As our ice fishing equipment continues to evolve our expectations of catching more and bigger fish grow. High end mapping on our GPS units, new lures that fish have never seen before and insulated shelters and clothing that allows us to fish in any kind of weather situation all make going ice fishing more fun. While some of these new items are certainly going to help us catch more fish this winter, there are some proven old school activities that continue to catch fish as well and should not be left at home. Here are a few of my favourite new pieces of equipment and an old school tactic for catching giants.
More than any other species, crappies show up in predictable locations under the ice year after year. While many of these “wintering” locations are obvious – the deep basins of the lakes and bays that they live in, it is typical for large schools of crappies to find small holes that most anglers would never find without the high end mapping available today on many waters.
The south end of Lake of the Woods and many areas of Rainy Lake have isolated populations of crappies. Lakemaster mapping covers both of these waters extremely well with high detail mapping in one foot contours. This mapping shows us where a lot of the deeper holes are in the bays that have crappies in them. Throughout the winter, these holes, some of them really small, are high percentage locations.
When you find these sweet spots that have not been discovered by other anglers you stand a great chance at catching a bunch of large 14 and 15 inch crappies – trophy fish anywhere you go. My approach to crappie fishing, especially when I’m looking for new spots and areas is to team up with a friend. One of us drills holes while the other follows behind with a flasher, checking depths and looking for fish. In an effort to be efficient, I never drop a line down a hole until we actually see fish on our Humminbirds. Crappies are almost always going to be suspended two to six feet above the bottom so they show up on the screen really well. When you find a new crappie hole in the winter you can expect to catch a bunch of nice fish and have some fun.
Northland Fishing Tackle has long been an innovator in ice tackle and they introduced a new spoon in 2018 that fish across the ice belt hadn’t seen before. The Glo-Shot spoon is a flutter style spoon that features a self-illuminating glow stick that is placed in the middle of the spoon and glows for eight plus hours, giving your spoon greater visibility under water. Of the 12 available colours, I had the best luck fishing with the UV Electric Tiger, which had some glow orange included on it. Orange is always a great colour for walleyes year round on Lake of the Woods.
These spoons are lighter and slower falling than traditional ice fishing spoons so they are better in shallower lakes, especially where the water has some colour to it, although we did catch walleyes really well on these spoons in the deep, clear waters of Ptarmigan Bay on the west end of Lake of the Woods during our testing. I was fishing the ¼ ounce version of this spoon on a 38” medium action rod with 10 lb Power Pro Ice Braid and an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader, and I always tip my spoons with a minnow head. New this year is the Glo Shot Jig, a perfect setup for vertical fishing.
Go Old School For Big Pike
Over the years many have authored stories about fishing dead baits under tip-ups for big pike. It is, in my opinion, the most proven, unbeatable way to catch a big pike throughout the winter. Sure, anglers catch the odd big pike jigging a lure but I have never, in hundreds of days on the ice, seen where jigging will out produce tip-ups, at least for larger fish.
Fishing with tip-ups is no secret but it’s unbelievable to me how many anglers still don’t even own a tip-up. They are a small investment and last for years. They are very easy to use and I cannot stress this enough – if you want to catch a monster pike, you need to be using these things.
The set-up is simple. The best tip-ups you can get your hands on are the Frabill Pro Thermal Round Tip-Up. These have been around for years and are great because they cover the hole. While they do provide some insulation to keep the hole from icing over as fast, they keep blowing snow and bright light from entering the hole, which I am a big fan of.
I like to use heavy line, usually 40 lb line designed for fishing on tip-ups, which is easy thick and easy to handle with gloves on. It’s strong and does not tangle. Braid can be used but you need to be careful with it if you use bare hands because a big fish can make a powerful run and the line will cut your hands and fingers.
USE QUICK STRIKE RIGS FOR TROPHY PIKE
I always use the Northland Predator Rig to hang my baits but “quick-strike” rigs for hanging the bait can be made at home as well. The Predator Rig is nice because it hangs the bait horizontally in a natural fashion. I just tie the rig directly to the heavy tip-up line and never seem to have any issues, the fish do not seem to care.
For bait, frozen cisco are my favourite. My friends and I around Kenora usually catch our own throughout the winter when we are fishing on Lake of the Woods. We often run into them chasing our baits around when we’re trout fishing and some of the good crappie spots in the south end of the lake have great populations of them as well. They are aggressive and like to eat small panfish sized spoons – if you find them, they are easy to catch.
DEAD BAIT IS THE TICKET
We have tried live bait many times and it never works as well as a dead bait does, trust me. You have two treble hooks on the rigs, so put one in the head of the bait and one in the back, usually around the dorsal fin. I like to let my bait hit the bottom then lift it up about one to two feet above bottom, where I let it hang. When a fish bites, let it run briefly, then set the hook with a long sweep. If you let these fish run to long with the bait, they will swallow it and will often be hooked badly.
Mix in some new equipment and tactics on the ice this winter with some of the proven techniques and you’ll have your best season ever in 2018!