Ice fishing is its own beast separate from normal fishing. You have a different challenge in finding fish that you would not have in the spring/summer. I have some tips that I think help and I want to share my knowledge with other people.
Not everything on this list is going to work for everybody. Use what you think might work and go from there. Enjoy!
1. Use the Bottom of the Water to Measure Where the Fish Are
Arguably the biggest struggle of being an ice fisherman is locating where the fish are. This is especially true if you do not have some sort of fish locating device. Humans have been ice fishing for possibly 2000 years but how did people do it for years before the kind of technology we have now?
I believe that this technique is something that they might have used. The technique that I recommend using is lowering your line until you hit the bottom of the water. When you hit the bed of the lake/pond/etc., reel up a couple of turns and then let your lure sit for a minute.
Did anything happen? Do you feel any fish or has anything bitten? If not, move on up the water column. Do this until something bites. After that, just bring your line to that area and keep fishing.
Sometimes I think we could do well to learn tips from others before us who did not have as much technology. I think it could make for a fun challenge or a more natural feel to ice fishing that we may not get with technology.
2. Scale Down
Some of the best advice I can give you is: Scale down.
Many people that start to ice fish come from a fishing background. Maybe you have gotten a little bored and wanted to try something new. A lot of fishing gear is big with huge lures and lots of equipment. You will not need as much with ice fishing. Ice fishing rods are very short. They will make you feel like a child when you use one at first.
You will need some different equipment for ice fishing like an auger and tip-ups but for the most part, you do not need much. You can bring some food with you and maybe a few extra things. Ice fishing is a much more scaled down activity.
Your lures need to be smaller too. The fish are lethargic and they are not going to try too hard. That also means that they will not go for something if it seems too big or that it will put up a big fight. Having a smaller lure with a wax worm on it will be more enticing because it is easier.
3. Research Online Before Going Out On the Ice
Look on the internet for the kinds of fish in your area and at the places you plan on fishing at. There is tons of information to be found. You can look at state fish and game websites. You can look at national forest lists and see what kind of fish are there. Afterwards, you can look up the best lures for fishing certain kinds of fish.
If you are pretty advanced and you want to invest a little in your ice fishing hobby, I suggest getting the LakeMaster GPS or Contour Elite, a computer software for studying fish habits. They have predictive algorithms that help you with finding fish.
4. Have a Game Plan Before Going Out
Before you hit the ice, what is your plan of attack? Are you going to set up tip-ups? How long do you plan on being out there? Are you going to bring a shanty? What kind of fish are you trying to catch? Do you know where to find them? What kid of lures and line do you need?
It is important to come well prepared. If you are well prepared, you can get into fishing a lot sooner. You will have a more enjoyable time. If you know how the fish work that you are trying to attract, then you do not need to worry. You will catch more fish if you know the fish before you go out.
5. Spread Out Your Tip-ups
When I first started, I thought that maybe it would be a good idea that you put all your tip ups near each other. The thought in my mind was that putting them near each other would increase the odds of fish grabbing one of the lines. Not so. They do not like that.
Some places allow up to like 5 tip-ups or more and some do not allow more than one if any. You will have to research your specific area or maybe give them a call.
6. Make your Tip-ups Quickly Visible
Spread them out starting from close to base and branch out in a line at different depths. Keep them a moderate distance away from each other. Think of setting them up in a straight line from your vision. This makes it really easy to see when one trips. It is effective and less of a hassle.
During low visibility, like heavy snowfall, put small lights on your tip-ups. Having tip-ups is supposed to make your job easier. Do not complicate your fishing more by having tip-ups that are a nuisance. Use these ideas. Please. They work swell.
7. Do Not Fish in Dead Weed Areas
In the winter, most things die. When you start making holes in the ice and you find one that has a bunch of dead weed floating to the top, that is a problem. It also smells bad. I would suggest moving away from the dead weeds. You will not catch good fish near dead weeds.
Dead weeds are not producing the oxygen that the fish want. They want the good stuff and they will not find it near dead weeds. You will not find the fish you are looking for either. Dead weeds equal no fish.
8. Bait the Bottom
Some fish will stay near the bottom of the lake. I would set one of your tip-ups to do this. Bluegill and perch like to feed at the bottom during winter months.
If you decide to do this with a fishing rod, bounce your bait up and down a little to stir up dirt and whatever else is down there. It will catch the attention of fish from a little distance.
9. Chum the Water
This is an idea that I do not recommend doing often but if you are feeling extreme one day, try this out. Chumming can bring more fish to your location. Some fish are attracted by other fish eating.
The best way to do this is to grind up some minnows or throwing some wax worms in the water. Just have something small that they can eat and throw it into the water.
10. Cover the Hole with Ice
Some fish just do not like light. Some won’t come as close to the top if a good amount of light is coming in. This is another reason why you should have your tip-ups spread out. We do not want too much light in one area.
Now, this may not always be the case. I only suggest it if you are really struggling. Not everybody does this. Having light is effective for some fish. The light will attract plankton and crappie love plankton.
Find what works for you.
11. Get Flashy Lures for More Finicky Fish
There are thousands of kinds of lures that you can buy. I would not even begin to know all of them. Good thing for you is that you are ice fishing so that makes it a little easier.
Fish in the ice-cold water are lethargic. They will not bite unless they are really hungry or it is really enticing. If your lure has no apparent beauty, then you will not catch many fish.
Flashy Lures are the way to go. There are plenty of kinds out there. I’ll share a few of my favorites.
The Rapala Jigging Rap is one of the great lures out there for ice fishing. It works for plenty of things you will find in the water. The #7, which is the one I linked you to is fantastic for catching walleye.
Another one that I highly recommend is the Lindy Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon. It has quite a unique design and it rattles! The unique design makes for quite the erratic falling motion that really catches the sight of the fish you are trying to catch. Get a shiny one and you will have a pretty amazing lure.
12. Use Rattle Spoons to “Reel In” Fish
In our modern world, we want quick ways to find solutions or more efficient ways of completing a task. I think that rattle spoons are just that. They are flashy and they make noise.
Fish are not always going to be right where you drop your gear to fish. That can be annoying because out on the ice, you can’t see any fish until you pick a spot, drill a hole, and set up your camera or fish locating device. That is a hassle, especially in the cold.
Rattle lures can help with that problem. Fish are attracted by sight, sound, and smell. Spoon lures create a nice reflection of light and rattle lures create sound when you jig the line. Stick some live bait on there and you have all three.
Having all three combined makes this whole process a little bit easier. It will bring the fish in from farther distances and make for a more appealing meal.
13. Use Glow Lures When Fishing in Low Clarity Situations
A glow lure is what we would call an “attractor” that is meant for low light situations. That could mean at night, stained water, etc. These bring fish out to see what is up. Can you imagine being in their place? I would be interested if I was a fish.
Although this is a great way to attract fish, this is not what convinces them to latch on. To catch any quality fish, you have to have bait. Food is what drives fish to bite (go figure). Any good walleye or pike will not bite unless you provide them with food.
Ice fishing at night is obvious for why you need a glowing lure but during the day in bad conditions, it really helps. Any sort of attraction you can get with your lure is good. The more visually stimulating the lure is, the more chances you have to catch fish.
14. Remember What Attracts Fish and Use That To Your Advantage
You will catch more fish if you know the fish before you go out.
As a general rule, fish are attracted by three things: Sight, sound, smell. These are really important to remember. Let’s get inside the brain of a fish. Most animals want food. They desire it. As humans, we also have basic desires. Fish are no different. All life is in a constant search for sustenance. How do fish go about it?
Fish use about three things. They look, smell, and hear. If you have a lure that has even one of these things, you will have better odds at catching a fish. Let’s consider the rattling spoon. It is shiny, it makes noise and sends vibrations through the water, and you put a wax worm or a minnow on it.
They will most like first hear or feel the vibrations. That is what will get their initial attention. What’s this? Something shiny a little ways away. The shiny or bright colors and even motion from jigging will grab their attention and bring them in. Then once they are close you slow down and they notice the bait. They grab the food and then you bring them home.
Now, of course, this is a little hypothetical but that is the theory behind why these things work. Understanding the brain of a fish is one of the best ways to catch more fish. Once you understand how to read them, you can manipulate thing in your favor.
15. Once You Have a Fish’s Attention, Slow Down
When I was a beginner, in my mind I thought that when jigging, you just keep going until the fish catches. I figured I would jig my best until the cows came home. Little did I know there was a little more technique than that.
When trying to get the fish to congregate around you from farther away you do want to go a little crazy with the jigging. This makes more noise and bigger movements to get the attention of the fish. Once they have gathered around you, you will want to make it seem like the lure is easier to get.
Slow down your jigging. Do smaller and softer movements so mostly it is just noise from the rattle at this point. Keep doing that until the fish latches on and well, you know the rest. This is a great technique and something that will really give you an edge on other beginners when it comes to ice fishing.
16. Twist Your Line to Attract Lethargic Fish
The winter is cold and everything moves a lot slower. That includes the fish. Fishing in the summer can be crazy because the fish are wild and they are strong. The difference during the winter they become lethargic and they do not move around fast. you might think that this will make fishing easier. Well, not exactly.
Yes, the fish are slower but that also means that they do not want to move unless they have to or they are really enticed. Plus, if they think that something is moving too fast, depending on the fish, it might think that whatever is in the water is too fast for them to bother with right now.
We have already talked about ways to attract fish with different lures and techniques to make the bait seem more appealing. This idea is similar. Let’s talk about it.
Once you have found the depth you are looking for, it is time to twist your line a little. Place your fishing rod on a bucket and have the end of the rod hanging over the hole in the water.
Take your fingers and twist the line a little and then let it go. The lure will snip around at a moderate pace and be more enticing to the fish.
What is nice is that you do not have to move the lure out of the target depth that you want it at. Jigging will, and that is the beauty of twisting your line. Try it out sometimes!
17. Keep Your Lure in Motion
Many people just keep their lures still and assume a fish will come by. I have found that this is more common because we have sonar technology and cameras now. I think many think they should just wait until they can see something and then move it. Yes, that makes sense but you are missing out on a lot of fish you could catch.
I find it funny that some will relax more now because they have this technology. We should be utilizing it! It is so useful. We can actually watch for fish in real time. That is incredible.
I suggest that do not wait until the fish are there. We need to keep the pole in motion. Of course, do not go crazy with jigging the fishing pole. If you think fish are nearby, move it around a little. Slowly raise it and move it around a little. Be gentle and some fish will be attracted to it. How you move the rod around really depends on what kind of fish are going for.
Be proactive about your fishing. We have some incredible technology now and we should use it to increase our ability.
18. Rig Live Bait Fish
To catch any quality fish, you have to have bait
You have really only two primary kinds of bait: Live and Artificial. Sometimes fish will not go for artificial bait with some live bait on it. This is especially true for larger fish. They want some actual food and fortunately, it can be done!
Generally, live bait consists of wax worms or bait of a smaller kind. You can actually rig a real fish to be bait. Usually, people use a Mullet to rig up. This is useful for catching bigger fish out there.
Give it a try! It might be a game changer for you!
19. The Fish Missed the Bait on the Tip-up? Try Again with Fishing Rod
Tip-ups are one of the most useful inventions for ice fishing. I think we can all agree on that. It creates a passive way for you to fish while focusing on the main line. When you have multiple people with you, this can be a great way to get others in on the action if they are not on the main line.
If you have ever used tip-ups, you know they are useful. Although, sometimes the fish will either miss the bait or not get hooked onto the tip-up. That sucks because a perfectly good fish just did not get latched like you were hoping. That blows!
A really smart idea that I came across is when that happens, send down another line with a fishing rod. When I saw this idea, I was kind of ashamed I did not think of it myself.
Think about it. The fish did not get what it wants: Food. So if you stick another line down to attract the fish a second time, you will probably get it. You also know the location because you know how far down you put the line on the tip-up. There is a perfectly good fish waiting for food and you are giving it a “second chance,” along with giving yourself a second chance.
20. Send Down a Minnow On a Second Line
Artificial lures make for great attractors in the water. Sometimes fish will not bite though because it is not food. What do you do then?
I suggest sending down a second line with a minnow attached. I was taught that one by a friend. I thought it was the smartest thing I have ever heard. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a fish come close and then leave your lure alone. With a minnow there, they might stay longer and latch onto the minnow and your day would be made.
It is genius because you use the lure for its intended purpose, which is to “lure” prey near, and then finish off with a meal for the fish to catch. It makes so much sense. So if you are ever struggling to catch fish with only a lure, maybe sending down a line with a minnow on it for a surefire way to catch fish!
21. Put Tinfoil On Your Lure
What if you have been trying to attract the fish and it has not been working? You can turn your simple lures into something more desirable. Putting tinfoil on a lure will attract more fish. It only makes sense.
In order to fish you have to know that there are three key things that attract fish to your lure. They are attracted by sight, sound, and smell. Some lures have something for all three but not all. Putting tinfoil on your lure will make it shinier and attract fish through light reflecting off of the tinfoil fish you have created.
22. Take Someone with You Who Knows What They are Doing
If you are new to ice fishing, you will probably not catch a whole lot of fish off of your own merit the first few times. Ice fishing is not completely the same as normal fishing. It takes some getting used to. Mainly because you can’t really see what you are dealing with, without the help of sonar technology or cameras.
I personally find that I am more interested in something when I feel like I am getting somewhere. When I first started, I found that I sucked at it. I was impatient. My friend taught me to wait and I caught more fish and had a more enjoyable experience.
23. Learn From Other Anglers
Each ice fisherman has their own tips and tricks for ice fishing. Take advantage of that! Do not be afraid to talk to other anglers and see what works for them. The angling society is fairly friendly and they will most likely share their insight and knowledge.
If you have a friend, even better. Some people might reserve their tricks because they like to have their secrets. I get that. If it is a friend, they will probably have plenty to share with someone close to them.
24. Know the Kind of Fish You Want To Catch
Before you even go fishing, you should know what you are going to catch. You should know what kind of lure and line strength you need. You should know where to find them.
If you are catching walleye, you will want something shiny that attracts with sound and visuals. Some fish are really stubborn and need lots of enticing. Some will not bite unless you are really slow. Others will only be found near the top of the water and others will be found deep underneath.
If you are not sure what the fish are like in your area, ask online in the forum or call up some friends or local fishing and game stores. They will know most likely. Knowing the fish and what they are like will be so beneficial to you as an angler and help you catch fish more efficiently.
25. Research the Areas You Want to Fish
Believe it or not, the depth of the water plays a big part. Generally, in more shallow lakes and ponds, the fish tend to be at the bottom of it. This is not the case with deeper lakes and ponds.
A lake would be something like 30 feet. A deeper lake usually has fish suspended throughout the 30 feet of water. The fish will not only be in the middle of the water column. Deeper waters generally have to be gauged by personal experience or the easier options of sonar and camera devices.
During bad weather fish generally, go towards the bottom of the lake or pond. They also move down when there has been a lot of angling pressure. That basically means that those spots are filled with large amounts of anglers daily.
26. Use Sleds to Carry Supplies
This is one of my favorite things to do. I do not always go out on the ice with a snowmobile or a truck. In fact, I rarely do that. It is usually just me and friends sometimes. Some places do not allow you to bring your motorized vehicles out on the ice. How do you haul your stuff to your shanty or your base for the day?
I personally use sleds to haul my stuff. You can get sleds anywhere from $10 to like $35. They are not that expensive. You could go get one and Walmart and that would work. It is really easy and convenient.
It holds all that I need. I would get a longer one so it can carry your auger. They are made to slide on top of ice and snow and they are easy to move around. It just makes sense and I think everybody should have a sled for their ice fishing adventures.
Now you might be wondering why this would help you catch more fish. I like to think that this helps because you have everything you will need right there. You will not have to make a run to the car to grab anything extra. Everything you have will be right there. No need to waste any more time. Get fishing right away!
27. Experience is the Best Teacher
This is going to be the cliche last tip. But honestly you could follow all the tips I have shared and you may not like a single one. That is fine. I want you to find what works for you. Half the battle with fishing is finding what works for you. You will find styles that work for you that match who you are. That is the beauty of fishing to me.
There are so many types of lures, fishing line, fishing rods, and other things out there. As you continue to fish, you will find what works for you and your style. There might be a fish that you like and your main goal is to capture them. I do not know! But you do, or at least you will.
Your experience will teach you far more than my article will. Take what I have given you and get out there! It is such a great hobby.