By Mike Frisch

The thermometer reads 8-degrees as I write this article in mid-November, meaning we will have safe ice very, very soon and that also means an early start to the ice fishing season!  In fact, I anticipate being on the ice by December 1, barring some big change in weather patterns.  Here is a look at some ideas that I will keep in mind for my initial trips on the ice. 

Be quiet

Early ice is often clear, not very thick, and maybe devoid of snow cover.  Those factors mean that a quiet approach is necessary to avoid spooking fish.   Particularly if you chase shallow water fish. 

Early ice walleyes get most of my attention at this time and I usually prefer fishing the “golden hour,” that last hour before darkness when walleyes get active on lots of lakes.  I like to get to my fishing spot well before the bite is expected so that I can drill holes, get lines set, and have all me geared organized.  My goal is to be ready and quiet when those hungry early winter walleyes start to get active!

Be aggressive

Getting to a fishing spot and setting up early and then being quiet are important tips.  When the fishing starts, I do like to be active with my fishing approach and that means using aggressive jigging tactics.

Mid-winter can be a great time for soaking a minnow under a bobber and waiting for lethargic fish to show some interest and hopefully eat that minnow.  Now, however, I like to capitalize on a fish’s desire to eat in anticipation of the coming long winter and do that by using aggressively-fished jigging spoons to “call in” fish and trigger reactionary bites from them.

My approach starts by snapping the jigging spoon up (and allowing it to fall) aggressively several times.  When a fish appears on my sonar unit, a slower shaking of the spoon and even a pause is then used to attempt to trigger the bite.  If that fish is caught or moves off, it’s back to aggressive snaps in an effort to interest another fish.

See what’s up!

A more accurate way to state this tip would be to “see what’s below!”  Seeing bottom, my bait, and any fish that come near it using a winter sonar unit is what’s being recommended here. 

Knowing wherein the water column the fish are in relation to my bait and how they are reacting to my various jigging movements helps me “trick” fish into biting.  This is one of the parts of ice fishing that I find most enjoyable and also vital to success! 

With the aid of winter sonar, I can determine if my bait needs to be raised or lowered and I can gauge the mood of the fish and what jigging techniques are working the best that day.  The FLX-20 sonar I use has all the features I need, does a great job of showing me what’s below, and is really easy to use and interpret as well.

Ice fishing season is very near.  If “seeing” and catching fish soon is on your agenda, consider using the tips offered here when heading out for your first ice trips.  And, as always, remember to include a youngster in your fishing and other outdoor adventures!

Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series and is a co-founder of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s School of Fish.  Visit fishingthemidwest.com to see more from Mike and Fishing the Midwest.

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