When faced with new, ice-covered lakes (and no waypoints from friends in the know) a dilemma quickly follows. Where should you drill your holes? I checked in with Dave Genz and a few other Ice Team pros on how they break down the layout of a lake and make decisions on where to target the most productive fishing spots—and what to do when things slow down.
“It’s amazing, but the easiest thing to look for is the north to northwest sides of any bay, lake, or inlet,” said Genz. “The difference in the water temperature might be as much as two or three degrees from the southern angle of the sun. The fish will find the warmest water they can, so that’s what I do, too.” Genz showed a map (reproduced below) with 39-degree water (obviously below the ice) in the north and northwest sides of the lake and 38-, 37- and 36-degree water in the east and southeast sides.
Early in the season, Genz recommends seeking out green weeds. “If the weed line in the lake is eight feet or less, the fish won’t be in the weeds—they will be in the depressions. If the weed line is 10 feet or more, the fish will seek out the greenest weeds.”
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As the water temperatures drop, Genz moves to deeper water. Water is the heaviest at 39 degrees and the fish move into a hibernating state and are not feeding as hard.
“I like to bang the bottom and stir things up,” said “Guy” Jon Sibley of Ironwood, Michigan, Ice Team Pro Staff angler. Sibley is often in pursuit of big “teeter pigs” (large perch) on Lake Gogebic. Another suggestion is to size down (or up) when things get tough to change the look and feel. Otherwise, find rock piles and edges with the historical spoon with a treble hook for a go-to presentation.
Return to the shallows in late ice. Scour the narrows, hit the flats with sticky bottoms holding mayfly larvae, or tuck in around the weed edges or gaps in the weeds. When the going gets tough, Jason Mitchell of Devils Lake, North Dakota spends more time where his experience says the fish will be.
“Fish patiently and methodically,” suggests Mitchell. “It’s more about time in the water and not moving around.”
Don’t forget to utilize a dead stick if regulations allow it.
“I’m a big fan of just sit and wait—and employing the use of a dead stick,” said Guy Sibley.
Barb Carey, Ice Team Pro Staffer and founder of WI Women Fish, agrees with the value of a dead stick. “When using a dead stick I also like to use my second stick aggressively moving to draw them in.”
Mitchell likes to dangle a treble hook below his jig. “I don’t know why, but that treble hook added really makes a big difference,” said Mitchell. Carey’s tip is to hook two minnows in opposite direction so they swim in a circle. “It creates really good movement and that often generates hits.”
Armed with good information from several Ice Team Pro Staff anglers, we can all be more prepared to find the right spots and make fine-tuning adjustments throughout the season. The important thing is to get out and have fun. Take someone who hasn’t had a chance to ice fish—especially women and children. That might mean extra work in preparation and teaching for new ice anglers, like how to use a Vexilar, but it can be well worth it when new folks have a chance to experience the fun of pulling fish up through the ice. “There’s only one thing I like more than catching fish,” shared Barb Carey. “That’s helping others catch fish. I like it even better.”
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.