January 14, 2021
It’s no secret that fish in the winter months can be challenging, if not down-right particular. As ornery as they can be the biggest hurdle anglers have isn’t their attitude, but rather finding where they are on a daily basis. As a fulltime guide, this is a daily challenge regardless of what month the calendar says, but it is compounded even more when ice covers the lakes.
Here are five tricks that can be implemented to help you find what may seem to be a ghost-like fish on big water.
In the last few years, anglers have switched—in droves—from traditional flasher units to LCD digital flashers instead. While we could argue which is better, you can’t argue the versatility of having an additional 2D sonar and GPS unit all in one package.
LCD ice units have the ability to use the same mapping that we have come to rely on when fishing from boats. These units are easily mounted on machines or in vehicles allowing you to stop directly on a hump, waypoint or contour. This is a big advantage because it drastically cuts down on the number of holes you have to drill, fish you spook, all while leaving you more time to find and catch fish.
One of my favorite, and easily most underutilized features on my Humminbird Helix is the depth-highlight select. When I know fish are at a given depth on a flat, or only in deep holes for example, I select that depth and put a range above and below the specific depth I want to see. The unit will change the background color of the mapping to an easy-to-see green. Either walking with a sled or driving a snowmobile so you can cover water and quickly drill holes in exactly the depth of water you are trying to target.
A lot of larger lakes don’t have accurate mapping in the locations that fish may occupy during the winter. In some cases, there aren’t maps at all, particularly on Canadian shield lakes. When you either don’t have mapping at all or don’t have access to accurate maps, you need to make your own. Nowadays there are several ways to do accomplish that. Humminbird’s AutoChart Live allows for custom map making during the softwater season, which will come in very handy once the lake freezes.
Experience will likely teach you that the ability to move the map or have it saved is much better than trying to save the info to a unit’s hard drive. No different, really, than challenges we face with phones or tablets, hard drives often don’t hold enough information if used regularly.
Once you have a Helix unit loaded with AutoChart Live and enough hard drive space or an AutoChart Zero Lines SD card, you simply drive around the lake and create maps. It’s kind of like adult coloring, as you drive around and cover water, but look at the color changes you have created to avoid going over the same water twice. Best part is, it’s way easier than it may sound. The slow-fishing period just before ice-up can be a great time to accomplish this recon that will pay big dividends once you actually have fishable ice.
Once you start to narrow down the general area you are trying to locate fish, paying attention to the cracks is a great way to narrow that fishy water down even further. Think of these cracks as a highway for schools of hungry walleyes and perch. In many cases, cracks can be found in the same area year after year and act as structure. Various underwater ice shelfs are created from breaking ice and this can cause more overhead cover and decrease light penetration. Exercise caution around these cracks and know you don’t necessarily need to fish directly alongside them. Often within a hundred yards is enough to safely and effectively fish.
4. Snow Patches
Just like cracks, patches of snow can help cover your tracks and attract shy walleyes. On large lakes, the wind tends to blow and leave large portions of the ice free of snow. The snow-covered patches create, particularly on clear water lakes and where clear ice is present, some added camouflage and predictable locations that may hold fish. An added bonus is that these patches help keep your gear from sliding around as much as well.
5. High Tech
Modern electronics including Humminbird’s cutting-edge Mega 360 technology allows the angler to know if there are fish within reach instantly. Underwater cameras have taught us fish frequently spook when we drill holes, or even walk around on the ice. While cameras and traditional flasher units are great weapons for ice fishing, modern-day electronics allow anglers to see more than just what’s beneath the ice, or in a given direction. Think about it like a horse with blinders on, so much is going on just out of view.
Humminbird’s Mega 360 allows anglers to see what is going on 360 degrees around the transducer and just as importantly, what’s going on away from the hole. While just the tip of the iceberg, this helps to see those fish that may have spooked just out of range. A school traveling 100 feet away or fish on shallower flats that can’t be identified on traditional sonar.
Like anything in this world, there isn’t a golden key to easily unlock locations that hardwater walleyes and perch frequent. When you add a few specific tools and critical thinking to your arsenal, you are far more likely to improve you ice-fishing odds.