As the temperature outside cools, the days become shorter, and many people have put away their boats and fishing tackle and started preparing for the holidays and the long winter slumber. But there is only one thing on my mind – fishing.
The weather normally starts cooling off around October, and in the high country about a month earlier. The fishing pressure begins to slightly diminish, but does this mean the fish stop eating? I think not. This window between comfortable open water fishing and ice fishing allows the fish a bit of a reprieve. Many lakes begin closing their boat ramps, and shore fishing availability is slim to none in most high alititude areas. This is precisely the time that us hard water enthusiasts' blood begins boiling and thoughts of sitting over a hole, staring diligently at our Vexilars are never more than a moment away.
At this point, preparation is the name of the game. Many of us scour the web for hours on end searching for the latest and greatest in the world of ice fishing. Countless passes through our favorite outdoor stores are always in order too, while others are out shopping for holiday gifts and turkey dinner. After we have achieved our checklist, it's time to start preparing for the actual fishing.
The first thing I do is a routine check-up on the power auger and snowmobile. These have set dormant since April, with an occasional "test fire" during the off season. It's important to check the air filter and spark plugs, then give it a shot and get the cylinders singing.
Once things are looking good on the mechanical end, it's bye-bye garage time for the vehicles as the ice hut takes up this space the rest of the winter. I like to set mine up and leave it up the duration of the winter. This serves two purposes. First is to allow the material to acclimate itself to the frame of the hut, which makes it easier to set up because all the snags and hang-ups seem to work themselves out a bit nicer. Also, once you have made it out on the ice and have encountered snow and water, it keeps the hut aired out and helps prevent the material from damaging or freezing to itself. I then pull out my Vexilars and turn them on to make sure everything is still working properly, and get the batteries charged and ready to go.
Now it's time to come up with a game plan for the variety of lakes that I'll be targeting. Having a good map of the underwater terrain is crucial to my planning, and I don't think there's anything better than the maps Fish'n'Map Co. makes. The first indicator I look for is good structure or breaks.
For each species of fish there are different strategies, but one constant is structure. I find several spots that I wish to target, and put coordinates in on my GPS unit. This is another reason Fish'n'Map Co. maps are so great because many of the maps consist of GPS coordinates for certain areas on the lake.
If there is another spot that I would like to hit but no coordinates, I mark it on the map and can usually locate it through drilling holes and checking depths with electronics. The detailed colored screen on my GPS can help put me in the general area. I highly recommend to any serious ice fisherman obtaining a GPS with mapping features on it. The less time spent moving around while drilling hole after hole to find that certain spot is worth the investment, which is felt almost immediately.
So now it is time to get out on the lake. I normally spend hours on end conversing with fellow fishermen and checking lake updates on Fish Explorer. I'm also constantly checking in with local tackle shops, as they know the ice conditions better than just about anybody. Once I have confirmed fishable ice, it's off to the races to try and pull my first fish of the new season through it.
The fish have not seen serious pressure for over a month, and you can bet that they're sure to be on the prowl for an easy meal. This is one of my favorite reasons to get out on first ice. The water temperature toward the bottom is still relatively warm, thus keeping the fish active. I try to hit many of the spots I previously marked on my GPS, and also the spots that performed well in the previous year. I also like to move around a lot, and locate the most active and largest number of fish I can. With enough preparation and the right bait presentation, the big ones are sure to keep that reel singing!
I do not consider myself an expert ice fisherman at all. What I am is a dedicated, die hard who tries to get out on a frozen lake as much as possible. I enjoy trying new things and learning as much as I can from all the experienced fishermen out there. I try to be as big a sponge as possible, and absorb every bit of advice I get. Even if some of the tactics seem a little off the wall, they have obviously worked for someone so the best thing to do is give a shot and see how it fairs.
All of the preparation and time put in has paid off well, and I hope to continue learning more and understanding the fish to a better degree as time passes. I hope everyone gets a chance to get out on the ice this year, especially during first ice when the air is brisk and the bite is hot. If you see me out there, stop by and say hello as I enjoy meeting new FxR members. Good luck to all of you avid anglers, and may your lines be tight all winter long!