Early Season Ice Techniques

by: Mark Martin

At first glance, ice fishing seems the most basic of sports:spud, bucket, an archaic tip-up or two and you're ready to go. Sure, the simple setup will work, but with refined tackle, smartly designed lures and a little technology on your side, the odds tilt way into your favor. In addition to the improved odds, you've also got increased comfort and convenience.

The trick is to couple the right gear with the right technique. Once you're outfitted with the accessories, you have to put a lure in the fish's face with the proper bait and a suitable amount of wiggle:too much wiggle and you'll send perch and walleyes packing. I've seen it happen on an underwater camera. Don't let it happen to you by listening to what I've learned through decades on the ice. It's just that the sport is a whole lot more comfortable and evolved now than it was back then.

All the Accessories
Nowadays you can burn through the ice in nothing flat, feel fish touch a lure down deep, and show them a lure that glows all day or night long. I don't know about you, but I sure welcome the advancements. When gearing up for ice fishing, consider the following products to make life easier, more comfortable, even safer:

Burn holes through the ice? You bet. There's nothing quicker than the augers from Strike Master. An excellent unit s the Lazer Mag Ultra, with its two-horsepower, two-cycle engine. In the line of hand augers, you could also check out the hand units that have stainless-steel blades that stay sharp for seasons, not weeks, of drilling. Also from Strike Master are heaters for ice shanties that kick off the BTUs, ice picks that help one climb out of the drink if you crack the surface, and jaw spreaders that pry open a pike's toothy maw. Extra sensitivity is the deal with Berkley's new FireLine Micro Ice and a set of nice little ice rods. While I've always liked regular FireLine for deep-water jigging, Micro is more supple and manageable in the deep freeze. Meanwhile, Berkley has worked with iceman Dave Genz to create Signature Ice
Rods that offer even flex and improved sensitivity. Plus, the guides are the right size to prevent against undue freezing. The rods come in a range of actions from light to medium heavy.

While you're at it, look into the new spinning reels from Mitchell. The smooth, durable Mitchell 300X, with its five ball bearings, is about right for jigging for walleyes. It's a great bone, too, for the rest of the year. Since storage is something of an issue when ice fishing;heck, in open water my boat is one big tackle box - it pays to keep compact with some small tackle boxes you can put in a pocket. My favorites are the Stow Aways from Plano. You not only can see through the clear plastic boxes to know what's in there, but you also can store all kinds of stuff in them and in your coat.

The eight-inch-long 3455-00, for instance, can be rigged with dividers for up to 12 compartments. It's perfect for keeping a whole assortment of jigs under control. More on lures in a moments

Perch, Walleye and Gentle Jigging
Even though I'm a professional walleye fisherman, I have a fondness in winter for the eyeball's smaller cousin, the perch. The action can be fast, and the eating is always excellent.

The most helpful piece of equipment I've used in the last few years is my Aqua-VU. I've learned more about fish behavior with the underwater camera in a couple of seasons than I did in many a moon. With perch, I've noticed that they like cover of some kind and changes in bottom composition. That's where I spot most of them. Look for scattered weeds, rock piles and where sand and marl meet. It's funny how perch move like deer, scooting from piece of cover to piece of cover-say, from a rock to a weed or a stick, stopping at each item. Which, of course, is why you want to be in the proper vicinity.

Beyond that, I've watched perch on the camera long enough to know what jigging retrieve they like best. Most productive for me is to wiggle the jig and then let it lie on bottom or a fraction of an inch above it. That's when they suck it in best. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, perch often suspend four to six feet off bottom. You might find they hit a jig on the way down,that's a good signal. You will, however, leave nothing to guess with a Aqua-Vu. With it, you can prospect for levitated perch as the lens drops to the bottom.

Some excellent perch jigs are made by Northland Tackle, and they can be made even more productive by baiting up right. I like subtle jigs like the Creep Worm, whose Super-Glo colors never stop glowing and buglike eyes rattle. Another excellent one is the Ghost Grub. New for 2002 are tiny Forage Minnow Spoons with single or treble hooks and holographic finishes. 

Also of note are holographic Forage Minnow Small Fry Jigs, with jig bodies that look more like horizontal spoons. And don't miss out on even more Super-Glo colors that are rechargeable with a new Glo-Buster Lure Light - it looks like a pocket flashlight put on your keychain and squeeze when you¹re hoping to get your key in the door‹that zaps glow jigs for long spells of illumination. Where it's legal, I like to use a perch eye for bait and cover the point of the hook with a waxworm.

For some reason, perch can't seem to tolerate the hook point showing. Walleyes, on the other hand, don't mind hook points but they, too, are triggered more by a gentle wiggle than an aggressive rip. When I'm working Jigging Rapalas or spoons like Blue Fox's Tinglers (an excellent lure that comes in 3/16 ounce, 3/8 ounce and seven colors), I've seen on the Vista Cam that walleyes might rush in after you give the bait a big rip. Do it again, though, and they take off. Try a gentle rhythm within three to four inches of bottom.

When I'm prospecting for walleyes, I have a twin-pronged locational strategy. While I set up on classic structures such as the tips of points, the edges of weeds and the tops of rock bars, I search for more subtle things as well. I'm always on the lookout for changes in bottom maybe hard to soft bottom or a patch of clams surrounded by mud. And I get out beyond the structure above the lake's basin with the Strike Master and turn the surface to Swiss cheese. Then I go from hole to hole over deeper water up to 40 feet, looking for walleyes that are hanging in the basin adjacent to structure.Between my equipment and my gentle-jigging motions I've learned so much about via my Vista Cam, I've taken my ice fishing into the 22nd century. You can, too, if you combine the ability to punch holes with a Strike Master and to see fish with a Vista Cam with what you learn while watching it. I don't know about you, but I'll take what we have today over a spud and primitive tip-ups. Times are changing, and they're just way too productive to go back in time.


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