The first and foremost thing we need to talk about here is safety, and that is NEVER give the ice more credit than what it is due. Make sure to have crazy amounts of caution when fishing the ice, the last thing you want is to break through and risk hypothermia. That being stated, always remember the buddy system: ice fishing is not something I suggest anyone do alone. If you do go somewhere alone, make sure there are other people in the area and you tell people where you are going. It is always a good idea to wear flotation clothing just for ice anglers, or perhaps what I do and wear a life jacket. I know they are big and bulky, but its better safe than sorry. The suggested ice thickness that everyone I know abides by is 4” to walk on, 6” for an ATV or snowmobile, and 12” for vehicles. Always have a spud with you to check the ice thickness.
This is one of my favorite times of year to fish because the best eating fish can be caught. Those include the Panfish, Bluegills, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and Crappie. Yes, I know you will have to brave some crazy elements to make this happen; but it is well worth it when you can get on a good pile of them. This time of year; however, the fish have to eat to generate some sort of heat. So if you drill your hole around them and have a hardbait that is UV with rattles, it’s typically not hard to get them to bite.
What to target:
This is where experience on the lake you are ice fishing really comes into play and so does a good depth finder and mapping system. I typically want to target some piece of structure and weed lines, and fishing the warmer months in open water is really the only way to find this. You can certainly find some solid weed lines and edges in 6-12 feet of water that are holding fish. This is because the chunk rocks in these areas hold healthier vegetation and heat, which the fish will relate to. Structure though, is where I find the better walleye and crappie. So it pays off to know the best areas of structure of transitions off flats.
This is where it gets a little bit tricky to justify when the best times to go are, because it is always cold. As much as I hate to say it for the anglers that do not like the cold, the night time is the best time to get out there. The last few hours of daylight in the day into the dusk/night fall hours have always seemed to be the best for me. I believe this is because the moon and gravity force become less at night allowing the fish to move around a little easier in the cold conditions.
What to take with you:
Flasher/sounder/camera- a combo of a flasher and camera is pretty much all you need. I’ve found that an LCD display sonar is great for larger fish generally, as you have history on the screen which you lose when you use a flasher which provides real-time feedback on fish and lure location, but there is no history.
GPS – ideally you’ve done your homework ‘ground-truthing’ spots during open water with your boat – the GPS is also great for new spots, and finding your way to safety if you’re in whiteout condition.
Gas powered Drill with 24” bit- This is for drilling your hole to drop your flasher/ camera and fishing out of.
Biggest Mistakes by Beginners:
Panfish – line too thick, and lure size too big for the size of the presentation and the species target.
Larger predators – for walleyes – fishing the wrong times of the day or targeting them in water considered to be less than optimal in depth, there are always exceptions to the rule here if you have some history to go off of. Very common today for people to use a braid and fluorocarbon leader – often the fluorocarbon will be added to a swivel if you’re using a rotating presentation. Because of dropping strait down, this will create line twists. Braid can be problematic in very cold temps – if you’re in a hut, you’re in business. Larger fluorocarbon requires a larger size spool to manage the stiffness of the line.
Yo-Zuri Product to Take:
-Hybrid line in 4lb test, this is definitely a style of fishing that you want the smallest diameter line you can get away with.
-8lb TopKnot Leader, this is something I like to use when fishing for bigger walleyes. I also think it helps the bait sink faster when I see a fish on my camera or flasher.
-NEW Rattl’N Vibe Mini, this is a bait designed specifically for ice fishing anglers. I definitely love the UV colors since I fish so much at night, but also my favorites are Firetiger, Gold with Black Back, and Hot Perch
-3DS Vibe, this is a bait I catch a lot of bigger walleyes on and it seems to have a great falling action through the water column. Usually the fish eat this bait on the initial drop.
Recently, I was blessed to have our two youngest grandkids come for a visit (ages five and three). They each had a week of their own, for what we teased was “Camp at the Grandparents.” One of our adventures was to go fishing at a friend’s pond. You should have seen the total delight and excitement on each of their faces as they caught one bream after another.
Each child had their own favorite pole and since they were the kid of the week, they could choose from several kid rods. Our grandson’s favorite was his kid spider-man pole. That pole was rigged with a Yo-Zuri Snap Bean in the silver/black back lure. Another had a silver/blue back Snap Bean. And, to mix it up a bit, we had one rigged with a plastic lure. Hands down, our five year old grandson loved using the Snap Bean. Instead of patiently waiting for a fish to find the plastic, he could slowly retrieve the Snap Bean and it kept his interest. Of course kids all have their own personalities and our 3 year old granddaughter loved using brother’s spider-man pole since he wasn’t there. J We rotated through using the Snap Bean and a plastic bait.
The Snap Bean worked great for the kids. Since it is a shallow diving crankbait, it stays close to the surface. The Snap Bean only weighs 1/16 oz and has one treble hook. To use on the kids poles and make it easier to get longer casts, I put a weighted bobber on the line above the lure. Using a bobber also helped the kids watch for when a fish was “playing” with their bait and for when they had a fish on.
One of the greatest rewards after a day on the water, is cleaning and preparing your catch. In the past few years I’ve been making more fish tacos from my catch than anything else – whether you choose to fry your fish, or prepare it in the oven, this recipe will elevate your meal to the next level!
– 1 cup of oil for frying (safflower, canola, or vegetable oil will do)
– Fresh fish fillets
– 1 cup of all purpose flour
– 1 tbsp of seasoning salt
– 1 beaten egg
– 1 tbsp of water
– 1 cup of Panko bread crumbs
– ¼ cup semi sweetened shredded coconut
– 3 medium sized bowls
1. In the first bowl, add flour and seasoning salt and mix
2. In the second bowl, beat one large egg with 1 tbsp of water
3. In the third bowl, add Panko crumbs and coconut, and mix
Heat the oil in a frying pan or shallow pot to a temperature of 350 degrees Celsius (or heat oven to same temperature).
Take fish fillets and cut into bite sized pieces. Take each piece of fish and dredge in the flour mixture, then egg wash, and roll in the Panko coating. Repeat for all remaining pieces.
Fry fish a few pieces at a time – never crowd the pan with too many pieces. This will cause the oil to lose temperature. Turn fish after the bottom turns a golden brown. Remove pieces as they finish, placing them on a plate lined with paper towel.
Pre-heat oven to 365 degrees Celsius. As each piece of fish is coated, place on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet into the oven – checking for a golden coating before flipping. This may take up to 10 minutes depending on your oven. Flip fish and cook until done.