Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Angling secrets of the hard-water season

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

Simple trial and error can transform an average ice angler into a great one. Trying different techniques and thinking outside the box can take your ice fishing success to an entirely new level.   

Not everything you try will put fish on ice, but eventually you’ll develop a few tricks. Those little secrets may tip the odds in your favor. Here are a few to keep in your back pocket as you hit the ice this winter.


Shallow water is the most overlooked area for winter walleyes. Anglers will head to deep, main lake structure without hesitation and travel right past some of the most aggressive walleyes in the lake, especially during the beginning or end of the season.

Always search at water less than 10 feet, and if there’s vegetation or other subtle feature along with forage, you likely will find walleyes using it.

The odds are automatically in your favor because walleyes in shallow water are there for one specific reason: to eat. So they’re active and more than willing to bite.

Fish smaller presentations, key on low-light periods of the day, and implement a two-line approach with a jigging rod in one hole and dead stick with a small- to medium-size minnow combo in the other.     

Don’t believe me? Ever talk to a spear fishermen targeting northern pike? They see a lot of walleyes cruise past their holes, and spearers usually set up over shallow water.  

Bluegills and crappies

Panfish are the most sought after fish species across the ice fishing belt. They’re abundant, willing biters. But catching bigger panfish from a given system involves not finding a pod of bluegills or crappies, but knowing how to pluck bigger fish from it.

If there’s a time to implement the theory that bigger baits catch bigger fish, it’s for panfish during the ice fishing season. Yes, small baits and finesse presentations have their time and place, but so do larger profile options.

Jigging spoons are now built to produce panfish and they absolutely turn larger bluegills and crappies. Also upsize more traditional winter panfish jigs – vertical and horizontal – if your end game is to catch bigger fish.

Consider the meat on your lure, too. Doesn’t matter if it’s a minnow, Eurolarvae, wax worm, spike or plastic, change it often. Keep it looking as natural and fresh to entice hefty specimens. Light line, along with soft-tipped rods sporting a stout backbone, are key. If presenting a horizontal bait, keep the knot positioned on its eyelet so it fishes horizontal.

Northern pike

Northerns also are relatively easy to catch during the ice fishing season. Start shallow again. Unfortunately, many lakes are riddled with the hammer-handles, which don’t interest most anglers.

But catching large northern pike in the winter is fun. As the top of the food chain in most systems, they’re the biggest fish most people pull through a hole.

It sounds simple, but if you want to catch bigger pike during the winter, find a lake or reservoir that contains bigger pike. These lakes exist across the ice fishing region, so you don’t have to settle for a steady parade of “snakes.” Locate lakes with history and potential to grow large pike and when you find them, keep it a secret.

Vegetation helps for big pike. Match your bait or presentation to the forage in a given lake, and don’t be afraid to work higher in the water column, especially during midwinter when bigger pike tend to roam higher to eat.

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