It’s not magic: The recipe for being successful on ice or open water
“What ya fishing for?”
A common answer to that question from anglers at accesses is “whatever bites.” That’s not a plan. Target one species, then ask yourself what is the available food source, what time should I be on the lake or river, what is the first selection of bait or lure, and where should I start according to seasonal movements?
This information becomes your starting point. Once you find fish, ponder the questions starting with: Why this location? Is it because of food, habitat, frontal changes, boating and fishing traffic? This recipe may appear difficult to achieve, but I assure you, the more time on water or ice, the easier positive results become.
Experience is one word that relates to instinct and confidence. Increasing confidence assists in the hows, whys, and whats of making changes more comfortable. Always acknowledge the fact that fish can be here today and gone tomorrow. They do not quit biting though.
Here are some other common questions I hear:
Q: What do you do when fish are not cooperating?
T3: Persistence and patience. Don’t ever give up. Keep swapping lures and techniques until you catch fish. Too often today we expect immediate results. Apply knowledge from past outings while considering your next lure. Should it be smaller, larger, a new color, less or more action? Don’t choose just any random lure in hopes of catching fish. Give the change some thought and ask yourself, “Why this?” Eliminate wasted time and be confident. Tell yourself, “I am going to catch fish today.”
Q: I’m struggling. How can I catch more walleyes?
T3: Location is a factor, but more important is lure and bait selection combined with speed and depth. So often we use jigs or rigs with little or no success. Then we conclude fish aren’t biting that day when there are always some biting. Advance to the next level and address lure fine-tuning; color, profile, size, and action. Consider your casting angles, trolling speed, retrieves, line choices, etc. Fishing is a process of elimination until we find the correct formula. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it definitely will pay off.
Q: Where would I find walleyes now in a shallow lake and what’s the best way to catch them?
T3: During the late cold-water period, find humps, weedbeds, and main points. Currents may hold walleyes in lakes lacking structure. Watch for lake outlets, creeks connecting two basins, or a channel funneled into a main lake bay. Investigate shorelines on structureless lakes as night fishing spots, especially for casting crankbaits. In lakes with defined structure, troll or cast crankbaits or use live-bait rigs. Jigs are daytime tools, especially in deep water. For bait, use redtails, shiners, and large fatheads.
Q: Is scent or taste the most important ingredient in enticing bites while ice angling?
T3: Fish usually detect strong food odors first, but these scents must attract fish, not repel them. If they’re interested in feeding, they’ll use their vision to identify the potential meal. The final stage is the taste test. It must be palatable. If not, they’ll reject it in a fraction of a second. To be successful anglers, it’s extremely important that we understand how smell, sight, and taste affect the mood of the fish.
Q: What locations should I target for winter walleyes?
T3: 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.