Early Ice Fishing Techniques
Guest Blog by: Austin Parr 12/30/2014
There can hardly be a time of year that garners more excitement for a Colorado angler than that of first ice. This time of year offers some of the best action of the season for Rainbows, Browns, and Brook Trout, as they have seen very little, to no fishing pressure from the time that skim ice first covers the lakes. Although these fish can be cooperative to a wide variety of fishing strategies, a select few techniques can be utilized and refined by even novice ice fisherman, in order to maximize success.
In the early winter, these species of trout tend to move up into shallower water where the sunlight can penetrate to the bottom. This light helps facilitate plant growth and, insect life and thus the trout concentrate on these areas where the food supply is high. Additionally, trout will focus on shallower areas adjacent to drop offs and points, where the fish can relate to bottom contour, as well as have an adequate food supply. As an angler, when selecting an area to fish, it is smart to look at a contour map, or use prior knowledge of the lake to focus drilling efforts on these spots of higher fish concentration. A depth finder or flasher, such as a Vexilar FL-8, FL-18, or Marcum Showdown, can be a vital tool when finding a place to drop lines. When drilling, incorporate bottom contour and a sonar to find the ideal spot. I will drill over the contours in about 20 foot increments, dropping my sonar after each hole is complete. In most early ice situations, trout do not spook away from the hole as the auger comes through the ice, so it is common to mark them immediately. Once decent amounts of fish are located, I will drill my hole patterns desired for fishing, always incorporating a second rod.
Once set on a school of fish, there are several techniques to use in order to put a large number of fish on the ice. I always start by rigging and setting my deadstick rod. A deadstick is a line that is set next to your primary jigging rod, and the emphasis of this technique is keeping the jig perfectly still. When selecting a rod for this style of fishing, I will either choose a blank that has a very soft tip, or incorporate a spring bobber to the tip of a stiffer combo. The importance however, is that you are using a very sensitive tip in order to detect light biting fish, which are very common when using a deadstick. Line selection is also vital, and to avoid finicky fish refusing your jig, use fluorocarbon as a leader or as your main line to maximize takes. As far as jig selection goes, I tend to use very plain and subtle baits such as a Custom Jigs and Spins Ratfinkee, VMC Larvae Jig, or Northland Doodle Bug. Although many jigs will produce fish in this situation, a Ratfinkee can be one of the most effective out there. When setting these baits, always tip them with either a wax worm or a mealworm, hooked through the head, and although it may seem strange, it is vitally important to tie a knot tight enough so the jig can sit horizontal in relation to the bottom. By keeping the bait horizontal, you will get more bites while deadsticking. Due to the fact that many trout cruise the bottom in the winter months, keep the bait 6 to 10 inches off the bottom and set the rod in a rod holder.
In conjunction to a deadstick rod, I will always rig up a rod that I use for jigging. Two rods that I prefer for this situation are the St. Croix Legend Silver 30” ML for jigging smaller plastics, and the St. Croix Premier Ice 32” M when jigging slightly heavier baits. The Legend Silver has a built in spring bobber for detecting light takes even while jigging and is slightly lighter, while the Premier Ice is stiffer with a faster tip to ensure strong hook sets while jigging spoons. When jigging I will raise and lower the bait within a foot of the bottom and adjust my jigging cadence depending on how the fish are reacting on my flasher. I will slow down the presentation if the fish are moving slowly and speed it up if they seem more aggressive. Bait selection is crucial, and when jigging on the ice, I will usually tie on something that has a little action whether that means plastics or a hard bait. Good plastics selections when jigging include, Hawken Industries Trout Trap Tubes, Northland Bro’s Bloodworm, and Custom Jigs and Spins Ratso. The key to plastics selection is the action of the bait, and all of these products have good action when jigged in either a smooth tapered tail, or a soft plastic skirt. Color can also make a difference on the early ice. Many times, I will use a bright pink or orange plastic in this season. This bright color can be very effective in attracting cruising fish and put more of them on the ice. Tipping these plastics with bait will also entice strikes.
When jigging a single rod, anglers will find that many times fish will appear on a flasher in relation to the bait being jigged, and then shy away to a different area. This is why a second rod in the form of a deadstick, is so critical to ice fishing success. The utilization of this technique produces more fish due to the fact that when a fish shies away from the bait being jigged, they will turn on the still deadstick line and take the bait, producing a fish that would have not been caught otherwise.
The utilization of these proven techniques will help to put more fish on the ice for both novice, and seasoned ice anglers.
Austin Parr guides on Chatfield reservoir on both open water and on the ice for Walleyes and Smallmouth Bass. Additionally he offers guided ice fishing trips on Georgetown Lake for Rainbow and Brown Trout, with days over 60 fish not being uncommon. Austin is also the Assistant Manager at Discount Fishing Tackle and is in charge of all ordering. Contact Austin at 303.514.5546.
Blog content © Austin Parr
team FMFO , CO 12/30/2014 10:12:03 AM
Great info ! Thanks.
Tiny Stevens, CO 12/31/2014 4:56:48 AM
Awesome write-up Austin! Timeliness is perfect too, good info here for beginners and advanced ice fisherman alike! Thanks for the read! Tiny
opencage, CO 1/1/2015 7:32:37 AM
I second Tiny. Also, these sound like solid techniques for multiple species. Thanks Austin.
bron, CO 1/4/2015 6:10:21 PM
Good article....alot like how I shore fish in some ways. Throw hardware on one pole and stillfish bait on the other. Nice meeting you Saturday!