ICE FISHING TIPS
Smelt Rigging Tips: BIG PIKE LOVE BIG BAIT! Usually Anglers fish with frozen smelt beneath a tip up in shallow weedy flats less than 10 feet of water and only half way down - so 5 ft. The smelt need to be visible for Pike to see from a distance. Make sure the smelt hangs in a natural horizontal position. Don't be afraid to fish them right under the ice in 3 ft of water. Jumbo smelt 8-10" work well for most size pike. If your smelt is partially frozen and floats, try weighting the smelt by poking split shot sinkers in the belly or crimping the sinkers just above each hook. If the smelt never gets hit by a fish, you should be able to reuse for several times. If it gets too soft to stay on the hooks, it's time to replace with a fresh one. Smelt generally only last for 1-2 fish strikes. Fish will tear them apart. Store any unused smelt in the freezer until needed. Hook up Z LEADERS Smelt Rigs as shown in the picture. Note that the hooks are facing eachother on opposite sides of the smelt. When your flag goes up, get to your tip up asap. If the fish is taking out line set the hook immediately. If the fish is not taking out line, wait until it does then set the hook. As the ice fishing season progresses and late ice approaches, smelt fishing for Northern Pike is very popular and more productive. It's also a good idea to purchase your smelt in the off-season and put in your freezer until needed. Availability of smelt during the ice fishing season often becomes a problem. Click here to view and purchase Z LEADERS Ice Fishing Quick-Strike / Smelt Rigs.
Before the ice begins to form on the lakes, go on an open water scouting mission with your boat and visually identify key areas (weedbeds, cribs, sunken humps, inside turns, flats, etc.) and mark with your gps handheld unit. This will save you time and energy when it's time to ice fish.
Never venture onto thin ice when by yourself! Always have others with you and all persons should carry cell phones in case of an emergency. If unsure of the thickness of the ice use a spud bar/ice pick to check the ice ahead of where you walk, wear a personal floatation device, carry handheld ice safefy picks and a 50 ft long thick rope. Move very cautiously checking the ice thickness every 10 ft. Leave any unecessary weight and your fishing gear on shore and walk apart from other people. Once you have identified the ice is safe in your fishing area, go back and retrieve your fishing gear. When fishing, do not go outside your area without verifying the ice thickness again. Walk only in areas you know are safe. Pay attention to changing weather conditions. Walking on thin ice in sub-freezing conditions is always safer than walking on thin ice in above-freezing conditions. Remember, there are many types of ice conditions. All ice is not created equal. Getting comfortable with ice conditions and characteristics takes time and patience developed from many ice fishing seasons. BE SAFE!!
Take advantage of "clear" first ice to once again go on a scouting mission with your gps handheld unit. This is the ice that is totally clear with no snow on top of frozen in. Walking on this type of ice feels like walking on a glass table-top. There is no other time you will be able to see any lake with this much vivid detail. Again, mark all areas of interest with your handhelp gps so you will have valuable data that will help you catch more fish throughout the ice fishing season. Hurry! This clear ice doesn't last for long.
Respect other fellow ice Anglers and their spots. Ice fishing is more personal than open water fishing. Try to avoid fishing right on top of other fisherman even if they are on your "hot spot". If someone is in your spot it never hurts to go make small talk with them, feel them out to see if they are receptive to you fishing right beside them. Who knows you might meet a new fishin buddy. Otherwise, find a new hot spot nearby and have the opportunity to learn a new area. After all that is how "hot spots" become "hot spots". At some point someone has to fish them - and that someone might as well be you.
Ice holes make great coolers and keeps your favorite adult beverages from freezing.
Carry the tools of the trade. Get organized. Carry a pliers, mouth spreader, depthweight, tape measure, camera, and replacement tackle - extra Z LEADERS in your coat or pants pocket when ice fishing. This ensures a quick release of your fish so it doesn't freeze and allows you to get back to fishing asap.
Check your tip up lines ofter when fishing with live minnows. After you get your tip ups set, check them after a few minutes. Make sure your at the intended height above the bottom, the minnow is free of weeds, and the leader is tangle free. Check your tip ups again in 30 minutes then at least every hour after that. This insures your bait is alive, free swimming, tangle free, and ready to catch fish.
Arm your tip ups for battle! The pro-staff at Z LEADERS recommends the "Arctic Fisherman" Beaver Dam Tip Up when fishing the hard frozen water period. To get your tip up ready for fishing try these tips: Spool up with the "Mason" or "Woodstock" brand uncoated ice fishing line. 30 lb line is typical for most applicatiions. Avoid using monofilament or fluorocarbon for tip up lines because they have too much line memory. Also avoid using zero stretch - spectra superlines like "PowerPro" because there is no drag system on tip-ups and some amount of line stretch is necessary to aid in fighting fish. Thread on a small button to use as a depth indicator. Attach at least a 40lb snap swivel to the end of the tip up line. This allows you to quick change leaders without having to retie and freeze your hands. - Attach a split shot sinker above the snap swivel onto the tip up line. Size will vary based on the size of your minnow. Clip on your favorite Z LEADERS Tip Up Leader for the species of fish you are after. Attach 3 fat rubberbands around the tip up near the base of the flag for attaching the hooks when putting tip up away. When fishing a quiet area affix a bell to your flag to use as a strike indicator. When night fishing, affix reflective tape strips to your tip up flags and clip on your favorite tip up light at dusk.
Try spraying your ice auger blade and shaft with cooking spray or a silicone spray to avoid ice build up.
Don't double freeze your catch! The less you freeze fish, the better they taste. Your goal should be to keep the fish you catch alive and unfrozen. Some ideas to keep your catch fresh while out on the frozen tundra are: Put Panfish in a 5 gallon pail with some water in to allow them to swim around. For Gamefish - drill an extra hole and add fish to a stringer. Fish placed on the stringer will keep alive until you are ready to leave the ice. Another option is to cover all fish with heavy snow - this insulates the fish and also keeps them from freezing.
If you know you will be fishing in the same holes the next day. Try mounding some snow in the ice hole to keep from freezing. This will greatly reduce the time it takes to freeze solid. Often, the next day you will be able to kick the hole open with your boot.
If you don't have a GPS unit and you need to mark your "hot spot", try placing a small stick in an ice hole nearby so you can easily find when you return another time. To avoid others from fishing your hot spot, never place your stick in the exact location of the hot spot. Use your sticks as reference points only and pace off from them to your "real" hot spot. This will confuse other fisherman. The smaller the stick, the more concealable and protected your spot will be and won't be seen from a distance.
Treat your hand-auger as if it was a bottle of your favorite beer! Never intentionally drop or throw your auger down. Instead, after you drill a hole, place it down gently. Always keep your cover over your blades when not using. There is no reason a hand-auger should not last 20 years with normal use.
When you approach your tip up with a fish on and the line is spinning out - don't fool around, just grab the line and set the hook - there is no better time to set the hook. The fish is going away from you and the line is tight. You may want to wait a bit longer if fishing for finicky Walleyes. If you approach your tip up with a fish on and the line is not spinning out, grab the line and slowly gather the slack and feel the weight of the fish then set the hook.
For best tip up hooking percentage, hook your minnows lightly in the back in-between the dorsal (top) fin and the minnow's head. For increased minnow action hook your minnows lightly in the back between the dorsal fin and the minnow's tail. For even less minnow action trim the tail of your minnow.
Warm meals on the ice are always a treat. If you happen to forget a pan to fry your brats, hot dogs, or other delacasies, use your metal ice skimmer.
Store your ice jigs in a jig locker. Jig lockers keep your jigs organized while securing each individual jig - protecting them from getting dirty, rusty, and knicked up. Doing so will extend the life of your jigs.
Instead of bringing your minnow pail with you to your local bait shop to get minnows, ask the bait shop if they will put your live minnows in a bag filled with water and then filled with oxygen. Some bait shops will do this for a minimal charge of less than $1 and it is worth every penny. This comes in handy for many instances such as: 1. When you flat out forget to bring your pail and you don't wan't to buy another one. 2. I'ts convienient - you may not have your minnow pail with you when traveling past the bait shop. 3. Less maintenance - no aerator needed. 4. When you are not going to use the minnows for a few days (typically 1 dozen medium shiners will stay alive for 4-5 days in a 2 gallon bag if kept in a cool place 35-45 degrees F). The refrigerator is a good place. 5. When you are going on a fishing trip to a place which live bait is very hard to find and you don't want to spend all day driving around looking for bait. Placing several dozen minnows and several bags in a cooler keeps them protected from rupturing and keeps the temperature controlled for traveling works well for this situation. Then, only open the bags as needed for your fresh lively swimming bait. But remember, one pinhole in a these bags will cause all minnows to die quick - handle with care.
When fishing tip ups in temperatures below 25 degrees F, or snowy conditions, try using a hole cover to keep your holes from icing up and filling up with snow. These hole covers can also be used for a kneeling pad or bucket seat pad. HT Enterprises Bucket Seat / Hole Cover is highly recommended because it fits tight to the tip up shaft and works best for use with wind tip ups.
Ice takes a toll on fishing line. Try rigging your panfish jigging rods with heavier line. For small panfish 3-4 lb test, and larger panfish 4-6 lb test. This gives you some insurance against knicks in your line, the stress of your knot from taking fish off the hook, and gives you the ability to land a larger gamefish if hooked. 1 lb test line can be frustrating to use unless you enjoy breaking off when unhooking fish, loosing larger fish, and constantly retying in the cold weather. Often the fish won't care.
Use Tip-Downs for catching and locating more Panfish. An often under-utilized technique. A Tip-Down is basically a jig pole that teters on a stand. You can buy em new in the store or try making your own. Typically rigged with 6 lb fluorocarbon with small #12 treble hooks or ice jigs, tipped with a small minnow. If your state regulations allow fishing of multiple lines, try jigging in 1 hole and setting up some Tip-Downs in the others.
Store your ice jigging rod combos in a soft case instead of a 5 gallon bucket. Doing this will greatly extend the life of your rod combos protecting them from uneccesary abuse, wear, and keeps them tangle free.
Use your tip-ups for Panfish. This is a very effective way to locate the active perch, crappie, or white bass in the area you are fishing. Try rigging your tip ups with a 6-8 lb fluorocarbon leader with a small #14 treble hook or ice jig tipped with a small minnow. If you are getting lots of fish on the tip up, then try jigging next to it with your jig pole. Keep following the active fish.
Power Auger vs Hand Auger - Which one should you use and when? Power Augers are great for drilling many holes, larger holes, through thicker ice, and for holes over 8" wide. Hand Augers are good for drilling fewer holes through thinner ice, and are much lighter and less cumbersome to carry around.
When jigging in deeper waters, try spooling your ice jig rod combos with some sort of superline - either braided or fused. Superlines offer a near zero stretch, added sensitivity, and are 1/3rd the diameter of monofilament line.
Properly match the size of your auger with the size and type of fish you are fishing for. Always tend to use a larger size hole than you might need in case you unexpectedly get a trophy fish on. For Panfish use an auger between 5-7 inches diameter. For Gamefish use an auger between 8-10 inches diameter. A larger hole also enables fish to come up through the hole much easier and provides a better view for sight fishing.
Set up a Tip-Up near where you are jigging for Panfish. Gamefish such as Northerns, Bass, and Walleye forage on Panfish and get curious when you are lifting panfish in and out of your jigging hole. Often a Northern Pike may see the flash of you fighting a Bluegiill from 50ft away and come closer to take a look. A good way to pick up a bonus fish.
When there is excessive water on top of the ice in your fishing area, drill a few "relief holes" for the water to go down. Within minutes the area will be free of standing water.
If you are not using todays modern Tungsten Jigs, try placing a small split shot 8 inches above your panfish jig. This allows you to use heavier line, it takes out the slack in your line, fishes better on windy days, and most importantly gets you back down to the fish quicker when they are biting. This eliminates the need for using larger jigs.