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By John Dowd 

Preparing early for ice fishing


March 31, 2022

One thing I have not done a lot of is ice fishing. As the year warms up, I find myself wanting to learn more about how to be successful next year. Just getting into it, I’m learning that it is like an extreme version of ordinary fishing in the sense that it is either “really on” or “really off.” Either every jig or drop nets you a fish or nothing you can do short of draining the lake and having a look around the bottom on foot can guarantee a fish. As with any fishing, the frustrations can be immense, but the rewards matching. However, even when success is low, there is little that equals the patience of an ice fisherman faced with the promise of even a single fish.

It is maddening, thinking about the process. A single lure, in a single hole, seeming to cover only a single square foot of an entire body of water. Even with multiple baits placed around at different locations, it has the potential to be daunting and time consuming. And, unlike during the summer when a person can see the fish moving, the ice hides anything swimming below. So, how do they do it? How do ice fisherman maximize their efforts to reel in that success, and why do they do it in the first place?

The simple answer is pre-planning. Getting to know the areas during the warm months when there is not ice, a person can begin to know the drop-offs, currents and places of cover before the surface locks up with ice. Then, when the winter months do come, the only question is finding the best place to drip a line.

According to Jon Haun, a local hunting/fishing guide and taxidermist, the first thing he is thinking about is whether there is enough ice in a location. One of Haun’s favorite fish to target while out ice fishing is pike. Earlier in the season, he explained that pike can be more aggressive, and therefore more exciting to try to catch, but ice conditions that time of year can be more dangerous. “First ice is always the best, but it’s also the most dangerous,” said Haun referring to this. He also explained as the year warms up, the late season spring ice can turn rotten. It may seem traversable in the mornings but can become dangerous in the heat of the day. Haun also stands by keeping up on the weather. According to him, triangulating certain barometric pressures, weather patterns and times of day can play a lot into it creating success with any kind of fishing.

Getting out and knowing the water’s depths ahead of time and understanding fish habits in conjunction with the maps is another piece of advice Haun offered. Knowing different species of fishes’ activity during the different seasons as well as how water moves in and out of an area can tip the scales even further into the fisherman’s favor. Having a target fish species is also a benefit, as this can give the fisherman an idea of the type of bait, how deep to put it, how to move it about and what time of day to fish. Haun suggests two tip-ups for pike, saying this can help increase the chance of success by placing multiple baits in the water, and because two is the legal limit of lines per person. For pike he also likes to throw on a smelt coated in a special colored solution called Pautzke’s Fire Brine, or even a pea mouth chub. He also usually runs them just a little off the bottom.

However, all the advice in the world can only help a person so much. The hard answer for success is trial and error. In order to commit to success, an ice fisherman must first commit to many hours on the ice and in the area when there is no ice. All the pre-planning in world is well and good, but if the bite just isn’t on, then it just isn’t on. Sometimes there is an inexplicable reason the fish like one specific hole or one specific spot. “If it was guaranteed, it would be called catching,” as they say. But, that one magic spot always finds itself in the minds of those who have tried many others. They discover and covet those special spots that more often bring success. Maybe the place lights up the bait in a certain way. Maybe the current is a little warmer or a little cooler. Maybe the spot is right over a fish highway, and that single square foot of water intersects it. Who knows?

Fishing is fickle that way. It can be so much fun one moment, with fish piling in, and the next someone’s phone decides to take a swim down to Davey Jones’ Locker. If so many variables must be just right, then why does anyone take the time? According to Haun, he does it because “It is a good time to catch very big pike,” and, “There is a lot of anticipation when you run up to the flag.” But for Haun, his biggest reason is that he believes ice fishing is the perfect family activity. “I get just as much enjoyment taking my kids and other people fishing. Its just another excuse to get outside during the winter.”


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