By Glen Schmitt
“Work smarter, not harder” applies to the fun of becoming a successful, mobile angler during the entire ice-fishing season. Fishing success comes quite easily at the front and back ends of the hardwater season. Whether it’s walleyes, panfish, or pike, they’re all more cooperative early and late in the year and can make even a mediocre angler look good.
But to consistently put fish on the ice all winter, you’ll need to work harder than the person over the next hole. Here are some guidelines to become that mobile, productive angler all season.
Dress for success
Being a mobile ice angler simply means being willing to move at a moment’s notice. So don’t bring every piece of ice-fishing equipment you own onto the lake. If you want to move around, don’t weigh yourself down with an arsenal of unnecessary gear.
Grab a couple of rods and reels for the species you’re targeting, plus electronics, auger, just enough tackle to fit in a pocket-sized box, bait, and the lightest shelter and heating unit you own.
Don’t overdress and don’t underdress for the conditions. When hole-hopping, make sure you dress to stay warm, but not to where you’d sweat like you’re in a sauna.
Know your lake
You can own the best fishing gear and be über mobile, but you still won’t put many fish topside if you don’t know much about the lake system. At the very least, having a general understanding of the lake’s physical characteristics and the fish that inhabit it eliminates some guesswork.
Do some research first. Look at maps to find out where to begin and what looks “fishy,” go online, talk to a local angler, or ask questions at a bait shop. Give yourself a launching point and a level of confidence before you run around the entire lake with no data.
Say you’re working a pod of fish (species doesn’t matter), and they stop biting. If you did your research, you know what structure these fish were relating to and, with some knowledge of the lake, you can seek other areas just like it. In other words, you don’t have to start the entire fish-locating process from scratch.
This is a no-brainer today. Electronics simply make you a better winter angler. Besides your own knack for simply knowing how to catch fish, electronics are the single most important tool you’ll bring with you onto the ice.
With electronics, you’re eliminating guesswork. They amp up opportunities to move efficiently and catch fish more consistently.
You don’t need the house-payment type of electronic ice unit, either. There are plenty of flashers, underwater cameras, GPS systems, or combo units priced reasonably enough that you won’t have to lie to your spouse about the purchase.
Spend some money on electronics and you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy them sooner.
Drill with a purpose
Don’t just drill a bunch of holes; drill a bunch of holes with intention. Augers have become lighter and easier to operate, so there’s no excuse for working one hole all day.
This goes back to the fish-smarter-and-harder component of mobility and winter-long fishing success. Drilling with a purpose means working over specific areas thoroughly, not just drilling willy nilly.
Find a spot that looks good and cover the area with surgeon-like precision. Swiss cheese it if necessary to cover those breaks, weed edges, all three sides of a point, basin area, or other structure.
Search for the fish, and then get even more detailed information by drilling out other spots or spots within spots.
Become a fish whisperer
There’s an old saying: “Let the fish tell you what they want.” Sounds smart, but figuring out what that is is the challenging part.
Via sight-fishing or electronics, intently monitor how fish react to your presentation.
In a sense, you’re talking to them by presenting your offering in a way they approve. It might be a fast cadence, relative motionlessness, a combination of both, or the size, shape, and color of your lure.
Switch it up until you connect with something that not just moves a fish, but multiple fish from a given pod. Speak the right language and they’ll respond.