When Winter Settles In – Post First Ice

February 9, 2009 by  

By the Ice Team

 

When first ice is over and the heart of winter sets in, search for key contact points to find fish

When first ice is over and the heart of winter sets in, search for key contact points to find fish

In a perfect world, you drill one hole and can’t get the bait down there fast enough. Every time it gets anywhere near the fish zone, big fish race each other to grab it. You don’t even have time to talk to your friend, who is right next to you pulling up fish after fish, each bigger than the last. When you finally do talk, it’s about the TV show you’re going to start.

“It’s possible that could happen,” says Brian ‘Bro’ Brosdahl, who laughs and shakes his head as if to imitate waking up from this dream. “But guess what kind of world we all live in?” Bro’s world is all about ice fishing. He guides other ice anglers, when he’s not traveling across the northern states and Canada spreading the word about modern ice fishing methods on behalf of Clam and Ice Team. He doesn’t have to force himself to face reality, because he faces it pretty much daily.

Late Winter Reality

“If you find a massive school,” says Bro, “it can be a one-hole drill. But on most lakes, in order to have any hope of that, you have to find key contact points, places where fish are constantly moving through.” We get out a stack of lake maps, and he points out “hourglass” shaped structural elements, places that funnel fish movements. “That kind of spot, if it has the right complimentary ingredients like cover and nearby deep water basins,” says Bro, “is hard to beat. “But on most bodies of water, there are going to be people there ice fishing. You’re not the only one who sees that on the map. Those spots are usually famous, so now you have to pick through what’s left, and you’re back to hunting for aggressive fish.”

In almost every situation, Bro says that a day of ice fishing during the middle to latter stages of winter involves moving, moving, moving. “You’re cutting holes in zigzag patterns,” he says, “and showing your bait to as many fish as possible. On most lakes, you’re looking for mid-depth flats around deep water, and you’re dealing with pods of fish, not giant schools.

“With pods of fish, you’re running and gunning. And even after you find good fish and have a couple good days, now you’ve caught the aggressive ones (out of that area) and it’s time to move again.”

So, as much as Bro enjoys a good heater and the confines of a shelter, “this time of year, I fish outside 90 percent of the time. There are only so many fish, and moving around gets you onto the next active fish.”

Finding Key Spots

After all these years, Bro knows that it’s common for a few holes to produce most of the action over the course of a day of ice fishing. But it usually takes time and effort to pinpoint those spots. “You’re looking for contact points,” he says. “It’s not enough to find the weeds. You’re looking for openings in the weeds, the places where the fish enter and exit. If you can drill a hole over a contact point, more fish will see your bait.”

Using electronics will save A LOT of time and take the guesswork out of your ice fishing

Using electronics will save A LOT of time and take the guesswork out of your ice fishing

Even with GPS coordinates punched in, key contact points can be tough to pin down. As winter wears on, for example, certain patches of weeds tend to wear well, while others die and lay down. Whether a spot features weeds or not, fish ‘traffic patterns’ can shift with relative abundance of food in a general area, and in response to activity levels. If a good bite is discovered, the commotion of anglers coming and going, and drilling holes, can move the fish off. Weather is a huge factor, too, just as it is at other seasons.

“Consistent weather is a big-time thing,” says Bro. “If you get two days in a row that are about the same, you can start to pattern the bite. Three days in a row, it’s time to go. The third day is always a trophy producer for me. Fourth day, you say hooray.” Bro makes careful note of the weather patterns, and when things are shifting constantly, one front after another, he knows his work is cut out for him. “You can still catch fish,” he stresses, “but when things are unsettled it takes more work.

“Because I’m moving all the time, and drilling a lot of holes, I depend on breakfast and the right clothes to keep me comfortable out there. I couldn’t fish this way without the blue suit (a specialized ice fishing suit, called Ice Armor), and those new waterproof gloves. I’m constantly on my knees or sitting in the snow, and I never get wet. Wetness equals cold, even on a fairly warm day.”

Bro moves and drills with a purpose, constantly in search of key contact points.

What constitutes a contact point?

“Look for two deeper basins with a gradual taper between them,” says Bro. “When they move back and forth, they’ll pass through that funnel, and it’s easier to sit in that area and contact fish. “If a lake has good weeds, I look for where you have a massive weed bed, then sparseness, then another massive weed bed. The area between the two big weed beds is where they will move back and forth. Spend time on key edges in that travel zone.”

Even key spots become better at key times. Bro stresses that you stand a better chance at early morning or around sunset if you choose to set up over a key contact point and wait the fish out. In the middle of the day, you are usually better off remaining on the move yourself because fish are typically not moving as much. Sometimes, it’s not structural elements but drifting food sources, or perhaps water clarity, or maybe temperature, that influence fish location. If you fish what should be key contact points and come up empty, consider the value of elbow grease if you still believe the lake holds good fish.

“Sometimes, you just have to take off down the lake drilling holes and see what you find,” says Bro. “It’s amazing what you come up with. You find humps that don’t show up on the map, and you find fish that nobody else has found.”

That is, if you stick with it, even after winter settles in.

Article provided by the Ice Team.


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