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Tips from ice angler.

Outside temperatures will easily dip into the 20s and possibly the 30s below zero in the next few weeks. It sounds like a good time to hide indoors, warming near the fire for the next few months, but that is a virus that will lead to a quick case of cabin fever. I can tell you from experience that the only way to beat winter is to live with it and embrace it. What activity, you ask, allows you to enjoy the outdoors when it is entombed in a sheet of ice? Why, ice fishing, of course!

Ice fishing is rapidly becoming a popular sport for people of all ages and experience levels. The days of shivering over a single hole in the ice and hoping some stray fish will swim past have been replaced by those of strategic success through advancements in both technology and education. Lightweight, highly insulated outerwear, portable shelters and heat sources, detailed lake maps showing water depths and lake structure, hand-held GPS units, lightning fast augers and fish locating electronics are all invaluable tools to the hard water angler and can be purchased at most any local sporting goods store. As an angler, I employ each of these tools and admittedly they have made me more successful. But let us not forget the most important tool available ... knowledge.

Failing, and understanding why we failed so we can adjust and try again, is how we gain personal knowledge. If we try something and we are successful, we think about why it worked and then do our best at repeating the process to repeat the success. What about borrowing the knowledge of others? Maybe you're lucky enough to have an uncle who is willing to share with you his 60 years of closely guarded secrets and coveted "Honey Holes" as I have been. Where are they biting? What color and size are they biting on? For me, the answers have always been a phone call away. If you're not that fortunate (most people aren't), there are many others willing to give advice and share helpful information.

Anglers will typically buy their bait near the piece of ice they plan to fish. Bait stays livelier with less die-off and you don't risk spilling an entire pail of live minnows on the floor of your truck during a long drive to the lake. Your local bait shop is a great place to learn about angling action on local waters. Bait shop owners want fisherman to return to them in the future to buy more bait so they want for us to be successful. Asking the right questions will generally get you pointed to the right lakes and out the door with the right bait without the owner actually betraying the secrets of his other customers.

Larger bodies of water often host several competing fishing resorts and outfitters. The larger resorts will usually have daily or weekly fishing reports on their websites. Depending on the diligence of the one behind the computer, these reports can give very specific information. Reading these reports on a regular basis can alert you to a hot bite, the times of day the fish are biting, bait size and color, presentation techniques that are triggering fish bites and even the specific holes from which fish are being caught.

If you're making a vacation out of an ice fishing trip, don't be above hiring a local guide. Take Mille Lacs Lake in northern Minnesota, for example. It is one of the top-rated walleye and perch fisheries in the country, but it is also an extremely large body of water. With over 130,000 acres of ice to cover and a short time to cover it, on my first trip there I turned to a professional. Through a referral, I was fortunate enough to find easy going guide Mike Verdeja out of McQuoid's Inn. With his direction and knowledge of the lake, I was able to put together a limit of truly impressive "jumbo" perch when most anglers were frying their leftover bait for supper. With limited time, it may be worth the investment to pay for an education for a day.

A more difficult task is trying to sift through the infinite number of "professional" fisherman from whom to get your information. It seems today that anyone who has a video camera and looks good in a sponsor's jacket has a fishing show. What happened to the good old days when all we needed were our good friends Babe Winkelman and A1 Lindner? If you honestly want to learn everything about ice fishing from a true professional, the only name you need to know is Dave Genz. If he's written it, read it. If he's on video doing it, watch it. He has been a true pioneer in the sport of hard water angling. From portable shelters, electronics and high visibility lures to advanced presentation techniques and mobility, anyone enjoying the sport today owes Dave Genz a thank you.

When it comes time to get ready to go fishing I like to ask the Who, What, Where, When and How questions. The answer to one question may actually depend on your answer to one of the others. Where you are going may dictate what you'll be fishing for and what you want to catch will dictate how you try to catch them. After answering these few questions, your course of action should be narrowed considerably and a true game plan can be made.

Who is going fishing?

If you're going alone it's simple. You know what you like and when you like it, so you get to have it your way. Are you bringing your significant other? Are you bringing the kids? You need to accommodate whoever else is coming so it's a fun experience for everyone. Personally, I love to bring my children with. They start coming along when they reach the ripe age of two years old. When they come ice fishing with me, I accept that we may only be gone from home for half an hour or we may be gone for the entire day. We leave when they say it's time. I always have plenty of snacks they normally wouldn't get at home and I take them mid to late winter when there is plenty of ice. We drive the truck to where we plan to fish and they can watch tip-ups from inside the warm truck with a DVD movie playing and they can be out with me when they choose. The key to taking a kid is to keep it fun.

What do you plan to catch?

The answer to this question leads you to the answer to the question of "How" you're going to catch them. Do you want a mess of bluegills or crappies? Plan on using a lightweight jig stick with two-to-four-pound test line. I like the newer fluorocarbon lines which are less rigid in extreme cold temperatures and don't have a lot of "memory," making your line coil as it comes off the spool. Fish with a tear-drop or a small jig tipped with a wax worm, a few spikes or a crappie minnow. Try one of my bread and butter lures, the Marmooska or the Genz Fat Boy, or go with the classic Rocker lure. You want bass, northern pike or walleye?

I prefer to use a tip-up baited with a four-to-five-inch shiner minnow, hooked just below the back of the dorsal fin so it can swim naturally. Set tip-ups on the edges of weed lines, off submerged points, in the mouths of shallow bays or along the edges of drop-offs. As a general rule, your minnow placed about a foot off the bottom should catch the eye of any predator fish swimming by. For walleye you can fish closer to the bottom and for northern you can be suspended a little further off the bottom. I have the most fun when I jig for panfish with one rod and set up a couple of tip-ups for larger fish as bonus lines. This provides more fishing action and more diversity in the frying pan.

Where are you going to fish?

If there is a specific lake or a specific place on a particular body of water on which you're planning to fish, educate yourself first. The DNR can provide you with information about which fish can be found in specific lakes, and sizes and concentration levels of those fish. This is also a good time to check with the local bait shop. Hang out for a little while and ask your questions. Get a lake map so you know where the deep holes and breaks are. Study the map and mark several different likely spots. Decide where you'll start fishing and be prepared to move. The beauty of the new technology in ice fishing gear is that it affords you the ability to move with ease. With my eight-inch Strikemaster auger I can drill a dozen holes in a very short time. I drill them in an arc pattern 20 to 30 feet apart across an area I select to fish. As I fish, I use a Vexilar fl-18 flasher (fish finder) to monitor my lure and any fish that may become interested as I present my lure. If there is no action after a few minutes, I move to the next hole. I continue this until I either find a hole with active fish or I have fished all my holes and find no fish, in which case I refer to my map and move to the next area I have pre-marked.

When do you plan to go?

The most common feeding times of most fish are sunrise and the two hours after sunrise and the two hours before sunset, although crappies and walleyes may bite well into the night. I was fortunate enough to hear Dave Genz give a lecture on ice fishing last year and he said that anyone can catch fish when the sun is coming through the trees. Meaning that if the sun is just rising or just setting, the bite is on. I feel the need to apologize to a close friend when I say this means no stopping at the casino for breakfast on the way to the lake. Be on the ice with holes drilled and ready to fish before the sun comes up. You want to be at the fish's breakfast table ready for him when he comes to eat, not spooking him by drilling holes while he's trying to eat.

I cannot emphasize enough to you that every article one reads, every video watched is only a theory until you apply it yourself while on the ice and prove it through your own experience. The lessons you learn for yourself through your own failures and successes are the best education you will get. One sad fact that you will learn as experience molds you into a cold-loving, seasoned ice angler is that no matter how well fish bite for you on a given day, it will never compare to how well they were biting yesterday when you weren't there. And that, my friends, is ice fishing.
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Author:H., Trevor
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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