Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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On the ice, on the move – but how far and how often

(Photo courtesy of Jason Mitchell Outdoors)

By Jason Mitchell
Contributing Writer

Should I stay or should I go? That’s the biggest question we probably ask ourselves each day we’re on the ice. Should I sit in a spot or should I keep moving, keep looking?  

During the past few decades, mobility has become a mantra preached in ice fishing. People talk about drilling 100 holes per day. They mention the importance of moving to find fish. If you’re not catching fish, it must be because you’re not moving enough, right?

Here’s what I can tell you. The worst days I’ve ever had fishing were the days during which I drilled a few hundred holes. The toughest days on the ice often are the days when all you do is drill holes and move. Some of the very best and most memorable days were those during which I drilled a few holes and sat at those same holes all day while catching fish. 

So, when do you drill more holes and when do you sit tight? We obviously stay put when we believe we’re on top of fish. But in order to sit in one location and catch fish, we need to be able to run traffic out of a few holes. Two things often need to happen: There must be a lot of fish moving and, usually, you must be alone or have few people fishing around you. 

If fish aren’t moving and you’re not moving, and the fish aren’t right below you … you will not catch fish. If fish are moving and you’re in a key location where these fish will move through, you can run traffic and catch them. If you’re surrounded by several anglers, however, many of those fish will get caught before they ever get to you. 

These fish movements can also be dictated by timing. Walleyes, for example, might only move through a spot in the morning and evening, and the middle of the day might be slow.

What are the factors involved when sitting doesn’t work so well? Mostly, it’s when you’re not on fish. Or when fish are not moving and if you have a lot of people around you.

Regarding mobility and the concept of drilling a lot of holes to find fish, remember that big moves find fish and small moves catch fish. Catching fish is often about sampling water. We can often locate bites by simply working hard and dropping a line down as many different holes as possible. Drill grids of holes and move until you find fish.

There is a time when a run-and-gun mentality of aggressively drilling holes can work against you – in shallow water with spooky fish, for example. One of the most difficult situations for catching fish, regardless of species, is in shallow, clear water with thin, clear ice. Every time you move, every time you drill a hole, you push fish farther away.  

Finding fish when fish are spooked from overhead noise must be methodical. You must slow down and give a spot half an hour before giving up. Let the area settle down and let fish come back to your hole.  

The degree to which fish are spooked can vary. Light line and finesse presentations are important, but there are some other adjustments that can be made.  

We’ve all experienced shallow fishing during which we couldn’t catch fish while angling inside a flip-over shelter or near a large sled that could be seen from below. And we’ve encountered situations in which long rods were necessary because the long rod allowed for angler and boots to be farther away from the hole. And we’ve seen situations in which we had to leave slush in a hole. Further, we’ve had to fish for walleyes with tip-ups set away from where we physically sat and waited. 

Running and gunning amid conditions for which it’s not conducive can leave an angler fishless. On the flip side, not drilling enough holes and finding active fish can often be the kiss of death when circumstances or conditions change. Let conditions dictate your strategy. Mobility is not always the key to ice-fishing success.

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