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It’s here, the most challenging part of the ice fishing season has arrived. It’s said the hardest part of ice fishing is finding the fish, once you’re on them it’s easier to pull a few in. Unfortunately in mid winter that’s just not true. I’ve visited a few lakes over the last couple weeks and in each case we were on top of fish but it was a real struggle to get them to eat. In order to beat the mid winter slump, I want to share a few tips that I use to find success during these slow times.
Tip #1: Stay Mobile
I know, its cold. Real cold. It’s really tempting to drive out to the community spot, set up a tent and wait the fish out. But that would be a mistake. The best advice I can give is to dress warm and keep moving when looking for actively feeding fish. If you start to feel a chill in your feet and haven’t had a bite it’s time to drill a few more holes and warm up. This is where a manual auger will keep you warm all day. My rule of thumb is to fish a spot for no more than an hour. If I haven’t marked a fish in 10 minutes, I will make a small move to a different hole. If after an hour I haven’t seen any action I will pack up and make a big move somewhere else.
Tip #2: Avoid the Community Spots
You can identify these spots from the shore by the vast number of trucks parked on the ice. Sure, they are popular for a reason and might hold some fish. But I guarantee those fish are going to be spooky. You will have better luck by skirting around those folks and finding some fish of your own that may be less pressured and more likely to eat.
Tip #3: Finesse
Now is the time of year to downsize all your baits and slow down those presentations. I caught my biggest Northern Pike last year by tipping a 1/16 oz jig with a 3” minnow and laying it on the bottom. The Pike had been in the area all day and would come by and stare at our lures for minutes at a time before turning away. It was so hard to resist jigging the rod that I had to put it on the ground and just wait for him to take it. Don’t be afraid to size all the way down to tungsten jigs for walleye either. I’ve caught winter walleyes with bellies full of micro sized leeches. Sometimes small jigs make all the difference.
Tip #4: Keep it down
Staying mobile can be a double edged sword. You need to travel around and find those fish, but the act of travelling around and making a bunch of noise can scare them off. As best as you can try to keep the noise to a minimum, especially once you mark fish on the flasher or see them on the camera.
Just because it’s a challenging part of the season doesn’t mean you have to sit it out. Remember, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day on the couch.