A winter ice fishing tactical Q&A with ‘Tackle’ Terry Tuma
Whew! After a busy ice seminar season, I’m ready for some serious ice fishing! The past couple of months have been super busy, with loads of inquisitive anglers at seminars I’ve hosted across the ice belt.
Here is my take on the four top questions I heard at those seminars. I hope my answers will improve your hard-water fishing this winter.
Q: Where should I search for winter fish? Deep or shallow?
Tuma: Many variables affect locations in the water column. Fish are more bottom-oriented in shallow lakes and suspended in deeper water bodies. But suspended does not always mean 15 feet above the substrate in 30 feet of water. It might mean 5 feet. The 6- to 12-inch range is not always the answer. Search for bottom-huggers during unstable weather and times of high angling pressure, or relocate to deeper water.
Food sources and habitat also influence movement. Use electronics to determine fish depth but also for revealing lure location in relation to the species we are pursuing.
Q: What is the prime jigging movement to catch winter sunfish?
Tuma: First, always monitor mood, depth, lure, and fish location with electronics. There is no golden rule for how intense or how minimal we should move jigs in the water column. First we must attract, then employ our key trigger – the hold. Depending on fishing pressure and weather, I usually start 3 to 4 feet above bottom to draw in sunfish. No fish? Then lower the lure with occasional hops and stops until you reach the substrate.
Occasionally experiment just below the ice. We tend to over-jig, which intimidates fish. Many bites will occur by ticking the rod tip or blank above the reel. A couple of handle squeezes provide subtle lure action, too. Fish tell us what they want.
Q: What locations should I target for winter walleyes?
Tuma: Concentrate on irregularities in breaklines, remaining weed edges, humps, reefs, and other pieces of structure. Changes in hard-bottom flats where rubble meets sand, or mud, humps, or rocks on flats will hold fish. Remember, however, if there is no food in the vicinity, there will not be walleyes. Structure or edges may look great to us, but ice fishing really demands attention toward food sources first if we want to catch quality walleyes.
Q: Any thoughts on glow lures?
Tuma: Using glow lures for hard-water walleyes has gained momentum. Glow is an attractor in low light conditions such as stained water, snow cover, poor ice clarity, and night fishing. Always consider glow intensity: not enough or too much? Brightness and length of glow depends on the manufacturer and charge. Understand that heavily pressured fish on certain bodies of water see ample glow, so rely on scent, vibration, and sound first.
To sum up, glow alone doesn’t guarantee walleye action but it helps during low light periods. Certain products are brighter than others, and the amount of time a lure holds its glow varies. Experiment to see which glow lures are productive. On lakes where fish are conditioned to glow, concentrate on vibration, size, and lure fall.