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First Ice 2023-24

person walking on frozen lake drilling holes for ice fishing

First ice is here! It’s late November and we’ve finally had enough cold weather in Alberta that the smaller ponds are safe to explore! I know some of the more adventurous ice anglers in the area have been enjoying fishing for a few weeks at this point but I like to play it on the safe side and make sure there is at least 4 inches (10cm) of good ice.

My favourite species to chase at the beginning of the ice fishing season is trout. Which is kind of by design since trout ponds are usually the first to freeze. In the first ice video posted below, I take you through the spot I chose and what I typically look for in a quality ice fishing location.

Choosing a Location

Most of the pothole lakes around the province are typically bowl shaped basins with mud bottoms and do not contain a lot of structure. I typically start my search for productive feeding areas at home using Google Maps satellite view. Using the satellite image I look for obvious points that stick out into the water that could concentrate fish movement, I will also look for bays as this tends to indicate a likely flat-bottom feeding area, and if the water and image is clear enough, I will look to see if I can see an obvious weed-line. That weed-line is a great indicator of a high traffic zone.

The green lines represent weed edges – areas I will typically target first.

After I’ve chosen two or three likely spots on Google Maps its time to hit the lake! Generally I will start by drilling a hole about 20 feet from shore and checking the depth. Many pothole lakes will drop off quite quickly so I use this first hole to decide whether I’m drilling more holes towards shore or away from it by finding the weed-line along any given shore. If the depth is more than 12 feet and I don’t see any signs of weeds I will drill holes in a straight line towards shore, every 20 feet (or 10 paces) until I’m uncomfortably close to shore again. Now I will go back and check the depth and bottom type at each hole to see if I can find that weed edge. Once the weed edge is found that’s where I will typically set my first set-line. Weed edges and other transition points are like underwater highways for fish and are always one of the first areas I will target.

Now that we have a starting point its time to narrow things down. Many anglers will drill out a grid of holes looking for the next best spot but I find that unnecessary most of the time. I will typically walk parallel along the shore from my first set line about 20-30 feet and drill there, assuming that it is also along the weed edge. The next holes I drill will be towards the shore again concentrating my fishing efforts over the weeds.

Weeds are Important Early Ice

Weeds are very important to aquatic life – they provide cover for small fish and insects that trout like to eat and they also continue to produce oxygen early in the ice season. It’s not uncommon for big trout to cruise in very shallow water early in the ice fishing season so this is where I will spend the bulk of my time fishing.

As the ice fishing season progresses though, weed life begins to die off. Once weeds die and start to decay they stop producing oxygen and start consuming it. What was once a productive hot zone in a lake becomes a barren, low oxygen zone that fish will avoid. Once that happens its time to start fishing deeper.

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