As the ice on lakes and ponds gets thicker across the ice fishing belt, our ice-fishing tactics should change for more ice fishing success. Early in the year, when the ice was thin, a more stationary approach was usually more productive. Fish under thin ice can detect movement better, and movement from above can spook them. The angler that sits on a good spot and doesn’t move much will often be more successful early in the ice season.
As the ice gets thicker and snow gets deeper on top of the ice, an angler’s movement isn’t as much of a consideration. Thicker ice and deeper snow on the ice limit a fish’s ability to see what’s going on above. An angler’s movements probably won’t spook the fish much if at all. For the next few weeks, even until the end of the ice fishing season, the anglers that move the most will increase their odds for ice fishing success.
Now is when some of the most successful anglers on the ice implement a plan that they often refer to as “trolling on ice”, or “hole-hopping”. They drill holes on a structure at various depths and locations and move quickly from hole to hole. Electric augers like the K-Drill are very lightweight, so drilling holes in a large area is a simple and quiet task. These anglers keep moving, just like you would when trolling open water in a boat.
Or, they might not be fishing structure. Sometimes big flat areas are home to roaming schools of fish, mostly perch and crappies, but also walleyes and pike in some lakes. If this is the case, “hole-hopping” anglers pop a bunch of holes on a more random basis and again, they just keep moving.
This trolling on ice can be as complex as you want it to be. With GPS and mapping chips and such, it’s possible to go right to a structure and be very close to the area on the structure that you’re looking for. You can start drilling holes near or on the exact spots that you think will hold fish. Or you can employ the strategy that many of us have used for a long time. Use shoreline markings or your memory to find the spot that you’re looking for. Your sonar will reveal when you’ve found the fish. It will certainly take longer, but that method still works.
Now that you’ve got holes drilled in the area to be fished, it’s time to drop a bait. Although we won’t be spending much time at any hole unless we see fish, it still works well to move from hole to hole pulling your portable shelter. You can carry all your equipment in the portable. By having all your equipment in the shelter, you can explore nearby areas when you get to the end of your “trolling” run. Also, they’re a lot more comfortable to fish from and they provide a windbreak when needed. The folks at Clam are the pioneers and leaders in creating portable shelters. They have units with features that will appeal to any angler who wants to “troll” on the ice.
As we move from hole to hole, we’re going to let our sonar unit tell us how long we should stay at that hole. Drop a bait and if nothing shows up in a few minutes, move to the next hole. Some anglers give the fish a couple minutes to show up, others wait maybe five or ten minutes for a fish to reveal their presence. It seems like the most successful anglers do the most moving this time of year.
Many ice anglers have learned how to determine a fish’s attitude by watching the sonar. If a fish comes in quickly and eats the bait, they’re aggressive. If they come in slowly and look at the bait carefully, they’re not so aggressive. Modify your lure choice and action by the way the fish behave. If they don’t want to eat what you put down there, continue your “trolling pass”. Move to a different hole. If you keep moving on the ice this time of year and until the end of the ice fishing season, your chances for ice fishing success will greatly improve.
Bob Jensen, Fishing the Midwest
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