Key to early season ice-fishing success: Avoid highly pressured fish
The odd winter that has shaped up in the past month means we’re still targeting early-ice walleyes and other fish species. Common action plans this period suggest targeting shallow fish. We’re brainwashed to constantly fish on the bottom, but please understand that predator fish will suspend in deeper water right now if there’s a food source present.
Yes, early ice opportunities often equate to shallow fish, but that given is dependent on factors like fishing pressure, food sources, and general fishing conditions. If a lot of people are fishing a shallow area, they will push fish into deeper locations. I’ve seen this many times with multiple species of fish, from walleyes and pike to perch and bluegills.
Other factors will cause fish to move. If there’s no food in these specific locations, fish still need to eat and adjacent deeper water just might contain forage. Noise also really comes into play on lakes with excessive traffic or lacking any snow cover. Again, more fishing pressure almost inevitably means more noise. Fronts also can push fish into deeper water.
When I see this happening on a lake, I’ll head for 20-foot depths and frequently find action. Move and look for secondary structures such as a small hump or point. They definitely can hold fish under these conditions.
If you’re forced to fish shallower locations, work outside edges or be patient until the crowds leave. Those fish can move back in or the bite might turn back on!
In a nutshell, here’s my early ice fishing formula: Choose several shallow locations, but if you’re not catching anything, search deeper water spots. Have all those locations, shallow and deep, pre-planned before you leave home.
We tend to forget that the entire underwater environment has changed for fish in the winter. Mother Nature has altered scents, tastes, even vibration in the water column. Fish are living in a colder, darker environment, and they’re more sensitive to disturbance. Adjust accordingly to keep catching the entire winter season.