By Ken Poor

     Deep winter is considered the toughest time of the year to catch fish on northern lakes. The reason is, the lakes are covered with ice, water temperatures are at their lowest and fish have moved to deep water and seem to be moving in slow motion. Even though fish are deep, cold and sluggish, they still must eat to survive and eat they will if they get the right opportunity. Contrary to what many people believe, fish do not hibernate during the winter. 

The real challenge to catching fish at this time of year is locating them and that is a hit and miss proposition that is almost impossible without a good fish locator. Most of the better ice fishermen that I know will never set up on a spot until they see something promising, usually fish, on their locator. Often, they spend as much time looking around the lake for fish as they do actually fishing. At this time of year, every one of these experienced anglers would rather stay home than to go ice fishing without a good locator and I agree with them.

This nice bass was taken while ice fishing on a southeast Wisconsin lake.

     Using a locator on the ice is not difficult, just turn it on and when you see the fish, you improve your odds of catching them. In fact, when you start using electronics for ice fishing you will easily catch at least 50-percent more fish on each trip.   

     Air pockets in the ice can impact and distort the signal from your fish locator. Make sure the ice is hard and fairly clear of air pockets. Wet the ice, set your fish locators transducer on the wet spot and the locator will read right through the ice, no need to drill a hole every time you want to take a reading.

     I have found that the bottles dishwashing soap or shampoo come in to be a handy way to carry water to wet the ice with. I like the bottles with a pour spout rather than a pump. Typically, I will fill the bottle with water and a little salt before I leave the house to go ice fishing.
     In most cases if an ice fisherman can find the fish he will figure out some way to catch them and your electronics will let you see the fish through the ice. You can see how many fish are below your hole, the depth they are holding at, and how they are relating to the bottom or anything on the bottom such as weedbeds, cribs, brush piles, drop-offs or humps.

     Two schools of thought exist on the use of locators for icefishing, while some people prefer an LCD (liquid crystal display) unit, other ice fishermen like a flasher unit. The LCD is usually used by fishermen to locate structural elements on the bottom of the lake such as drop-offs, bars or weed edges. The LCD units provides a digital picture of what is on the bottom and then the fishermen will decide what type of fish will relate to the picture he is seeing.

Crappie will often suspend in deep
water. Locating them even
with a electronics is
challenging, without them almost impossible.

     Stop your jig when it is close to the fish, but just above them, and see how they react to your bait or your jigging action. Always keep in mind that fish will move up a little to take your bait, but will not see it if the bait is below

them. If fish are not taking your bait change your jigging motion, the size or color of your jig, type of bait and if that doesn’t help – move to another spot.

     Another tool that has gained in popularity with ice fishermen is the under water camera. There are a few different models on the market. The camera and screen are connected together with a cable. Simply lower the camera unit into the water and watch the display on a small television screen.

The choice for the type
of fish locator to use
when ice fishing, either
LCD or flasher,
is up to the individual.
Pictured is a flasher unit.

    Flasher units, in my opinion, are more effective for actually seeing fish and the depth they are at than defining structural elements. Large fish such as bass, northern pike, crappie or walleye show up on a flasher as a wide red band. Small fish such as minnows, shiners or young of the year are displayed as small red bands. The most popular flasher unit on the market is probably the Vexilar, but there are several other brands with similar features that are roughly in the same price range.
     With a good flasher, you can actually see your lure in the water under the ice. Ice fishing lures are small, normally less than a ¼-ounce and that should give you some indication of the sensitivity of these flasher units. Also with a flasher you can see your lure as it drops to waiting fish.

     Limitations of the underwater camera are water clarity and how many holes you can talk your fishing partner into drilling. Priced at from about $300 to $600, I’m sure all our wives will agree that an underwater camera is an important tool and that every ice fisherman should have one. And while you have her at the store looking at an underwater camera don’t forget to show her the new flasher units.