When Ice Finally Comesby: pickyfishy
It’s all because first ice is, by far, is the best time for catching most every species that swims in cold water. But during a winter such as this, when El Niño has weather patterns in disarray, lakes may not see a frozen exterior safe enough to walk until we’re well into midseason.
Gloom? Despair? Agony? To say the least. Cheer up…ice will come…
But late formation begs a question about the first-ice bite: Is it so grand due to the sudden change in a waterway’s environment, no matter when the water hardens, or, is it more the time of year when surfaces typically solidify, which happen to coincide with good moon phases, the amount of daylight, fast falling water temperatures and weed decay?
In short: Where you catch fish at first ice will depend on when, exactly, it forms.
Start where you left off
In general, when ice forms early, the first place you should drop a line is where you last caught fish in late fall. But whether fish will be there when the ice-making season starts late will depend on the health of the weeds.
“There’s still the prospect off finding fish in your best first-ice spots of the past, if the weeds are still standing and green,” said Minnesota fishing guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. “But don’t rely solely on past memories and spend all day there if the plants have started dying off. When the foliage is brown and down, the fish will have started migrating towards their midwinter haunts.”
“Underwater plants do more than give bugs and minnows a place to hide from predators,” said the ice fishing rebel. “When they’re still green, they give off the very oxygen needed to support aquatic life. Decaying weeds, however, produce noxious gasses and repel fish.”
If Bro spots still-standing vegetation, he’ll figure out which direction they are from his hole, then drill more as close to the edge of the foliage bed as possible and give the zone a good half hour before moving to deeper water.
No matter who I talked to in the professional-fishing world, they bring up the Importance of starting out with lures that flutter and flash on the fall. This is because it takes a lot of sparkle to catch the eye of fish buried in the weeds.
Spoons that tumble on the drop—like Custom Jigs & Spins’ Slender Spoons and Keweenaw Tackle’s Fin-Wing—are easy for fish to zone in on as they impart a blaze of reflection, as well as disperse a lot of water, thus the vibration is easily picked up by a fish’s lateral line.
If panfish are your quarry, smaller offerings like the 1/16-ounce Slender Spoon, 1/4-ounce #-1 Fin-Wing and Bro’s Northland Buck-Shot Flutter Spoon are prime selections. Simply go up the totem-pole to larger sizes of the same baits for predators like walleyes and pike.
No matter what size your targeted species, employ a lift of the rod tip with a quick drop, so the spoon rips up through the water column and then free-falls towards the floor.
If your shallow spots dried up by the time safe ice formed, it’s then time to head towards the lake’s main basin. But don’t forget to check all likely spots in-between.
Enter Custom Jigs and Spins’ prostaffer Russ Maddin. This iceoholic is a hole hopper if there ever was one. Armed with nothing more than a Frabill sled, hand auger, couple rods and a small handful of baits, Maddin hoofs it by foot through the deep lake-effect-snow on the ice of Northwest Lower Michigan’s lakes.
“I’m drillin’ holes, lots of holes, as I head towards deep water this time of year,” says Maddin. “Even though it may be first ice, technically, the fish may already be migrating to deep water. But they’re not all going to be there at the same time, rather spread out on structure along the way.”
Maddin’s a fan of heavy jigs for hole hopping, making sure to fish every one whether he sees fish on his sonar or not. Chekai and Majmun tungsten jigs tipped with spikes, waxies and/or Wedgee and Micro Noodle plastics are his go-tos for panfish, while the larger 1/4- to 3/8-ounce Lightnin’ VertiGlo Spoon with a lively minnow lip-nipped onto its hook, or with a Pro Finesse Drop Chain hook tipped with grubs take top honors for bigger predators.
When ice finally comes
So where will the fish be when the ice is finally think enough to traverse? That will depend on when it finally formed.
Check out your usual first-ice hot spots, and use lures with lots of flutter and flash. But don’t stay there if the weeds have died off. If that’s the case, head to the lake’s main basin. Just make sure to stop and fish along the way.
Added: Fri Jan 01 2016
Last Modified: Mon Jan 04 2016