Advances in ice electronics, sensitive rods, cold weather clothing, and modern fish houses, have made our ice fishing lives much easier and successful. And the future looks even brighter due to technology and additional interest in ice fishing by all ages.
The young aren’t the only ones warming up to the sport. Many women are getting into ice fishing due to the availability of these super-duper fish houses, like “The Lodge,” built in Brookings, S.D. Turn up the heat, the TV, and you’re virtually fishing out of your living room!
Fishing pressure is virtually non-existent as well. You and your buddies often have the best spots all to yourself.
The Way It Was
Nostalgia is absent when old-timers reminisce about the early days on the ice — glamorous, it was not.
Fishermen who were poorly-dressed by modern standards began their day chopping holes through the ice with sharp poles called “Spuds.” The ice shanties they hauled around were heavy, wooden contraptions. The work needed to set one up on just one spot meant that few fishing holes were fished over the next several hours.
Many of the first ice fishing pioneers caught their fish through the ice using a stick with a nail on the tip, which held fishing line. An innovator eventually designed a wooden spool that served as a reel when mounted on wall of the shanty. Bells warned of a bite until another brainstorm led to the creation of an electronic fish alarm. Metal contacts held the line. When the line pulled free as a fish took the bait, a connection was made and the buzzer sounded, which woke up the dozing angler.
Ice fishing took a giant leap forward when ice shanties with flip tops were invented. Anglers were transformed into hunters who moved from spot to spot to find fish. Then, modern fish houses congregated on the ice like little towns with ice roads and street signs.
Locating walleyes became easier when open-water innovations were adapted to hard-water use. For example, the early “flashers” were helping fair-weather fishermen learn how structure could be used to predict the movements of all species. It wasn’t long before these same units became part of the winter arsenal, too. Although early units had their drawbacks, when suspended fish showed up, anglers could adjust bobbers to fish specific depths.
More details of the chilly world below the ice were revealed as smaller, more portable motorcycle batteries were adapted to power more sensitive flashers. They allowed anglers to study how walleyes behave during the cold-weather months.
The Way It Is Now
The modern ice angler is armed with highly sensitive, graphite jigging rods, such as those from St. Croix. Instead of dressing like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, they wear waterproof, breathable clothing, which keeps them warm and flexes easily to allow them to kneel beside a hole.
There are new space age heater, which burn less fuel and give off less dangerous carbon monoxide. A grill stove can now turn a slow day of fishing into a tailgate party!
But, the most important advances have come in the field of electronics. Advanced flashers work in unison with GPS and lake mapping systems to locate walleye spots fast. In fact, Humminbird has just introduced a brand new unit called the ICE55/385ci Combo, which allows anglers the best of all worlds. A large, easy to read, flasher is combined with an LCD display (which gives you GPS mapping capability) all in one package. Now, huge lakes can be quickly cut down to size.
The search for fish begins with a basic understanding that the same thing that drives walleyes in warm water drives them in cold water, too — the need for food. As soon as safe ice forms on natural lakes, experts focus on weedbeds where walleyes spent the fall attacking forage to fatten for winter. But, weedbeds can be massive. It’s simplest to map the points and inside turns on the weed edge with a GPS when the lake is still open.
Mapping systems reveal how each weedbed relates to important structures, such as shoreline points and steeper drop-offs adjacent to flats where walleyes can patrol the top and the bottom of structures.
Though not as great a factor later on in winter, green vegetation holds the fish early in the season. Determining the health of weeds was a guessing game once upon a time. Today, underwater cameras come equipped with color screens that remove all doubt about whether the plants are healthy or not. Ice anglers have been quick to see their advantages. They only have to drill a hole, lower the lens and look.
Cameras also provide key data that once could only be learned by the tedious process of fishing each hole. Underwater cameras spot fish that flashers can’t discern in the weeds. Are those marks on the flasher really walleyes or tullibees, whitefish or suckers? Thus, with a camera, anglers can tell whether a hole is worth their time.
People who prefer larger, comfortable, cabin-like fish houses may give up mobility. But, they also can take along more equipment and link cameras to big-screen television sets for a detailed view. They are also more willing to be more patent and fish longer.
Productive weeds can be 6- to 14 feet down on darker lakes and far deeper in clearer water, especially when snow cover is lacking. Flasher transducers have become sensitive enough to tell what depth of water lies below without drilling a hole each time. A splash of water on the surface is all that’s needed.
Spoons such as Lindy’s Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon are a great choice to start with. Snap-jig them and let them hit the bottom to puff up debris in order to get the walleyes’ attention. Tip the spoon with a minnow head. The Lindy Darter is another great “search” lure as it dives out to the side of hole, looking for fish. Depending on the depth, you can make 20-foot casts instead of fishing just a 12-inch area below the hole.
Another key advance came when flasher screens were made to change color as fish move from the outside of the sonar cone to the inside. You can determine the walleyes’ mood simply by watching to see how they react to the jigging action. If fish come to look before turning away, try making adjustments in the speed of your presentation until you find the one that triggers a strike.
Fishing The Rocks
Midlake humps hold walleyes in midwinter. In the old days, the search for structure often took hours, but now, GPS takes anglers right to it as shore-line weedbeds decay and walleyes move out.
Debate raged about the impact each technological advance would have on fish populations as sonar units and later underwater cameras appeared on the market. Some people wanted them banned.
But no one has said a word about GPS and this technology is probably harder on the fish. You can go right to the spots. With a Lake Master or Navionics chip, you know how deep the water is before you drill your hole. It is amazing how efficient it makes you.
Also, using the new, lighter, and more fuel-efficient four-stroke power augers, two or more friends can do what is called a hard-water form of trolling. They drill holes on breaks in a zigzag pattern from top to bottom and leap-frog one another until the right depth is found. Handheld, two-way radios ease communication when a group is spread a great distance across the ice.
If action moves so guys in one direction catch fish and the others aren’t, then the group can quickly tell the direction a walleye school is moving.
Feeding walleyes will usually be found on top. If walleyes are inactive, they’ll be on the hard-bottomed, transition area where the hump slips into the basin.
Try moving often during the day to locate the most active fish and stay put on the best holes during the golden hour before sunset. They will become more active during low-light times of the day.
Actually, the best time to get on the ice is now. It’s never been easier or more comfortable!
For a fine selection of ice fishing gear, click here.
Ted Takasaki has many fishing achievements, including in March, 2010, when he was named a “Legendary Angler” in the “Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame” at Hayward, Wis. He had a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later.