The problem with ice fishing, in many cases, is that people let themselves get bored, or cold, or discouraged. That doesn't have to be the case. It's a matter of being willing to change and try something new.
If I haven't had any action in 15 minutes, I move! Drill a few more holes. It'll keep you warm. Remember kids have short attention spans (so do most adults) and if the fish aren't hitting or the weather is too cold or windy it's no fun at all being on the ice. Keep it short and sweet and your youngster will be much more likely to get excited about the next trip.
Two of the most revolutionary devices for ice fishing are the hand held GPS and the portable depthfinder. Without these ice angling would still be locked in the last 1,000 years.
Today, when a hot spot is located, the location can easily be electronically saved as a waypoint on a hand held GPS, ensuring swift, efficient guaranteed returns with just the press of the button. If only I had one these when I was a kid. The frustrating times trying to find that white house and the dead tree when in actuality the house was painted a different color and the dead tree fell in the high wind last summer. GPS would have helped my dad and me locate those roving schools of walleyes next to that favorite dropoff.
I have good luck locating fish holding structure through the ice using my Bottomline Fishing Buddy. By making use of the zoom feature, I can identify fish that are holding very tight to the structure being checked. By simply wetting the ice and placing the transducer on the wet spot, I can examine the bottom make-up before drilling my holes. This saves me both time and work.
The key to ice fishing, as it is in any fishing, is location. For walleye and other gamefish, try long tapering points; inside channel turns; rock humps, neck downs, and structure near spring spawning areas. Use the depthfinder to spot fish. I prefer my Bottomline 1200 Fishing Buddy. You can get an the additional ice bracket, but I use it right through the ice because it will rest on the surface of the ice and it has the sidefinding capabilities as well as straight down. Try submerged brush piles and blowdowns for crappie and bluegill. Watch the screen. You can actually see fish appear on a graph. Sensitive depthfinders track your lure so you can put it right in the fishís face. I have actually seen a mark appear on the sonar screen while reeling in a lure. A pause, and the mark moved closer to the bait. A twitch of the wrist brought a powerful strike. A heart-racing fight put a nice eight pound walleye on the ice. The same situation can be used for panfish.
The warmest innovation that has helped the ice angler stay on the ice longer, which enables them to catch more fish, is the portable ice shanty. A good, lightweight, portable ice shanty can provide a lot of added comfort. A propane lantern is enough to warm the interior. These structures come with names such as the Clam, and the Fish Trap. The important thing is that they allow you to take others out on the ice and yet be mobile. One thing that many modern ice fisherman want to do is to move from location to location. Sure, the carpeted ice shack with the bunkbeds is nice, but not as portable as the modern ice angler needs.
Weather is just as much a factor as it is in the summer time. When a storm is hitting the surface of the frozen lake the fish will turn off and usually will go through a "cold front" condition after the storm stops. The walleye likes to feed during stable weather and if you are planning that early ice-time walleye trip check the weather before and during your stay. Sometimes the approach of a winter storm will trigger a feeding frenzy because of the advance of low light conditions.
Regardless of the type of lake you fish, your choice in baits is also critical. Use larger baits under stable weather conditions. For walleye and pike, donítí hesitate to use the largest shiners you can get. If you are jigging, also use larger spoons. After a front, downsize your minnow. Many nice walleye have been taken on small crappie minnows under adverse conditions. Panfish can become finicky after a weather change, so, again, down size your bait.
Jigging iced walleyes is the most deadly method of all, if done properly. Proper size, color selection and action all come into play. Early season fishing I like to use a Jigging Rapala in chartreuse or silver and black and this past year I really liked using the rainbow trout color. I also spend a little extra time and put on the next size bigger treble hook. This additional size hook allows me to put the head of a fathead minnow on and still have plenty of play in the hook to jig a natural action and increase hookups with additional space between the shank and the barb of the hook.
It is a good idea to keep your jigging action down to a minimum. But, you also have to respond to the mood of the fish. If I find that the fish prefer to have a tempting morsel just quiver in front of their face then I will do that. Other times the fish might be attracted to the jig slamming into the sand and making a "poofing action" that stirs up the floor of the lake. Always remember these walleyes want an easy meal.
By far the best winter angling on Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Rainy, Leech and countless other Minnesota lakes occurs from first ice through mid to late January. Just like summer seasons, some winter seasons produce faster action than others. Usually the fall is a predictor of what might come in the winter. And of course the winter action might also predict the summer bite.
If you are interested in finding out more about ice fishing the simple way contact me on the web at www.walleye.info. Hope to see you on the ice soon!