects the size of lures and the jigging actions we employ. If we understand the moods of fish, we’ve cracked the fishing code.

I believe fish mood is even more important during the winter, when the metabolism of these cold-water creatures has slowed. They’re less active and eating less, so they’re trending toward a neutral mood before you even hit the ice.

Think scent. Fish are very wary of unnatural odors right now. The growing season has essentially halted, so there are fewer natural scents overwhelming the olfactory abilities of gamefish. If you’ve screwed up and a nasty scent encapsulates your lure, you’re probably not going to catch fish.

Negative or potentially repelling odors are big factors in ice fishing. Fish will approach a bait, then apply a taste or smell test. They’ll mouth or bump it before committing to a “strike.” Walleyes, for example, don’t have the nose of a catfish, but odor detection still plays a major role in whether they’re comfortable with a food source.

Bottom line, avoid unnatural odors on your hands and lures. Avid anglers know the obvious ones, but here’s a hidden fish repellant: grease under your spool. Cut your line if it gets caught in that area and picks up any grease.

If it doesn’t smell right, you’ve just lost the bite, and if you can smell it, fish definitely can smell it. They weigh every food source, and that’s why it’s so important to monitor their mood.

Your sonar and underwater camera provide logical ways to study and learn fish moods. Use visual and auditory aids, and watch how fish react to different colors and sounds, like rattle lures. Monitor weather conditions and fishing pressure closely. Both affect fish behavior.

I sometimes fear we’re losing track of the basics of how fish behave and react. We’re becoming more fashion fishermen. I want to see us get back to understanding simple factors in all species of fish.

Categories: Blog Content, Terry Tuma

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