Spring Walleye Fishing | Targeting Big Pre-Spawn Walleyes

One of the biggest events of the entire ice and open water season is the transitional movements of big pre-spawn walleyes. These fish are highly targeted by millions of anglers for their difficulty to catch, their fight, but most of all their table fare. 

Walleyes are one of the most sought-after fish in the country, for good reason. The pre-spawn period presents anglers with high quantities and quality of fish funneling through small areas. This time of year also presents anglers with the opportunity to catch their biggest fish of the entire year. The larger females move into shallower water and are full of energy and eggs. The bigger the female the more eggs she carries, which can create some absolute giant fish. 

However, it can also be a very stressful time of year if you don’t know the areas and the baits to use to target these fish. I will go into detail on the time of year to start looking for pre-spawn fish, where they are going to be moving and staging up, the baits to use to give you the best success, and how to avoid/work through the crowds of people.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Pre-Spawn Time of Year and Location

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Photo Credit: In-Fisherman

The term pre-spawn has been used to describe anytime in a fish’s life from the winter period, to when the fish actually spawn out. The time period in which these fish begin to transition from their deep winter haunts to beginning their annual journey to which they will propagate the next generation begins around early February. 

Walleyes will begin to journey from their traditional feeding areas and deep winter holes to where they will spawn. This begs the question, where do walleyes spawn? The answer to this question has two parts because not all of the fish spawn in the same areas. The majority of the fish will spawn in the larger rivers that lead into your body of water. While a smaller subset of the population will spawn on rocky shoals in shallower water in the lake. These fish need the proper gravel, depth, oxygenated water, and sunline on the eggs in order for them to be as successful as possible. So, the areas in which these fish spawn are going to be different for every body of water. You need to look at maps to find the areas which have everything these fish need and then scout them out. Not every creek and gravel shoal will have fish, so it’s important to put the time on the water to really find out the hot spots.

The issue is that most walleye seasons go out during the spawn. So, how are you supposed to find the areas in which these fish spawn? Great point, you need to fish the areas outside of these possible spawning locations to see if they gather here or not. There are going to be early fish to the spawning areas and late spawning fish, they don’t all come in one wave. This means you can catch fish moving to spawn before and after the season goes out. Another good trick to use, look for large numbers of fishermen around small areas. This can be a dead giveaway for spawning areas. The trick is to figure out how to beat the crowds at their own game.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Walleye Movements

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Photo Credit: Angling Buzz

So, how do these fish move from their wintering areas to where they are going to spawn? It is by no means a one-way hell-bent trip in which they don’t stop. These fish are going to move methodically from one ambush area to the next until they reach their staging area outside the creek or in the deep access water near the shoals they plan to spawn on. 

All you need to do to intercept them is find your favorite hot spots from early-mid ice season and then look at there they are going to go. It will become very easy to determine where they are going to stop on the way. Look for the same type of humps, drop-offs, points, bends in river channels, and rocky areas that they would normally use during their normal routine feeding. 

These are going to be the areas that these fish stop on to refuel while they are on their journey. Think of it like when you’re going on a road trip. You need to stop to get gas at certain periods in the trip, thus you go to gas stations. Ambush points act as gas stations for these fish and they need to feed up in order to make the journey and spawn. The entire act of spawning is a stressful point in a fish’s life; thus, they need to feed up in order to survive the ordeal. You just need to get your baits in the right areas in order to capitalize on this bite.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Baits

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Photo Credit: Angling Buzz

The biggest thing people get caught up in is what baits to throw. In all reality, if you plan everything else out to perfection it almost doesn’t matter as much what you throw as to just being in the right area. 

However, it can be the difference between an ok day to being a phenomenal day. 

It does depend on a few things though as to what baits you use. Factors such as weather conditions, time of day, fishing pressure, whether you’re on ice or fishing open water, and water conditions. These all play a big factor in what you’re going to throw in their faces.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Fishing on Late Ice

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Photo Credit: Outdoor News

If you are on the ice you are going to be stuck using vertical presentations, and there is nothing wrong with that. For pre-spawn though, I like to start off with more in your face and attraction baits such as a Rapala Rippin Raps

Why would you use finesse baits for fish that will come in and eat a bigger meal more readily?

 This way you can cover water faster and potentially put more fish on the ice in a faster fashion. I will also use VMC rattle spoons and Rapala Jigging Raps as well to try and drum up the more aggressive fish. It always a good idea to check to see how aggressive the fish are before you downsize and start finessing the fish. My thought process is Why use small baits when you don’t have to?

The next step is harder, however. When you draw fish in, and you will, now you have to try and read their level of interest and adjust baits accordingly. If the fish come in and stay low and don’t make any kind of run at the bait, then you are too aggressive and you need to switch to something that is a little less aggressive. I like to go to a Tingler spoon at that point, or a jigging rap or something with less sound. I will work all the way down to a jig and a minnow if I have to. 

The test being you have to read the fish. That is a huge key, reading the fish. If they make a run or follow it up at least once then you’re on the right track and now you have to play with size and color. Going to something in a duller or brighter color, depending on what you started with. It really depends on what baits you already have confidence in on the water. These are just baits that I have had and seen a lot of success with. There are thousands upon thousands of baits out there that no doubt all catch fish. So, it’s up to you to experiment with the companies you like and use the baits you like. The general guidelines for switching during these situations remain the same however. You need to just feel the mood of the fish and adjust accordingly. Always assume that there is always a better way to catch them then how you currently are. This will keep you always on your toes and always thinking about what to try.

Some of my other favorite in your face baits include a Rapala slab rap, a Rapala jigging shad rap, and a Silver Streak blade bait. These baits, including the other baits listed above, are going to be my go-to baits for when I first show up to a body of water. After I strike out with these baits then I am going to go to more of a finesse approach. That is when I will break out a VMC tumbler spoon and a VMC flash champ, along with the others listed above. These baits will be my staples when it gets technical and the fish are being finicky.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Open Water

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Photo Credit: My Outdoor TV

The beauty of open water is that you can cover a lot more water in a lot shorter amount of time. This will allow you to locate fish in a faster time frame, in general. When it comes to open water baits there are two approaches, you can either troll baits or you can cast and retrieve. It really depends on the size of the area you are targeting. 

Trolling is a way to cover vast amounts of water using a variety of different crankbaits, worm harnesses, spoons, etc. Trolling can also be used as a method to simply locate groups of fish and then you can go back through and work them over with casting baits. During the pre-spawn period, however, the water is still around that 40-degree Fahrenheit mark. This means the fish activity is still going slow, as far as their willingness to chase down baits. I generally prefer casting for these fish because you can present slower but reactive baits that trigger these fish into eating. However, a slow trolled bait can still produce good numbers of fish.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Casting

So, for casting baits I have a general few that I go off of. The categories that I like to throw include plastics, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, blade baits, jerkbaits, hair jigs, swimbaits, and live bait. As you can see there is a large variety of different baits that you can throw. It really just comes down to the action that the fish prefer and what the body of water allows you to throw. 

I look at the area that I am fishing before I decide what I am going to throw. If it is full of brush and stumps then oftentimes, I will lean more toward a jig with a soft plastics trailer such as a worm, a swimbait, or a live minnow. Something that I can work slowly over and around the cover with lower risk of getting hung up. A slow retrieved crankbait or a jerkbait is also a good option to tick the tops of the wood or suspend just over the wood. I want something that I can pop off or deflect off the wood to trigger a reaction out of these fish. 

A few of my personal favorite casting crankbaits include an original floating Rapala, a BX minnow, and a shad rap, an x-rap, a shadow rap, Rapala flat rap, and a Rapala tail dancer. Those baits are going to cover every casting scenario that I am going to run into. These baits are also made of balsa which will allow you to get your bait unstick from rocks, brush, etc. easier.

The idea behind casting these baits is to cover water and imitate whatever baitfish the walleyes in your lake are feeding on. 

You can never go wrong with perch colored baits, or a generic shad colored bait. These forage species are going to be in almost every body of water you are going to come across. To retrieve these baits, you are going to start with a steady retrieve and see how the fish react to that and then depending on the results you are going to mix it up and start adding stops and pumps into the bait. This will act as a triggering method if any fish follow or track your bait as you are retrieving them.

If I am fishing something with a sandy and rocky bottom then I am going to lean more toward a blade bait, a lipless crankbait. I need to use the action of the bait in order to trigger these fish into eating. Since the bottom is fairly clean, I depend upon the bait to draw the fish in and close the deal. This is where I really play with the cadence I use when retrieving these baits. I use both blade baits and lipless crankbaits as a bait that I jig off the bottom. I will not steady retrieve these this time of year. I will simply hop them along the bottom, while varying the length of the hop and the speed of the hop. Generally, you will find a specific speed and type of hop that these fish key in on. My favorite go-to casting baits for this type of scenario are going to be a Rapala Rippin Rap, a Rapala Jigging Rap, and a Steel shad blade bait

As far as a swimbait, a hair jig, and a minnow on a jig head are concerned I really use these to cover water and try to locate groups of fish. All of your time on the water is precious, so using faster search baits to really try to locate fish and eliminate water can help you spend more time putting fish in the net.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Trolling

Trolling is going to be a different animal altogether when it comes to pre-spawn. Since the water temps are so cold, it is going to be hard to get these fish to chase a bait unless you put it right in their faces. It is also really going to depend on the bodies of water you are fishing. If you are fishing lakes such as Lake Erie, then trolling is going to be the most effective way to catch fish and cover water. 

This can also be an extremely effective tool in larger river systems, to cover break edges of the river channel. 

However, if you are fishing smaller bodies of water that have smaller populations of fish, then casting baits are going to be a better choice. Bait selection and trolling speed are going to be critical no matter whether you are in a river system or a large body of water. The fish are going to be up in shallower water, so your trolling gear is going to be relatively very simple. Longlining crankbaits and crawler harnesses are going to be the most efficient approach as far as covering water while being able to fish slow. Nightcrawler harnesses are always a good option because they can be fished as slow as the user wishes, which is ideal for targeting sluggish fish. The choice of crankbait is going to depend on the water depth you are trying to target. If you are on Lake Erie then you are going to be fishing deeper than if you are fishing a small local lake or a shallow river system. 

It is all about finding those travel routes that were discussed above and using your search baits to effectively and efficiently cover water.

There are thousands of different crankbaits on the market today and all of them will catch fish, given the right conditions. So what crankbaits are going to work best for the prespawn? 

I like crankbaits that have a tight action, this imitates that action of the baitfish during the colder months. I also like running baits that dive deeper than the water I am fishing, when fishing 15-feet or less. This will allow you to slow your presentation down and really get a reaction out of those fish. 

A few of my favorite baits to troll this time of year are going to be Rapala Tail dancer, Rapala Shad Rap, Bandit Generator Walleye Deep Diver, Strike King Walleye Elite Bonzai Shad, Storm Deep Thunderstick Madflash, Storm Thunderstick Madflash, Bandit Walleye Shallow Diver, Bandit Walleye Deep Diver. These are a few good starter baits that will also cover you as far as hard bait are concerned. 

For worm harnesses, I like a couple of different types. If the water has good visibility, 3 or 4 feet minimum, then I like a Dutch Fork Stainless Steel Willow Leaf Blade Harness. If the water has more stain to it then I’m going to go with a Dutch Fork Stainless Steel Colorado Blade Harness. The Colorado blade is going to provide more water displacement and more thump to attract these fish from more of a distance. I also really like the Mack’s Smile Blade Double Whammy Walleye Rig for doing more drift fishing or slower trolling. This bait has a better action at slower speeds.

As with anything, you’re going to need to experiment with baits, depths, the amount of line you have out, colors, etc. In order to figure out the best combo for the fish during the time of day you are fishing. You might run one of each of the baits listed or you may end up running all of the same lure. It is just going to depend on what you are getting bit on and what depths you are fishing.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Bait Color Choices for Trolling

There is no shortage of different color patterns on the market these days. You could literally spend thousands on one bait by getting every color they make it in. So, what colors are going to give you the best chances of success? As a general rule of thumb, you want to match the conditions outside to the color of your bait. So, on cloudy days you want to throw darker more drab colors and on bright sunny days you are going to want to throw brighter baits. This is going to match what the forage looks like during these different weather conditions.

Color choices are also going to vary depending on the depths of water you are fishing. In shallower water, the colors that are going to show up the best are going to be your pinks, oranges, and your yellows. As you get down deeper your colors are going to want to switch more toward your reds, chartreuse, blues, purples, and your blacks. These colors stand out better at deeper depths. As with anything else though I encourage you to play with different color combinations to see what works best for you. 

Spring Walleye Fishing: Dealing with Crowds

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The worst part of pre-spawn walleye fishing is the crowds. There is a large number of anglers that will go out and simply look for crowds of people and go fit right in assuming they are on fish. I like to be that one guy way away from everyone that leaves everyone guessing if I’m catching fish or not.

The number one way to be able to beat crowds is to truly know the area you are fishing. I mean knowing all the contour changes, the bottom composition changes, little irregularities on flats, etc. This will ensure you are always on the primary “spot on the spot”. You will be that one guy smashing fish while everyone 20 yards from you is left without a bite. This requires time on the water though. Hours and hours of scouting go into having a really good idea of what the bottom looks like. If you are ice fishing that can mean using an underwater camera, visibility permitting, and using this to look for rock piles and distinct and subtle edges. When there is open water it can also mean using your graphs and side imaging to make laps around these areas in preparation for the long winter months. 

It all depends on the amount of time you are willing to put into the game, just like any other sport.

The next best way to outsmart the crowd is to be the guy who is not afraid to move and change things up. Most anglers have a bait tied on that will be tied on from the time they get there to the time they leave. They will work it the exact same way all day and night. You need to be willing to switch up how you are working your baits, what baits you are throwing, and where you are fishing. If you are fishing areas that have large flats that have big crowds of people, Lake Erie for example, then you can use this to your advantage and place yourself on the outside of the group. Moving slightly away from everyone will help you get on top of the fish that avoid all of the commotion brought on by the other anglers. Fish aren’t as dumb as we think they are, however they aren’t as smart either. They aren’t going to do some drastic moves, they are simply going to slide around all the noise and commotion. This will set you up nicely for all the fish moving through.  

As far as baits and how you work them, this goes back to what I talked about earlier in being able to read the fish’s level of interest. Most of the time in a crowd I like to go either really small and bland or really big and bright. This will make your bait stand out from the droves of other baits in the water. Experiment with the action, the color, and the size until you find something that seems to fit the bill.

Spring Walleye Fishing: Understanding Movements Related to Weather

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Photo Credit: Great Lake Snow

One of the biggest overlooked aspects of targeting specific species of fish during different times of the year is the weather patterns and how they affect the specific species that you are targeting. During the pre-spawn period, with any species of fish, the weather patterns can really control what the fish do in major ways. 

Some of you may say, but my fish are under ice, how is the weather above going to influence the fish? 

Even under feet of ice the fish can still see changes in light and adjust to the different light periods. This is why morning and evening bites are still hot. So, the first thing to look at is the weather pattern. On cloudy days, the primary bite window is going to be drawn out even longer than it normally would be due to the reduced light from the cloud cover. On clear sunny days, the primary bite windows are going to be the shortest due to the increased light. So, fish are going to be more active on days with a lot of cloud cover, meaning they will be moving in the shallow areas more. This is especially true for the pre-spawn period.

If you have open water situations, then the word everyone hates comes into play, wind. Personally, I love wind. It can create some of the greatest bites you’ll ever see, while also making you wish you never went fishing. 

So, what does the wind do? The wind breaks up the surface tension on the water and creates a scenario in which the fish cannot get a great look at your bait. It also moves the surface water around and creates current. This current moves the small micro-organisms around, which then get followed by the baitfish. This current also creates current breaks in which fish will stack up. Either way you look at it, it can create some great scenarios in which to load the boat fast. 

So, what do you need to know about wind for pre-spawn? 

Wind can push the warmest surface water away from where it is supposed to be. This will stack up warmer water in smaller coves or along windblown banks. It may only be two or three degrees but that two or three degrees will attract those fish like flies to a light. The first thing I look at when looking for prespawn walleyes, other than where they are going, is what way the wind is blowing. That will be the first area that I will check for signs of life.  

The next thing to look at is the different moon phases. The greater the light during the night period, the more active the fish are going to be. This means fish are going to have the most nocturnal activity during full moon phases. This creates large waves of fish that move up shallow during the pre-spawn period. 

So, if you have limited days to fish it can be important to look at this information in order to try and have the most success possible.

Taking Advantage of Early Ice Using Your Ice Fishing Units

We are fast approaching a time that is loved by many and also hated by many, hard water season. This time of year, if it gets cold enough in your area, the top layer of ice starts to freeze over. If you’re lucky enough it will get thick enough that you’ll be able to walk on it and take advantage of some phenomenal bites using your ice fishing units.

It can, however, be extremely boring and frustrating if you don’t do your homework and use the proper gear. It’s important to utilize the many different mapping and underwater chart systems to highlight areas of interest before you ever even step foot on the water. This will allow you to have a primary game plan as well as several backup plans to be able to cover water efficiently. Utilizing mapping charts is only part of the battle however, you also need the right gear to be able to find the fish. 

Flashers are not mandatory to catch fish, but they are a must if you plan on being able to consistently stay on top of and catch fish. These units allow you to actually see and interact with the fish, making it much easier to see what the mood and attitude of the fish are. In this article I will go over types of ice units and what to look for when using different types of underwater topographic charts and ice fishing units. 

Ice Fishing Units

Now the first thing I want to go over is what I mean by ice fishing units. This term covers a whole variety of fish finders that people use to locate fish through the ice. The biggest aspect to these ice fishing units is the vertical transducer. The transducer is the part of the unit that goes into the water that sends down ultrasonic pulse waves to detect the swim bladder of fish below, the bigger the swim bladder the bigger the fish. The lower you put the transducer into the water, the narrower the cone angle, so keeping it just under the bottom of the ice is key.

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There are many different types and brands of ice fishing units that can be used. 

They all have their advantages and disadvantages. There are ice fishing units referred to as flashers that show the fish only as long as it is relatively below you. While there are also standard units like you would find on a boat. These ice fishing units show the history of what was below you as well as what is currently below you. Then there are also underwater cameras that allow you to see what is actually going on, if the water has the proper visibility.

The flashers, like the Marcum M5, are excellent for fast reading of what depth the fish are at and how many of them there are. They also work very well in more open water situations to be able to hole hop fast and efficiently. It can also easily detect different fish and shows the entire water column very well, depending on the brand you get. However, these units make it harder to tell the size of the fish. They also make it hard to decipher fish from vegetation in the water, especially if you are fishing around brush piles or grass.

Standard sonar ice fishing units, such as the Marcum LX-6, work well for a variety of reasons. I prefer them when fishing in shallower water around grass and vegetation. This unit shows you the history of what was below you, allowing you to see changes in what is below you in the vegetation or the wood. This also allows the user to see the different behavior changes of the fish as the user is using different baits. This can help you see what cadences worked or didn’t work. These units typically make it harder to zoom into different water columns however, depending on the units you buy.

Underwater cameras, like the Marcum VS485C underwater viewing system, can open up really cool opportunities to truly see fish behavior towards the baits you are using. It can also help you see what is going on around vegetation or brush piles as well. The only downfall is the water clarity has to be prime and the camera can only point in one direction. This can be problematic when looking for cruising fish. These cameras do however allow you to see the bottom and allow you to see rock breaks or grass lines, etc. This can make it much easier to get on the ‘spot within the spot’ without wasting a lot of time.

Ice Fishing Units – Mapping 

Probably one of the most overlooked tools in the game of fishing, online mapping has truly changed the game of how we look at water. We no longer have to spend hours and hours trying to find that sweet spot, we can now have a really good idea of where we need to be and maybe spend an hour on a spot to truly find the “juice”

It is however incredibly under-utilized by most people. I spend hours looking at maps of a lake weeks in advance before I even just go fun fishing. Some of the best days I have had on the ice were not by going to my go-to spots and smashing them but by struggling at my first spot and knowing what was around me and making quick judgment calls that paid off. It’s all about knowing the areas around where you are fishing to be able to make those fast moves to try and stay on top of the fish. In my opinion there is no better mapping charts than the Navionics charts. These charts are offered for mobile devices that allow you see the direction you are walking but more importantly they have accurately detailed maps that show the underwater contours of most bodies of water. 

All too often I see friends of mine fishing an area and then I ask them why they are fishing it and they have no idea. I am constantly asking myself why I am fishing an area and if I can’t give myself a rational reason as to why, then I move. It’s all about understanding fish movement and mapping is the first step to try and understand the routes fish will use to travel to feed.

Early Ice Success With Ice Fishing Units

Now that we have gone over what electronics that you can, and should, utilize when out on the water, it’s worth mentioning that all of these options depend on what species you are going to be targeting and where you’ll want to fish. 

Different species are going to be feeding on different forage bases and are going to be using different types of cover or structure to do that. 

It’s important to have a good idea about the species you are going to be targeting. Knowing their habits and forage bases is important in figuring out where these fish are going and where they are coming from.

Ice Fishing Units: Panfish

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If you are a panfish guy or gal, you are going to look for a few different things depending on the body of water you are fishing and the specific species of panfish you are targeting. For crappies and bluegills there are a couple things I look for when I’m scouting out an area. The first is deeper flats that will have the warmest water for these fish to hold in. 

Crappies tend to get onto these big flats and roam looking for baitfish and small microorganisms, and most often I can find bluegills mixed right in with them. Generally, the flats I’m looking for will be in the 20-35 foot range. You need to be cautious though if you are not planning on keeping what you catch. Anything over 28 feet is usually a no-go for me if I’m planning on releasing what I catch. 

To locate these fish, I will drill dozens of holes and use my Marcum Showdown to see if there is anything anywhere from the bottom to suspended 15 feet off bottom. If there isn’t anything then I’ll just keep checking holes, it is important to have your sensitivity setting bumped way up when looking for fish. Once you’ve found them then you can dial it down a little.

The other structure I am looking for is grass and brush piles. 

If you can find live green grass then the panfish, of all species, won’t be too far off. This is where a camera can be very handy to try and find groups of these fish. I’ll first start looking for grass edges and scout those out before I start making my way into the grass. The next thing I would look for would be patches of grass. Fish will relate to these patches to try and ambush their prey. It can be tough to locate these fish quickly in shallower water though. Once you drill a hole, the fish can scatter for a short period of time, so generally I give a hole a few minutes before moving onto the next hole. This is why I pre-punch a dozen holes or so a time to try and rest them before I fish them.

As far as baits go, I have almost exclusively switched to straight plastics, such as trigger-x plastics. I have had incredible success with these baits and they last for dozens of fish, making it a much more affordable option. I simply got tired of having to try to keep bait alive. That being said it is hard to beat maggots on a jig head. I almost exclusively use vmc tungsten tubbies and their various other vmc tungsten jig head models. The tungsten makes the profile much smaller and more compact. I will also use small spoons and small rattle baits, especially for crappies. 

My go to rattle bait would be a ultra light Rapala rippin rap. It all just depends on the mood of the fish and that can take time to read. I generally start with small rattle baits for the sole fact that they catch bigger and more aggressive fish. So, if I can get the bigger fish without having to try and sort through the smaller ones first, I’m all about that. This will also allow you to draw fish in from a further distance, if they’ll eat it. You can tell within a few minutes whether or not they will eat it or not though if you’re on top of fish. After a few minutes of no luck then I’ll switch to a Trigger-x mustache worm in pink or chartreuse and this will get more than enough bites. If all else fails I will then downsize and use a couple maggots on a smaller profile jig head. When in doubt switch colors and sizes and sooner or later you’ll hit the magic combo.

Ice Fishing Units: Game Fish 

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What most people don’t really realize about larger predatory fish is that they all generally relate to very similar, and most often the same, types of structure. Thus, I will be covering general game fish that includes walleye, smallmouth, pike, and muskellunge. Notice I left out largemouth bass. This is because generally they will be in the same areas as the panfish covered in the section above. This goes with perch as well; they will act as either panfish or walleye depending on the amount and type of structure in your body of water. So, doing your homework on what the lake has is important. 

Now onto the other game fish.

The biggest things to look for when targeting game fishes are ambush points or cover and then a forage base. This is what is going to dictate where these fish move and feed. Now, cover can be in the form of rock outcroppings, grass edges, or simply depth changes. Deep water is one of the most overlooked forms of cover that larger predatory fish use. So, areas that have deep water access can be points of interest when looking for areas to target.

For early ice, these fish have had a rest period of at least a month or so between when people could fish in open water until the ice is thick enough to be able to walk on. This is where you need to capitalize on the lack of pressure these fish have seen. This is where you look for the most obvious structure that usually has a ton of pressure during open water and now you take advantage of the lack of pressure. Being some of the first people on a spot can yield huge success. To take advantage of this, start with loud and or erratic baits that have more action, such as Rapala rippin raps or Rapala jigging raps

These fish will generally be more than willing to eat so using bigger baits early on can catch trophy class fish. 

Now for larger predatory fish, tip ups with larger sucker minnows or actual suckers can yield big rewards. No matter if you are using tip ups or jigging gear you still need to drill at least a dozen holes and use this to your advantage. Set the tip ups all across the area you are fishing, making sure to set some in deeper water and some up on the shallower areas. If you’re using jigging gear then just hole hopping after a 5-10 minutes with no marks, seeing fish on the graph, to other holes scattered across the structure you’re fishing is crucial. Using artificial baits will be similar to fishing for panfish in that you need to read the activity level of the fish to see how willing they are to chase and how they react to certain baits is critical. This is where you make small adjustments to try and put the most fish on the ice as possible.

It’s important to constantly be measuring the fish’s level of attraction toward what you are using. In the low light periods, they are going to be more curious and aggressive. This will mean you can get away with using the more aggressive baits. As the prime feeding times dwindle, you might need to switch to more subtle presentations, such as jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head. It is all about letting the fish tell you what they want. 

If you find yourself getting surrounded by other anglers, this is when you need to make a switch. I like to either go oversize or undersize with my baits, meaning I’ll go with something slightly different than what everyone around me is using. This could mean going from a number 7 jigging rap to a number 9 or a number 5. It all just depends on how the fish react or don’t react to what you are using. Color changes can also be crucial, as a general rule of thumb I start with either UV pink or green and then make adjustments from there. If you have fish coming in but simply just not committing, I will switch how I work the bait first and then go to a different color. If they still won’t commit then switch sizes and eventually baits. It’s all about reading the fish and trying to adjust accordingly. There will never be a set guide on what to do because fish change by the minute so just learning how to adjust can take time.

Ice Fishing Units: Final Thoughts

Overall, ice fishing can be one of the most fun and exciting sports to be a part of, in my opinion. However, it can also be one of the most frustrating days of your life if you’re not willing to change and make the necessary adjustments in order to put fish on the ice. 

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When in doubt, change it out, don’t be afraid to drastically change from what you normally use or what others normally use. It’s always the guy that figures something out first that has the best days on the ice. It just takes being willing to move around, sometimes constantly, and willing to change. So, with that, I wish everyone a safe season on the ice!

A Guide to the Ice Fishing Basics | Catching Fish Through The Ice

Have you ever tried to explain to someone what you do when you go fishing? 

Of course, you have, anyone that really fishes have tried to give that dialed down explanation of the gear, time, and tactics that are all described by the term “fishing”. Ice fishing is no different than any other type of fishing in that you can fall deep down the rabbit hole. 

The more you enjoy this sport, the more you will realize all of the different types of gear that you can truly use. This really comes down to how efficient you want to be and how consistent you want to be. Everyone knows you don’t really NEED all the gear that we buy. Everyone has gotten smoked by the old guy or young kid that has one rod and is using maggots on a hook with no electronics, or something of that sort. 

You’ll find that you get bested once in a while by these types of anglers but the other 95% of the time, it is the guys who put the time and money into it that do the real catching. I once heard a quote that 95% of the fish are caught by 5% of the anglers. I believe there is some real truth to that. Not everyone has the money to go out and drop thousands of dollars on new gear though. 

So, what do you really need? I’m going to break down the basic equipment that anyone who is serious about ice fishing should have.

Ice Fishing Basics: Clothing

Now in my personal opinion, the most important gear in your arsenal is your clothing. You can be on the best bite of the century with fish pouring in, but if you can’t stay warm and dry then you’re going to be miserable. So, preparing for the elements should be the first thing you do. You need to check the weather and then dress for 20 degrees colder. It is always easy and convenient to take layers off and have them set aside if you need them, it’s a real Debby Downer when you don’t have the necessary layers on.

My go-to brand for cold weather gear is Simms, hands down. I think they make the warmest gear on the market, in terms of traditional clothing. I use everything from their waterproof insulated socks to their insulated gloves. Their gear is rather pricey, so it’s understandable to find other brands, but this is just what I use. I start with a few insulated under layers, top and bottom, and then I throw a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie on. I will then put on an insulated flannel and then put a wool pullover on top of that. I’ll have the waterproof insulated socks on my feet to prevent wet toes. I always recommend a size bigger heavy rubber boot than what you would typically wear as well. This will allow space for your foot to heat up as well as give you room for more layers. That’s my typical go-to for traditional clothing layers, this does not include gloves and bibs though

When it comes to bibs and heavy jackets, I have to give it to the striker crew, they really made some incredible stuff. Most, if not all, of their heavy insulated ice gear, (I love their bibs), is water proof to help keep anglers safe on the ice, which is a great selling point. That alone sells it for me personally, but their gear comes made for hardcore ice fishermen, equipped with numerous pockets, rags, zippers, heavy duty seams, pads on the knees, and easy access compartments to store all your gear in your bibs. These bibs cost a pretty penny though, so just having a comfortable pair of bibs that will further insulate you is extremely recommended. It just adds an extra layer that protects you from the harsh environments we fish in.

The next important piece of gear is gloves. I hate wearing them more than anyone on this planet, but they are a must when the weather is nasty. I like two pairs of gloves. I’ll have a large and easy on and off pair to use when walking in to keep my hands warm when I’m pulling a sled. Then I’ll have another pair that are still insulated but have a removable top half to make it easy to fight fish. Finding gloves that are easily removable is crucial to keeping your hands dry. When you hook a nice fish and have to scoop it out, you don’t want your whole glove in the water. So, preparing for that moment before it comes is important.

The last couple pieces of clothing that I will advise you on would be a buff and a cheap pair of sunglasses. You lose a lot more heat in the neck than you would ever imagine and having a fleece buff around your neck can be huge if it’s windy out. Buffs can also wrap up your neck and go over or under your hat to really seal the heat in. They also cover your face to really shield you from the wind when it’s really cold out. A cheap pair of sunglasses will really save your eyes on sunny days. The snow acts as a reflector for the sunlight and can literally blind you if you stare at it for too long. So, moving around and staring at a fish finder for hours can be made easier on the eyes by a pair of sunglasses left in the bucket at the end of every trip. 

Ice Fishing Basics: Augers and Safety Gear

The next thing you absolutely need is an auger, you can’t catch fish if you can’t drill a hole through the ice. I look at augers in two different ways. The first thing I’m going to look at is the thickness of the ice where I am fishing. If the ice is over 8 inches, I will generally take a gas or battery powered auger. This saves time and makes your time on the water more productive. The next thing I want to take into account is the noise that I’m going to make when I drill a hole. 

Hand augers and battery powered augers are much quieter than a gas-powered auger is going to be. If I’m going to be fishing really shallow or for finicky fish I might take a hand auger or battery powered auger. Today, the battery augers are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. They perform extremely well and are cost and fuel efficient. 

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If I had only one choice it would be Ion Electric Auger. Photo Credit: FishUSA

This thing flat out cuts and is easy to charge and reuse. If I was on a tight budget though, then I would stick to a cheaper hand auger. It takes longer but in the end you get a workout and still put holes in the ice.

The next thing to think about is the possibility of falling through the ice. It’s not something to take lightly, people die every year from falling through and not being able to get out. So, here are a few pieces of gear that can help keep you out of the water or save your life in the event that you do fall through. My first piece of gear is a life jacket. This will keep you from going under the ice and from having to fight to float. I always wear this when the ice is 5 inches or less. You never know when you might hit a thin spot. 

My next piece of gear would be ice picks. These can be a life saver in pulling you out of the ice. I wear them around my neck at all times for easy access. A couple extra pieces of gear that I utilize is a spud bar and some rope. The spud bar makes it easy to check ice while walking around. This way you know constantly how thick the ice is around you. The rope is for a precautionary measure in case someone you’re with falls through. This way you can pull them out from a safe distance. You’re never completely safe when you’re out on hard water but we do everything we can to try and make these success stories instead of obituaries.

Ice Fishing Basics: Rod and Reel

Ice Fishing Rods

These two pieces of gear are extremely important no matter what species of fish you are targeting. This will be the gear that gets changed out when most everything else stays the same. So, it’s important to understand what species you are targeting and what type of baits you will be throwing on them. I won’t use the same rod to fish small spoons as I will rattle baits or heavier jigging raps.

The first step to choosing the right rod with the right action is first understanding what you’re fishing for and where your fishing. It’s going to be a lot different gear if you’re fishing Lake Erie versus fishing a small midwestern lake. You need to prepare for hooking the biggest fish in your lake while still making your gear efficient at catching the majority of your average size fish.

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There are no rules like you need this rod for this or this rod for that, but you do need to pay attention to the weights of the baits you are throwing and the hooks that they have on them. Photo Credit: FishUSA

Treble hooked baits require more of a parabolic bend rod while single hooked baits can have a much stiffer action. So, asking yourself these questions before purchasing a new rod can be clutch. I have multiple rods that I carry just to be able to handle the different baits that I’ll throw throughout the day.

When fishing for panfish, I keep it pretty straight forward due to the fact that most of the baits I’m going to throw are all the same weight and size. I’ll have two or three rods but they’re mostly the same with one being a slightly heavier action, still very light, for smaller spoons and jigging baits. I like a rod that has a soft tip to allow the angler to visually see the bite. Panfish, especially crappies, can do what’s called an up hit. Where the fish eats your bait while moving up. This takes the tension off your line and if you have too stiff of a rod, you’ll miss the bite. This soft action rod also helps cushion the small hooks that we’re using in those fish’s mouths. You don’t want to pull the hook to the point where you pull it out of their mouths.

When fishing for larger game fish I again tend to have two or three rods rigged and ready to go, but in this case they will generally all be different sized. I’ll have one rod rigged for smaller spoons and lighter jigging baits. Then, I’ll have another rod rigged for medium sized jigging baits and then a heavy rod for throwing large jigging raps and ripping raps. This helps make it easy for me to switch presentations quickly. I don’t dead stick baits too often but if you plan on having a dead stick rod make sure it is a slow action rod that really lets the fish get the bait without feeling the resistance of the rod.

Ice Fishing Reels

Reels often get overlooked by most anglers. They often think any reel will do, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There are three styles of reels to focus on, traditional open-faced spinning, casting, and inline reels. The main question to ask yourself, again, is what are you fishing for? 

For larger species, where you’re using heavier line, I would prefer a casting reel. These reels are made for putting some torque onto those larger fish and are able to hold more line. These reels are also made for heavier baits to be fished more efficiently. The two main styles that I focus on are inline and spinning. Inline reels are becoming increasingly popular amongst anglers. This is due to the fact that these reels greatly reduce and even eliminate line twist caused from reeling the baits up and down. This can be extremely important when targeting pressured fish on popular fisheries. This gives the fish one less reason not to eat your bait. 

On heavily fished fisheries, no matter what species, the fish will come in and spend more time analyzing the bait before striking. 

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These inline reels are extremely popular among panfish fishermen. When using small jigs with finicky crappies and bluegills that lack of line twist can be a night and day difference. Photo Credit: FishUSA

If you are just looking for a great beginner reel then I would start with a spinning reel. These reels are very simple and can be used with a multitude of different baits. These reels will cause line twist however. Regardless, they will always catch fish. These reels come in many different sizes and models. The size of your reel will depend again on the fish you’re trying to catch and how deep you’re fishing. A 2500, slightly larger, and a 1000, slightly smaller, spinning reel will always be a good choice.  

The last type of rod that I’ll cover will be tip ups. These can be an extremely effective tool on certain bodies of water in which fish roam over larger flats feeding on baitfish. There are many different brands and types. I prefer the brands that cover the entire hole, such as the HT Enterprises Polar Therm, for the fact that they keep the hole from freezing the reel in the water. On warmer days I don’t mind breaking out the traditional wooden sticks however.

Ice Fishing Basics: Baits

The category of baits is where people tend to go crazy and lose their minds over thousands of different colors, sizes, and brands. I will admit I love looking and fishing different baits. I will go through dozens of baits before I find a brand that I like. The reality is that you really don’t need all that and the kitchen sink. For this section I will go into a species category to break down the necessary baits in order to have the best success, in my opinion.

Ice Fishing Basics: Panfish

Panfish are a relatively simple species, you can chase these guys, perch, bluegills, crappies, with a very minimal amount of gear. A mainstay in any pan fisherman’s arsenal should always be a tungsten jig tipped with maggots. This will perform day in and day out. You can use a variety of different jigs but my favorite is a VMC tungsten tubby. This jig has a great hookup and land ratio, from big crappies to small bluegills. 

If you want to have a couple tricks up your sleeve, then I highly recommend carrying some small spoons, rattle baits, and soft plastics. These can be great tools when the fish are really firing in order to catch as many as you can in those small bite windows. There are a couple of types of small spoons that I really like. These include the VMC tumbler spoon, VMC tingler spoon, and a VMC rattle spoon

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These spoons can also double for walleye spoons in bigger sizes. Photo Credit: FishUSA

There are many different types of plastics out there, what I can tell you about those is just to get different sizes, colors, and shapes. This will allow you to keep switching until you figure something out. I like white, pink, and orange. These are my go-to colors. I find myself fishing plastics for panfish more than I fish anything else. This is because they are cheap and they last forever. I don’t have to worry about them going bad. I can just pull another one out year after year. I still have plastics from 4 years ago that still catch fish.

Ice Fishing Basics: Predatory Game Fish

In this category I’m going to be talking about pike, walleye, and smallmouth or largemouth bass. This is because I use the same baits for all of these species, just in different areas. For these species I like to use rattle baits, blade baits, jigging raps, spoons, and live bait. You can use the same spoons I listed above, the VMC tumbler spoon, VMC tingler spoon, and a VMC rattle spoon, just be sure to upsize them. I’m not saying that you won’t catch them on the panfish sizes, because you will, but your catch size will go up with bigger baits. I use spoons all throughout the water column for all species. If I could have one bait for the rest of my life it would without a doubt be a VMC tingler spoon. They trigger a reaction strike out of all species as the bait flutters back down.

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For rattle baits I really like the Rapala rippin rap in a bigger size. Photo Credit: FishUSA

These baits have a great sound and action that seems to draw and trigger fish. I also really like blade baits for this same reason. My go-to blade bait would have to be a Jackall Keeburn blade bait. It has a design that allows it to nose down on the bottom and cause a nice vibration to draw fish in from a wide area. These baits work extremely well for more bottom hugging species, I use them mainly for walleyes. I like to think of it as a spoon that also uses vibration along with the visual aspect. The key is finding the right cadence, as it is with any bait. When it comes to jigging raps, Rapala makes a few different types, as well as other companies but I like Rapala’s the best. They make the jigging shad rap, the original jigging rap, the flat jig, and lastly the snap rap. All of these baits have phenomenal action and without a doubt will catch fish. It really comes down to figuring out what the fish on your body of water want the most. They each have a little bit different action and finding the right action just takes playing with a few.

The last type of lure that I will discuss will be live bait on either a jig head or a treble hook. It just depends on the setup you plan on using. If you plan on running tip ups I would go with a standard owner treble hook and adjust the size according to the bait you are running. If you plan on running big suckers or shiners then I would lean toward a sure set treble hook rig. If you plan on simply using a jigging rod with a minnow, then I would lean more toward using a tungsten jig head. These are both great options for finicky fish that have seen a lot of pressure.

Ice Fishing Basics: Terminal Tackle

The single biggest overlooked part of people’s gear is their line and hook choices. When in reality these two categories are what hold you to the fish. Most people will use whatever hooks come on the baits they get. I will fish stock hooks 5% of the time. Most every company downgrades their hooks to make the baits even cheaper for commercial sale. This means the hooks you’re trusting are in most cases garbage. 

So, swapping out the hooks to a better-quality model and generally upsizing them are my first move. Each type of lure is going to have different hooks that suit it best, but for now I would focus on round bend trebles to allow for a good grab on the fish. Another thing I’ll do, depending on where I’m fishing, is upgrade the split rings as well. If you are targeting steelhead, big trout, pike, muskies, or just big walleyes I would highly recommend changing those out to VMC stainless steel split rings. It’s just like I said earlier, you want to prepare for the biggest fish possible. If you fish hard and smart enough one day, you’ll hook a true giant and you don’t want it to be the one that got away over something as easy as changing hooks.

The next big terminal tackle category is line choices. I spend a ton of time and money just testing out and sampling different line sizes, brands, and types to see what fits what I’m doing the best. The first thing you should know is that monofilament has the most stretch of the different line types. So, if you are using a stiffer action rod and pair it with a bait that has treble hooks you might want to give it a try. Monofilament also floats and has more abrasion resistance than fluorocarbon does. This is due to the thicker line diameter that monofilament has. 

The next line type is fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon also has a small amount of stretch in it, depending on the brand some have more, some have less. Fluorocarbon is also known to sink and have a much thinner diameter than monofilament. This makes it a good overall go-to line type.

Braided line has as close to zero stretch as you are going to find. It has a much thinner diameter compared to other line types and is extremely strong. This line makes a great mainline because it doesn’t hold memory and will last multiple seasons. I will cation you though, depending on the braid you use it will retain water and cause it to freeze on your reel. I generally pair braided line with a monofilament leader to help counteract some of that lack of stretch. My go-to braid hands down would have to be Cortland Master Braid. It has an extremely thin diameter while still being incredibly strong. I will only do this for bigger game fish like walleyes and pike though. I don’t bother with smaller fish because it’s not as important. For panfish I will generally stick to straight fluorocarbon somewhere in the 2-6 pound test range. It all just depends on what I’m using. For spoons and small rattle baits I will go all the way up to 4 or 6-pound test. Whereas with smaller jigs I will drop down to a 2-pound test to make it sink faster. For fluorocarbon I prefer to use Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon. It has extreme strength compared to the other brands I have used.

Ice Fishing Basics: Electronics

I think I have had more conversations with older gentlemen who tell me that using electronics is cheating than I care to count. I usually flat out tell them that I love to catch fish and if there is a better way to do it, then I’m going to do it. If you are not using some sort of flasher, camera, or sonar then you are wasting a lot of time. These devices make finding and catching fish comparable to turning a light switch on in a dark room. You don’t have to have an $1800 unit to be the best, it does help though. I use a Marcum M1 true color flasher, a $350 unit, for the sake of the cost and it works for me for now. They make all different price ranged units that make getting one easier than ever. So, depending on what type of unit you’re getting depends on where and what you’re fishing for.

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Flashers are a great unit for all species, they make a great starting unit and are easy to understand. Photo Credit: FishUSA

I believe they excel when it comes to panfish however. It makes it easy to see how many fish and what they are doing in regards to your bait. The settings are easy to play with to make it easy to see even the smallest of jigs. They can also be found fairly cheap at $300, making them a great starter unit.

There are however, certain situations in which I prefer a traditional sonar unit over a flasher. The two main situations I like them for are bigger game fish, such as walleyes, and then when I’m fishing around structure. I like the sonar units for walleyes because they can be extremely finicky and the sonar unit allows me to see how they reacted to different jig strokes. This way I can try to put a better plan together as to how to catch them. Sonar also allows me to easily see if there is a fish on the edge of the sonar with the bottom color change and size. This allows me to easily try to change my cadence to draw those finickier fish in.

Fishing around brush can also be a tricky deal because it’s hard to delineate what is fish and what is wood or grass. A sonar unit allows you to see changes as they happen. So, if a fish is slowly moving in, then you can see the thickness of the grass change and also change color. This just makes it so much easier than only having a small glimpse at everything, which is what a flasher offers you. You can see how the fish move by seeing their trail through the sonar, because it shows your history of what happened and what is currently happening.

Cameras can also be an extremely fun way to see what is going on and what is actually looking at your bait. There are a few scenarios in which a camera can be extremely useful. I like a camera when I am fishing around large rocks that can create a false bottom on your traditional flasher or sonar unit. A camera will allow you to see what is actually going on amongst all the rocks. It is also extremely helpful using a camera to view different types of bottom composition to find the sweet spots. This being grass lines, rock piles, etc. This can put you on the best spot in the area to put you the highest percentage area to get more bites.

Ice Fishing Basics: Final Thoughts

Overall, these are the categories of gear you should look into getting if you’re getting serious about ice fishing. It can be an extremely fun sport, but a challenging one. The gear listed will help make it so you’re only fighting the fish and not the other little things that can go wrong on any given day. 

Notice in this article I listed some specific pieces of gear but most of it I left up for interpretation. This is because a lot of the gear is up for the choice of the user. I have my favorite rods but no one I fish with uses what I use because everyone is different. It’s all about playing with what you feel comfortable with. All in all, I pray you all have a safe season and enjoy every minute of it.

How to Locate Hot Spots With Ice Fishing Electronics

Finding fish is a little like playing Clue, being a biologist, tarot card reading, and playing Craps. All of those things, plus skill. Ice fishing electronics can help. Knowing how to locate the fish when, where, and why takes a mixture of knowledge and skill.

Anglers rely on a number of ways to locate their honey hole; often a combination of old-school search methods and technology. While technology has made great advancements in a number of areas, ice fishing hasn’t really had that many advancements. Much of the tech that is available is monetarily preventative, so many still rely on the old fashioned ways.

Gus Glasgow, ANGLR Expert, tells us a little about how to use your brains and brawn, as well as technology to locate those panfish under the ice.

Meet The Simplest Way To Track Your Ice Fishing Trips

Ice Fishing Electronics: Searching Through The Ice Evolves

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“Back when I first started ice fishing we pretty much ran tip-ups. That’s pretty much all we had to go with,” Glasgow began. “Jigging existed, but the jigging rod hadn’t advanced yet.” There was no drag, no systems, no mechanics. The jigging rod basically looked like a fiberglass pole with a plastic spool on the top of it, unlike the traditional jigging rods of today, where it’s mounted on the bottom.

“It was literally a plastic spool.” A fisherman could adjust the bolt on the top to add tension to it. The 24” rods are extremely stiff with one eye on the very end. You can still pick one of these basic rods up for around five dollars.

Many use these rods now for dead-sticking.

As ice fishing evolved, fishermen began to see manufacturers shrinking their rods into what looked like a 24”-36” trout rod with several eyes. The technology slowly started to get better. “Now, we’re using 32”-34” noodle rods, which are typically fiberglass. They’re extremely flexible, ultralight, and ultra sensitive. Rod-wise, we’ve advanced ten-fold.

Ice Fishing Electronics: Kickin’ It Old School

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Without technology, there’s no clear-cut way of “locating” fish under the ice, aside from knowing their cycle and where the baitfish are hanging out. Set your tip-ups out in an area that you are pretty sure there are going to be fish. Base your decision on what you logged into your ANGLR App last season, by talking to local fishermen, asking at your bait shop, or seeing where other angers have drilled holes.

If you don’t have advanced GPS, you can drop a lead weight into the water clipped onto the end of your hook to see how deep the bottom is.

You can drill 10-20 holes out in a straight line in the center of the lake, checking thickness as you go. If you have a buddy with you, they can follow behind looking for changes with the depth checker, marking changes in depth, creek channels, and evidence of weeds coming up.

Use that information to set the depth on your tip ups. Raise the line off the bottom a foot or so, wherever you want to target, and mark the line with a small split shot so you know what depth to set your bait.

“Running tip-ups is actually sort of exciting,” shares Glasgow. “It’s pretty fun, watching one of those flags pop, and you take off running because you’ve got a bite.”

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Ice Fishing Electronics: Becoming Progressive

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The flasher has become the most common tool that you’ll see on the ice with MarCum and Vexilar being the industry leaders. While they’ve added some sensitivity and LED screens, the technology has been relatively unchanged for decades. Unfortunately, flashers don’t usually come equipped with GPS technology, with the exception of Marcum’s RT-9 package, valued at $1,700.

“In recent years, people have started using small, open water fish finders meant to be mounted on a boat, and they’re adapting them to ice fishing,” says Glasgow. “So, there are two routes you can go: you can either carry a flasher and a handheld GPS with map cards, which can be quite expensive, or you could carry a fish finder with a GPS built in.”

Many people don’t really care to use the fish finder, claiming that the flasher is more accurate, giving more instantaneous feedback. “I, myself, actually carry a Lowrance, made for a boat, that was not meant for ice fishing.”

Lugging all of that a mile or more across the ice, pushing through snow can be a drag.

“We’re always looking for something that’s going to be lightweight, easy access, and easy to store,” he says. The industry really needs a way to be able to market towards the majority of the population that can’t afford to invest in big tech. GPS technology that can look at contours, creek channels, points, humps in the lake, rock bottoms; all of those things can be shown on maps, and we use those things to find our fish throughout the seasons.

Glasgow predicts that fishing apps will begin including more and more of this, often difficult to access, information as time goes on.

A Basic Ice Fishing Setup: What to Take for Your Day on the Ice

If you’re new to the sport of ice fishing and wondering what a basic ice fishing setup looks like, you’re going to want to pay attention!

If it’s been a while since you’ve stepped foot on the ice, you’re going to want to take a peek!

ANGLR got together with Ryan Fox, one of our ANGLR Experts who has plenty of ice time under his belt, and put together the list to end all lists: exactly what you need to gather for a successful day on the ice. We’ve taken the guesswork out of your trip so you can focus on catching your share of perch and crappie.

Meet The Simplest Way To Track Your Ice Fishing Trips

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Comfort is Important

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You’re going to want to keep yourself comfortable, so some sort of popup ice shelter or tent can really come in handy. You can put a small heater inside and head in for a quick warm-up when the wind starts to blow and it gets really cold. You can even drill holes inside the tent and fish inside when the weather outside is less than ideal.

You’ll definitely need to dress warmly, and in layers.

Waterproof, insulated boots and waterproof pants or bibs are essential. Many times, you wind up kneeling on the ice, so you don’t want your knees getting wet. As for the rest of your attire, warm clothes and hand warmers are important. Often times, ice fishing turns into a friendly get together with other anglers, so you’ll want to be sure you’re comfortable when you’re not running around drilling holes. When you’re cold, there’s no possible way to have any fun.

Coffee or a warm beverage of your choice is always helpful to keep you going and warm you up from the inside. It takes a lot to set up for ice fishing, so you’ll want to plan to be there for at least a few hours, if not the whole day. I like to bring cans of soup. When I turn the heater on in the tent, I’ll place the cans on top (with the labels peeled off) so they’re nice and hot when I’m ready for them. Bring anything else you like to snack on: sandwiches, chips, or sodas.

Sunglasses are important, too. When that sun comes out and beats down on that white expanse, it can really hurt your eyes. Make sure you’re protecting them.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: A Good Sled

You’ll need a sled to haul all your good stuff out on the ice, and lucky for you, they make them specifically for ice fishing. They can be pretty big, but on average, they’re usually about five feet long by three and ½ feet wide with high sides to carry all of your gear. Many of them have built in rod holders, but if they’re not included, you can pack your rods in a five gallon bucket to keep them upright.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Ice Auger

You’ll need something to drill your holes with, and you have options. There are many choices from doing the work manually with a hand auger to gas or electric power drills. Check out our top choices for Ice Augers!

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Along the same lines, you’ll need an ice scooper to scoop out the slush that starts to build back up in your hole.

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Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Jigging Rod and Baits

There are two ways to ice fish: using a jigging rod or tip-ups. Most ice anglers find that they use a combination of the two when out on the ice. A jigging rod is essentially a fishing rod downsized to something between two and three feet long.

On my jigging rod, I like to use teardrop jigs. They’re just a small teardrop weight with a hook that comes out. They’re great for your panfish: perch, sunfish, bluegill, and crappie. There are other lures you can use, including a jigging rap.

That’s an ice fishing lure that, when you jig it, it jigs straight up through the water column.

There are fins on the side, so it glides on it’s way back down, looking like a minnow swimming around. They’re typically used for bigger game fish like bass, pike, and pickerel. I also like to use waxworms, mealworms, or spikes (another type of maggot). Small plastics can work, too.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Tip-Ups

A tip-up is a device you place over your hole with a live minnow on the end. When the fish bites the minnow and pulls the line, a flag goes up, signaling the bite. That means you can be farther away doing something else, but when you see the flag go up, you can run over to catch the fish.

You’ll be using split shot sinkers and a live bait rig with minnows on your tip-ups.

In Pennsylvania, the limit for one person is five fishing devices while you’re out. So, I’ll drill at least five holes and put up four tip-ups, and jig in the other hole. Usually, I’ll drill an extra five to six holes in different depth zones and use those holes to find the fish. Once I find what depth they’re holding in, I’ll move my tip-ups to that depth zone. I’ll set my tip-ups, then I like to jump around to other holes with my jig until either a tip-up goes off or I start catching fish with the jigs.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Map of the Water

You’ll typically want to have a map of the water with you showing you how deep the lake is. I like to look for sharp drops in the contours of the lake. Many times in the winter, you’ll see the fish set up on steep banks or sharp drops like a shoal that comes up in the lake.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Electronics

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While not necessary for beginners, many seasoned anglers will use ice fishing electronics like a fishfinder. That’s a portable sonar device with a transducer that hangs down into the hole, sending a signal down to the bottom. It reads that signal and can tell whether or not there are fish in that hole.

Once you find the fish, you can drop your bait down with the jigging rod, and see it go all the way down. You can then watch the fish come up and eat your bait. That’s how you can tell when you’ve got one, if the bites aren’t very tough and the fish aren’t acting very aggressively. At that point, it may be easier to go by sight, rather than feel, taking a lot of the guesswork out of ice fishing and often making it more enjoyable.

The ANGLR App is perfect for logging your trips and it’s easy to use.

I’ll mark my catches using my Bullseye and then go back at the end of the day and see where I’ve been on the map and where I caught fish. While you don’t cover as much water when ice fishing, if you go multiple times and in different spots, you can use the log book to see what you’ve caught in different locations and create a better game plan for your next trip.

Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Safety Gear

Always carry a length of rope that’s around 50 feet with something attached to the end of it that floats. If your partner falls through the ice, you can always throw that rope to them to help pull them out.

There are ice picks you can wear around your neck like a necklace. When you fall through, you can get to the edge of the ice and stab it to pull yourself out.

If you’re not sure whether or not the ice is safe, wear an inflatable life jacket.

Ice cleats are available to strap onto the bottom of your shoes. If there’s no snow cover on top, it makes it easier to get traction to pull the sled. You can also more easily run to your tip-ups when the flag goes up. It makes moving around on the ice easier and safer.

It doesn’t really take much to get yourself set up for a day on the ice, but by being prepared ahead of time, it’ll make your trip run smoothly and hopefully end with a full cooler!

Ice Fishing Technology: The Evolution of Ice Fishing Electronics

The world of open water fishing technology is constantly changing, yet ice fishing technology has remained relatively unchanged until recent years. ANGLR has created a device that is going to change the game for ice fishing electronics.

Ice Fishing Technology: Old School Tactics

When I was first introduced to ice fishing almost 30 years ago, we used a small 1 to 2-ounce lead weight attached to an alligator grip that we called a “depth checker” to check water depth… how about that for a technical name?  

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My uncle, Paul Glasgow, would often make his own clips out of spent 30-06 shell casings filled with lead and an alligator clip melted into the lead. We would attach the clip to a lure or hook and then drop the weight into the lake to determine the depth by measuring the length of line between the weight and the ice. I can’t tell you how many holes I drilled in the ice, going from hole to hole looking for some sort of change in depth – a rock pile, creek channel, or any random depth change – because as we all know, that’s where the fish are.  

Once we found fish, or a sudden change, we would mark our spot with stick, by piling up snow.

Meet The Simplest Way To Track Your Ice Fishing Trips

The only other option was to mark the spot by identifying a shoreline feature we could use to find our location again. For several years, this little “bullet depth checker” was the most advanced piece of technology on the ice, not just for me, but for others, as well.

Ice Fishing Technology: The Evolution to Flashers

As I got a little older and more serious about ice fishing, I was introduced to “flashers”.  One of the most popular flashers ever invented was the Vexilar FL-8. The FL-8 was first introduced in the late 1980’s and completely revolutionized the world of ice fishing.

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For the first time, ice anglers could check the depth of the water and see fish in real time.

Shortly after, others followed suit producing variations of both flashers and fish finders. The flasher has remained relatively unchanged for the last twenty years and is still one of the most commonly used electronic devices on the ice.

Ice Fishing Technology: Marking Spots

Before GPS technology, serious ice anglers who were interested in marking their fishing spots would identify markers on shore such as a tree or a telephone pole. If you were lucky, you carried a secondary GPS, often times a handheld device, or if you were crazy enough, figured out how to rig a lawnmower or snowmobile battery to your boat’s fish finder and hauled that out onto the ice.

For a short period of time, I used a handheld GPS along with a Vexilar Fl-8, until I dropped my GPS down a hole.

Within the last few years, only a few fishing electronic companies have added GPS and mapping technology to ice fish finders, but these “extras” cost anywhere from $400 to well over $1,000+ for those features. This cost doesn’t even include the cost of (multiple) map cards.

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Also, the technology is often big and bulky due to the size of battery and isn’t ideal when you’re carrying all of your ice fishing supplies. The entry of ANGLR into the ice fishing market has changed the way we look at GPS and fish mapping technology in a huge way.

Ice Fishing Technology: Changing the Game

ANGLR has invented a device called the Bullseye which is about the size of a quarter and can easily attach to your baseball cap or onto a lanyard worn around your neck. At only $29, the device has a built in battery with a two year life span that doesn’t require charging. The Bullseye pairs to your smartphone via Bluetooth technology and free ANGLR app, and is available for both iPhone and Android, free.

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To set it up, simply launch the app from your phone and hit record, then pair the Bullseye in the app and begin tracking your every move. You can then access your tracking records from an in-app map, but the Bullseye doesn’t stop there. With one simple push of the button on top of the Bullseye, you can mark a fish catch which is instantly logged to the app. Press the button two times and your GPS location is recorded to the map as an editable waypoint. At the end of the day, you review your logs and save your trip for future reference – and this is just part of what ANGLR Bullesye can do.

If you don’t want to carry a second GPS along with your fish finder, or don’t want to spend 100’s of dollars on overpriced fishing technology, ANGLR is for you. ANGLR has taken the bulkiness, the cost, and complication out of fish mapping technology. In fact, we believe in this product so much that you’ll find every single one of our WPA Hardwater staff at our 2019 tournaments using it. We’ll also be teaching our ice anglers how to utilize their ANGLR Bullseye.

Interested in the Western PA Hardwater Tournament Series?

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Sturgeon Fishing Michigan: Where to Find and Catch These Iconic Fish Through the Ice

Three years ago, success when Sturgeon fishing Michigan seemed to be nothing more than luck – growing up in the Middle of Michigan, it was a rare creature that you’d hear of people catching once or maybe twice per year.  It wasn’t until I moved to Northern Michigan and explored some of our smaller lakes, that I realized there were plenty of opportunities to target these fish.

One of the most unique initiatives that I learned about when I moved was Michigan’s effort to stock Lake Sturgeon into some of our lakes and rivers.  This stocking is very unique to Michigan because they realize the value of sport fishing for sturgeon, but also the cultural importance of these fish, which are on the endangered species list.  There are a few lakes throughout the state of Michigan which are part of these stocking efforts, including Black, Burt and Mullet Lakes in Cheboygan County, and Otsego Lake in Gaylord.

Sturgeon Fishing MichiganMichigan Sturgeon Fishing Regulations

Sport fishing for these freshwater dinosaurs does come with some regulations. The state of Michigan requires anglers targeting Lake Sturgeon to have a special Lake Sturgeon permit.  Anglers are allowed to keep one fish per season, over 50 inches. This incentivizes anglers to practice catch and release, while still offering the chance at catching a fish of a lifetime.

Another very unique opportunity in Michigan to celebrate the Lake Sturgeon is a one-day spearing season on Black Lake.  On February 2, 2019, Black Lake will be hosting their annual Sturgeon spearing season. The unique aspect of this festival is that once the 6th Sturgeon is speared, the season closes.  In 2018, the season lasted a total of 66 minutes – the largest Sturgeon of the day weighing over 79 pounds!

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These efforts, from the Sturgeon stocking to fishing and spearing regulations are critical for the promotion of conservation of these amazing fish.

Where to Target When Lake Sturgeon Fishing Michigan

The most obvious place to start when looking at where to start fishing for Lake Sturgeon is to look at the Michigan stocking efforts – Burt and Mullet Lakes, Black Lake, as well as Otsego Lake offer great opportunities to target these fish.  These lakes are now regularly stocked with Sturgeon and have populations that can offer you a real shot at catching one of these dinosaurs.

Once you’re on the lake of your choice, I like to locate “Fish Highways.”  A “fish highway,” is a high percentage area that fish will use to travel around the lake – what I look for are steep breaks where shallow water drops quickly into the main lake or river channel.  These areas of the lake offer fish easy opportunities to move from shallow to deep water depending on water conditions, but also ambush points where they don’t have to move very far to find food/baitfish.  Identified on the map below are some areas that I target along major “fish highways.”

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Main Lake Points

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Shallow Water near River Inlets

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Steep Drops near Main Lake Flats

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Gear for Targeting Lake Sturgeon

Heavy rods, 10-pound test Monofilament line, and heavy gauge hooks are the standard in Lake Sturgeon fishing.  My preferred setup is to use a 40-inch Heavy – Moderate Fast Rod. There are a couple companies that build custom rods of this length and action, but for most purposes, any 36” to 42” Medium-Heavy or Heavy power rod will work.  You want something that has enough backbone where you can fight the fish effectively, but not so stiff that you end up pulling or bending out your hooks.

The hooks that I rely on for this technique are 1/0 Gamakatsu Circle Hooks.  A circle hook helps the fish set itself when it starts to swim away with your bait, so you don’t have to set the hook hard.  You also want to fish with a relatively light drag and play the fish – typically on a circle hook, the fish is pinned well and playing them on light drag will ensure you are able to get the fish through the ice.

As far as a reel goes, I prefer a 2000 or 2500 size reel.  This is the standard size reel from most manufacturers that most of us know and love.  I pull mine off of my open water spinning rods, put it on my ice rod with some 10-pound test monofilament line and am ready to go!  The monofilament is important in ice fishing because it won’t absorb water so it won’t freeze up like braid or become brittle like fluorocarbon in the cold weather.

Sturgeon Fishing Michigan: Using Bait to Trigger Strikes 

When jigging for Lake Sturgeon, the scent is important as it is in most ice fishing situations.  I prefer to chum the area with bait – dropping a few handfuls of smelt or dead minnows down the hole help to draw in fish to the area both through smell and feeding opportunities.  Lake Sturgeon, while thought of as bottom feeders are actually aggressive predators that feed on baitfish.

I then set up two rods with the 1/0 Circle hooks to a nose hooked live Blue Minnow.  I like to nose hook the Blue Minnow because it will still be relatively lively and have a more natural action up off the bottom of the lake, making it an easy target for the fish of a lifetime!

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Sturgeon Fishing Michigan: Practice Conservation

While Lake Sturgeon fishing can result in one of the coolest fish catches of your life, I encourage you to remember that these are special creatures.  Practicing conservation and following catch and release practices allows for these fish to be around for many years to come. I recommend bringing a tape measure and a good camera get records of your fish in the case you’d like to get a replica mount!  Unless you plan to harvest the fish for your freezer, I recommend releasing it for someone else to experience as well.

Be safe on the water, and I hope that this advice helps you land the fish of a lifetime!