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.
Summer time is finally here in SoCal the calico bass are fired up and are in full spawn effect! Now, the only difference is calico bass are highly aggressive in spawn unlike largemouth bass where you need to entice that bite. Calicos are not like that all, find those conditions and throw only two baits! Lately my choice of poison is the Crystal Minnow 130 in many color ways however the peanut bunker has been the most deadly. The Hydro Minnow LC is also another great choice of bait. Giving its great action and tight wobble action, calicos cannot resist.
I have tried many different ways to fish these two baits and I have found that the swim with the best action when you fish a clip or straight to 25lb -30lb HD Carbon, it really all depends on your preference. I typically like fishing this bait on a conventional set up with a 7’5” heavy action rod and over-sized Shimano bait casting reel. The crystal minnow has proven to me to be the best search bait when hunting for calico bass with its incredible action and the ability to dive to 5ft deep giving it an advantage as it can run under kelp canopy’s and get down closer to the reefs when fishing up tight in the skinny water. Pick one up of each, crystal minnow, and hydro minnow.
People often ask me when I choose one over the other, the truth is let the fish tell you which one they want. I have had days where I really do well on the LC Minnow and then other days that when throwing the 130 Crystal Minnow they are ripping the rod out of my hands. The key is to match the color patterns to the bait, finding the bait, and from there you should be able to locate the aggressive calicos. Once they are actively feeding near the boat you can cast your bait bait to them. Many people believe you have to troll for calicos, that is not the case at all. In some instances the big ones will be right up against the boiler rocks that are being hit by the swell. It’s always worth getting as close as is safe and lobbing some casts into that swell zone.
The older I get in this sport the more a good finish means to me. With the changing technology, industry curves, and constant new talent making their way into the tour level; the harder it is for me compete against fellow anglers. However this past weekend in my current home state of Florida at Lake Toho, Mickey Mouse must have given me a little magic being so close to Disney World because everything came together.
The fishing in Florida has been really off so far this year. Between the low water in all the lakes, the Red Tide issues the entire state faced last year, and it still being early in the year the best fishing is still yet to come. This last week I was really able to pinpoint a good amount of fish that were pre-spawning and spawning. I used my local knowledge of the lake to lock into Lake Kissimmee and fish staging areas leading into spawning areas with good, healthy grass around it. With water temperatures in the mid-60s I knew as the week processed the fish would continue to move up.
In practice I was really able to capitalize on a morning pattern and then an afternoon pattern, a key to my success knowing I could stay calm throughout the day and capitalize on the different patterns when they were at their best. In the mornings I was catching fishing on a 1/4oz Black and Blue 3DB Knucklebait with a soft plastic swimbait trailer. I was able to catch a couple really good fish on this and thought it would be a key bait for me throughout the tournament. I was throwing the Knucklebait over submerged grass around staging areas. As the afternoon took place and the sun got high I was able to pitch to hydrilla mats and dollar pads with a soft plastic stickworm catching spawning fish.
In the tournament, the morning Knucklebait bite had died but I was still able to capitalize catching these same fish using a 3DB Pencil in Bone color. For this technique I was throwing 20lb Yo-Zuri Hybrid line, and I was making short casts with it. I think the bait has better action when making shorter casts and not having so much stretch in the line. In the afternoons I was able to again capitalize again on the plastic stickworm bite. I was fishing the worm on a little [1/16oz] weight and throwing it on 16lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot Mainline Fluorocarbon.
One of the last factors that helped me was covering water in an area. I was fishing a massive area of Lake Kissimmee and it seemed like covering water and then breaking down an area once I got a bite was the key to capitalizing on water holding fish.
With old man winter quickly approaching and the temperatures are dropping, the last chance to fish open water is coming to a close. There are still good quality walleye to be caught and the last chance to stock your freezer before having to drag out the snow mobile and ice drill. With water temperatures hitting the mid-forties, it’s just a matter of time before the first sheet of ice hits the water.
When it comes to catching walleye, I have two favorite Yo-Zuri baits. The first choice is the Duel Hardcore Shad. This bait excels in spring, summer, and fall – especially deadly around this time of year near weed edges in 4-6 foot. The Hardcore Shad has a tight wobble upon retrieve, and the suspending capability makes this a great choice for triggering feeding walleye with a twitch-and-pause retrieve. Lastly the magnetic weight transfer system allows effortless long casting necessary in more clear bodies of water such as the St. Lawrence River.
My second choice is the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe. These lipless crankbaits excels in all seasons for covering various depths. These baits shimmy and rattle vertically on the drop and are equally as effective employing a straight retrieve, or the secret weapon, a yo-yo retrieve. When you contact bottom or a weed bed, a firm snap makes the bait dart and really triggers walleye to crush it. The Vibe works equally well ice fishing for winter ‘eye. So even when the dreadful ice happens, make sure you keep your 3/8oz sizes handy.
For fishing both these lures I prefer to use a 2500 series spinning reel loaded with 20lb Yo-Zuri Superbraid Blue with a four foot leader of 12lb Natural Clear Yo-Zuri TopKnot leader The blue colored braid for helping to detect bites. I rely on a 7ft medium action rod with a fast tip for making long accurate casts, and for keeping fish pinned after the hookset.
Up around the north where I am from it is hard to find a tackle shop that isn’t fully stocked of Yo-Zuri products. Be sure to pick up a few extra of these baits because sometimes the walleye will surprise you in how strong they are. Another rule of thumb is to always rely on your shine/ chrome colors on sunny days and more natural colors on darker days. I always try to hit the water when the weather seems the worth, although fishing in the snow and wind affects the angler, it can produce some of the best days to catch a good stringer of fish.
Lastly, don’t forget the hushpuppies and fries!!!