By Ken Poor

     Icefishing season provides a great opportunity to study our local lakes and rivers. Every winter I spend a lot of time on the ice with my lake maps and a fish locator collecting lake data for my personal use. What started out as nothing more than an effort to locate fish to catch while icefishing quickly became the database that I use during the open-water fishing season. 

     While studying our local lakes I also developed an effective strategy for icefishing that anyone can use. The key points of the strategy are very simple – never set up on a spot without a reason, avoid the crowds and if the fish stop biting for ten minutes, move to another location.

     Aside from your rods, reels, jigs and other normal ice fishing equipment, you will need a good auger with sharp blades, lake contour map, fish locator and whenever possible a fishing partner to share the work of drilling holes or dragging around equipment. A power auger is great when you need to drill lots of holes, but you can make do with a manual auger.

Ice fishing equipment, you will need includes good auger with sharp blades, lake contour map, fish locator and whenever possible a fishing partner to share the work of drilling holes.

     Under most conditions portable fish locators will read through the ice without drilling a hole. Occasionally there will be a lot of air or cracks in the ice that can distort the signal from your locator. If you find this condition you may have to drill holes to get an accurate reading. Normally squirting a little water on the ice will adequately couple your transducer to the ice well enough to get a good reading.

     Currently there are several good portable models on the market including the Vexilar FL-8 ice combo, Humminbird LCR 400 portable or the Zercom Colorpoint. The Vexilar and Zercom are both flashers and once you learn the colors it is more like playing a video game than fishing. The Humminbird LCR is more practical for locating structure or submerged cover and is also a good portable unit that can be used for open water fishing.

     Lake contour maps are available from a number of different sporting goods stores Dave’s Bait Tackle & Taxidermy (815) 455-2040 in Crystal Lake Illinois, and Fishing Hotspots Maps (715) 369-5555. Most map sources are available on the internet, but I prefer a visit to the store and the opportunity to check out other merchandise, you never know what you might find.

     The importance of using a lake contour map and taking good notes cannot be over emphasized. Make a paper copy of your lake map, put the copy in a three ring binder and use it to take notes or record what you see on your locator each time you fish the lake.

     On a typical ice fishing trip to a lake I am not very familiar with, it is not uncommon to spend about half my time on the ice just looking for fish. Often times I get so involved with looking around a lake with the map and fish locator, it would be easier to leave my fishing equipment at home. The problem is I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the great fishing opportunities I find.

     When fish are inactive and are holding with their bellies touching bottom even the best fish locator and map cannot find them. For the ice fishermen this simply means that you will have to identify a credible reason to fish an area even though you are not seeing fish on your locator. Some reasons to fish an area include combinations of cover, weed edges, cribs or brush piles, current restrictions or bottom composition transitions.

     If you catch fish ask yourself, why did I catch fish here – why not over there, or somewhere else? Is it a change in bottom composition, a drop-off, pile of rocks, weed edge, cribs, are bait fish holding in the area? What are the fish relating to and what is holding them in this spot?

     The next step is to try and duplicate your successes. When you catch fish, use your map to identify identical spots and then fish them to see if they also hold fish. Often times fish will relate to similar depths, types of cover or water temperatures and if you find the pattern the fishing can be fantastic.

     With a little experience you will soon be able to answer the question everyone wants to know – where is the action? Certainly, learning to use a lake map and a fish locator on the ice is a giant step in the right direction. Instead of waiting for the fish to come to you or following the crowd, you can move around the lake and make your own action. At the same time, you will be improving your skills with a fish locator and collecting valuable data you will be able to use any time of the year.