Tricks for Catching Giant Panfish
December 10, 2015
Some anglers equate ice fishing to a game of checkers. Tony Boshold views the experience as a fluid chess match and he's typically the one calling checkmate. The Wisconsin resident is a fishing guru, tournament champ, and ice fishing guide with enough tricks to make anyone a better ice angler.
Among Boshold's achievements are top-10 finishes in six of the last seven NAIFC championships in which he's competed, including first places in 2005 and 2013. He was a member of the 2010 USA Team that won the gold medal at the World Ice Fishing Championship (WIFC). World competitions have taken him to such exotic locations as Kazakhstan and Ukraine, adding to his bag of tricks and overall fishing philosophy.
Lesson 1: Late starters are welcome
Boshold's fishing accomplishments are significant for any angler, but even more so for someone who didn't start ice fishing until age-29. He converted his open-water knowledge into an ice-fishing career, leaving behind preconceived notions about ice fishing. For him, it's all fishing. Keep this in mind the next time you struggle to make your next move on the ice.
Lesson 2: Keep moving
Boshold was fortunate to join some of the finest ice fisherman when he got started, including seasoned tournament angler Mike McNett and Greg Wylczinski, inventor of the strike indicator for St. Croix's Legend ice rods.
Boshold explains, "Greg's nickname is The Prowler. He doesn't wait for fish. The Prowler goes and gets them. Essentially, staying mobile and seeking an active bite is his theme. In shallow water, pepper weedflats with holes and fish them all. In deep water, drill holes 20 to 30 paces apart and cover tons of water. Don't spend much time in any one hole and move, move, move! Keep your bait higher off the bottom so more fish can see it from a distance."
Boshold equates drilling holes to making casts. "Would you make the same cast to the same spot all day on open water? Despite all our modern mobility tools, I see too many anglers camped over a hole, heater on, content with the occasional bite while tons of fish swim through the area. They tinker with presentation, tipping options, and downsizing rather than moving and targeting the most aggressive fish. The first fish from fresh holes are the easiest to catch. Keep this saying in mind: 'Some food gets eaten in the living room but full meals take place in the dining room.' You have to find that dining room."
Lesson 3: Use the right line
Boshold suspects many ice anglers ignore basic tenets when selecting the optimal line and bait. He shares some examples of line selections in various settings. "I use 2-pound-test Sufix Ice Magic when I go small. It excels in all-around line strength and diameter. During tough bites and in ultra-clear water, I go to fluorocarbon for its stealth and low-stretch properties. I also pre-stretch my monofilament to reduce memory and twist, and it helps improve deep-water hook-sets. It's a trick widely used on the tournament scene."
Hi-vis yellow line comes into play when line-watching in less clear settings. "I use 3-pound Sufix for added strength when fishing near cover or when running bigger 5mm Fiskas. Finally, I step up further to 4-pound Sufix to slow things down when fishing for crappies and perch or any big-mouthed minnow feeders when I'm ripping spoons in deeper water." This thicker line slows the descent of the presentation and keeps it in the fish's feeding zone longer. So don't think that the lightest line is always the best option. Take into consideration all of the characteristics of line and how they affect presentations.
Boshold continues, "I also use plastic and livebait combos to slow things down. When fish are looking for big easy meals, I bulk up the bait package, much like slowing the fall rate of your jig-and-pig combo when bass fishing. I can't tell you how many times upsizing and getting more aggressive with jigging motions is the best approach.
"Although I get labeled as a finesse expert who downsizes and uses 1-pound thread, based upon my international experiences, my approach on North American waters is the opposite. Here I liken my use of artificials to targeting the biggest and most aggressive fish in the school. Livebait can get more bites, but artificial baits take the biggest fish."
Lesson 4: Keep an open mind and an open ear
To become a better angler, use every article, television program, sport show, tournament, and minute on the ice as a learning opportunity. Coming from a tournament background, Boshold notes how much good fishing information is disclosed even in competitive settings, such as tournament weigh-ins.
"The words 'listen' and 'silent' contain the same letters. If you're open to listening at weigh-ins, ask questions, and pay attention to successful anglers, you can learn a ton. At tournaments, teams often spill their guts at weigh-ins and you might discover that they beat you by being just a foot deeper or shallower or they were on a transition spot, or stumps, or they were using a special color."
Silence becomes a virtue when you've figured out a location or presentation and want to preserve it. In this age of viral social media posts, one wrong comment or photo can destroy a bite in days that may have lasted for weeks some years ago. To translate one good bite into multiple future bites, Boshold suggests taking notes and keeping a journal as part of your fishing routine. "One of my favorite fishing quotes is from bass fishing great, Rick Clunn, "'Good notes reveal patterns; patterns reveal new spots.' If you can dissect a lake map and get away from community holes, you have an even greater advantage."
Lesson 5: Go "vertizontal" and other tricks
The "vertizontal" is Boshold's tough-time rig. It can take several forms, but primarily consists of a vertical hanging jig with a plastic tail threaded up the shaft of the hook with most of the tail hanging horizontal and at a right angle to the hook shank. This rig swings off to the side on the drop, and when the fall is stopped, the jig swings back to center. This pendulum action excites big panfish. "Especially when guiding, this rig has saved the day on countless occasions," he says. "A vertical jig like the Little Atom Mega Glo Jig paired with the Little Atom Skimpie or Duppie is dynamite. Or try wacky stacking Wedgees and Micro noodles on the hook for a larger profile."
Boshold continually experiments with tandem rigs, knot styles, and lure placements. His many jig boxes contain every imaginable jig style, size, and configuration. From 18-karat gold and jeweled versions fit for a display case, to the latest prototypes, no stone is left unturned. He has hard plastic Purist jigs that are unchanged since the 1950s and boxes of flies for use on double rigs. He has nearly unlimited options with which to tinker.
"Adding flies on a loop knot above an ice jig in the style of a Michigan rig, or on the dropper line of my ToJo Rig, is about as dainty an offering as I make in North America," he says. "At times flies take upwards of 75 percent of the biggest fish of the day. Scuds, gnats, and nymphs in olives, browns, black, and obnoxious neon are among my favorites."
The ToJo Rig is Boshold's signature rig, consisting of a hole-in-the-head jig, like a Fiskas, with the mainline through the hole and tied with a snell knot on the shaft of the hook so it hangs horizontally. A 2- to 4-inch tag end is left to accommodate another small jig or fly.
His latest experiment is the ToJo Foodchain Rig, which consists of two or three teardrop jigs tied at various intervals apart to accommodate more lure color and size options at once. "Using a snell knot on turned-eye jigs like Fiskas results in supreme balance and precision from the jig without any fussing with knots. A balanced jig gives better hook-set percentages and keeps the jig from spinning."
Lesson 6: Match rods to applications
Since most waters offer multiple productive bites during the course of the day, Boshold takes an open-water approach when selecting rods and he packs several to handle shallow and deep bites, and everything in between. For precise presentations, his favorite rod is the St. Croix Legend.
"The Legend, with strike indicators of various sensitivities, is available in models from a 17-inch 'sight rod,' to the 48-inch 'long rod,' with 24- and 30-inch options in between. On windy days I like short rods for the control I get when I hold them tight to my body, instead of having the rod tip out and blowing in the wind. I can keep my back to the wind and use my body to block the wind to help detect the lightest of bites.
"When fishing from a shelter, the 24- and 30- rods are ideal. For 'sword fighters' who stand and dip from hole to hole in shallow water, a Schooley reel secured on the 48-inch model helps reduce line twist. In deeper water, I use a spinning reel on the 48-inch rod and cover a greater part of the water column with the long rod and pick up line quickly for deep-water hook-sets."
Ice anglers can take many lessons from Tony Boshold, but perhaps the most important is to see the big picture. Stay on the move. Don't hesitate to think big. Experiment with various line sizes, jig styles, and presentations. When you finally start to approach a frozen lake as if it were a sunny summer day, you're on the right track.