When I began writing about outdoor sports in the mid-1980s I interviewed many of the top anglers who were promoting the sport. One of those premier promoters, Gary Roach, actually invited me to fish with him, and I jumped at the opportunity.
We slid the boat off the dock on a mid-sized lake near his home in the Brainerd lakes region and motored to a point where he handed me a rod with a live-bait rig and a leech and we started fishing, telling stories, shooting photos… and not getting bites. Of course this rookie said that the fish must not be biting and Roach laughed, then laughed and laughed some more.
He explained that on any given body of water whether it be a lake, river, reservoir, farm pond, creek, during open water or on the ice there will be fish biting somewhere on something. One just needs to find those fish and give them what they want.
We moved to a couple other spots and eventually found some nice walleyes hungry for nightcrawlers, and we caught some big bass and perch too. It was a valuable lesson that I have experienced many times over the 35-plus years I’ve been fishing with the pros.
Veteran tournament angler Mark Courts described it as a mission to discover the most aggressive fish in the water and catch the biggest ones. He points out that he’s never fished a competitive event yet where someone didn’t figure out how to catch enough big fish to win.
Dave Genz is the Godfather of ice-fishing, and his style of mobile ice angling changed the entire world of fishing on hard water. He never waits for the bite. He actively pursues aggressive fish and discovers the exact locations where he can achieve the best results.
This doesn’t mean the fishing is always great somewhere on a particular water body. Weather conditions and other factors can create a less-than-ideal environment and foster a poor bite, but the aggressive angler willing to adapt to those conditions can still catch fish, although they will have to work for them.
Roach says versatile anglers perform best under those tougher conditions. They can fish shallow techniques, deep presentations, work weedlines and vegetation, troll lures, vertical jig, whatever it takes to trigger a bite when the fish aren’t actively feeding.
It’s tougher when fishing through an 8-inch hole on the ice to be versatile but Genz says in that instance it’s the subtle disparities in a presentation that make the difference in getting fish to bite or not. He might add a few extra maggots to the jig or quiver the lure as it drops. He experiments with his offering in terms of bait option, color choice, jigging technique, and he uses line on his rigs that allows him to maintain absolute contact with the lure.
So, the next time you’re out on the water, be it open or frozen, and you haven’t had a bite for some time the old excuse that the fish “just ain’t biting’ is no vindication for your lack of success. They’re biting somewhere. You just need to find them and give them what they want.