No secret that the key to catching fish through the ice is finding the fish. Finding fish often simply means drilling holes, fishing through a lot of holes and fishing outside to cover as much water as possible. Once you find fish, you can settle down into a specific area and use a portable shelter or hard sided fish house. If you are willing however to fish outside until you find fish, you will catch more fish over the course of the winter. You can simply sample so much more water and make the number of small moves so much easier. Always said that the big moves find fish and eliminate dead water but the small moves catch fish once you identify productive locations.
The elements simply work against you when you commit to spending a lot of time fishing outside. You need to be dressed to handle the conditions. You also need to choose your equipment with the conditions in mind. Besides the obvious clothing requirements to keep you comfortable, other detriments include ice on the line and compromised sensitivity.
I remember when braided line like Spider Wire first came out over twenty years ago and I remember thinking that this new line would be perfect for tip ups. I was wrong. It froze into a block and was hardly usable. Over time, other braided lines emerged like Fireline that didn’t absorb as much water and actually worked quite well on a spinning reel or baitcasting reel. Braided line began to find applications with ice fishing, particularly with lake trout fishing and fishing deep water. What I also find is that is the toughest conditions, I really like some braid like the Frost Braid in cold temperatures. Yes the braid will absorb some water and yes it will freeze quicker than mono but braid is so much easier to clean than mono. You can shred the ice off braid with a glove or mitten. You can be rougher with braid. Mono takes a lot more babysitting in extreme cold. The no stretch characteristics of braid also make distinguishing bites easier when watching the rod tip. When dealing with extreme cold outside, watching the bite is often much easier than feeling the bite. We developed the Dead Meat rod series in the Jason Mitchell line with larger eyelets specifically for fishing outside. The soft tip on this rod is made specifically for watching the bite.
Another new tool that greatly aids fishing outside in the conditions is the Ice Defense made by Cold Nation Outdoors. This unit plugs into your deep cell or lithium batter on your electronics. These units have a small motor that recirculates the water in the hole and work extremely well. I have used these units in temperatures that are as cold as twenty below and the units work flawlessly. These units have a high or low setting and will keep your hole free of ice or slush regardless of temps or wind. With less ice or slush in the hole, it is amazing how much less ice accumulates to your line. With the ice defense, you don’t have to worry about your hole freezing up, your rod and line is much more sensitive and you no longer need to skim ice from the hole.
Fishing aggressively in the elements increases the batting average considerably for finding fish and the Ice Defense helps you do just that. You can get lucky at times and land on fish with the first few holes you drill but often, catching fish is about finding fish and finding fish is the process of elimination. By fishing outside, you can learn and identify so many good areas and eliminate areas that are waste of time much more quickly. When you need to find fish, don’t hesitate to fish outside and fish aggressively. Once you find fish, you can set up a shelter and enjoy the day.
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