Outdoors column: It’s time to get on the ice

by Jeff Weaver
Contributing columnist

With the holidays now behind us and the ice on most lakes starting to actually be user friendly, now is the time to get out and try some of the new gear Santa left for you under the tree. Portable shelters, battery powered augers, a hand-held GPS and cameras which will fit into the palm of your hand have made the ability for any well-equipped angler to be mobile, compact and effective.

Being portable with good equipment will help you put more fish on the ice. Submitted photo
Being portable with good equipment will help you put more fish on the ice. Submitted photo

One of the most expensive, but not absolutely necessary items is your mode of transportation across the lake to your spot. Hoofing it by foot across the lake is still a much used option by many anglers, but a chained up four-wheeler, or a snowmobile make getting to the spot effortless.

Put on mounting brackets which will hold a GPS close to the handle bars of either a snowmobile or four-wheeler and your ability to navigate to your favorite honey hole is effortless.

What’s even more amazing is to enter a fishy looking weigh-point and letting your GPS guide you to a potential new hot spot. Mounting brackets are also available for either snowmobile or four-wheeler to hold your ice auger.

Choice of auger type is an angler’s choice.

I have a gas-powered auger, but I can see the advantages that one of the new high-tech electric augers may have. No gas to drip on your winter gear and you don’t have to depend on an engine starting. The other side of the coin with an electric auger is, how long will a battery charge last in cold weather and how much power will be there for cutting ice that can reach depths of three feet late into the winter.

Whatever you choice or preference, there are both pros and cons to each different style of auger.

Another favorite gift many anglers may have received under the tree is a portable depth/fish finder.

Marcum electronics or Vexilar are the most common portable depth finders you will find on the ice today. Both units have the ability to mark or identify fish which may be suspended in the water column, or hugging the bottom, which is common with the walleye or perch. Other features allow you to zoom in on specific ranges within the depths you may be fishing for even more accuracy.

Even if you are the best equipped angler on the lake, it by no means guarantees that you are going to be able to put some fish, whether it panfish or walleye, northern or perch, on the ice.

It gives you the tools necessary in the tool box to help and aid you in catching more fish.

This is where the individual angler’s fish locating skills are put to the test.

I like to keep it simple when looking for fish.

Structure, such as a weedline, gravel or rocky point, or an inside turn with green weeds are the top three.

Other key areas to search for fish activity maybe a slight depression with some green weeds on a mid-lake flat, or even a clam bed next to a shoreline drop.

In the winter time, especially first ice, I like to key on the areas of the lake which held good concentrations of fish during the late fall bite. These areas usually have a steeper, or more pronounced break-lines, or drop-offs. It’s not uncommon to have one hole of your house two or three feet deeper in depth than a hole that is only six feet away.

The next and probably the most important ingredient to success is quality bait.

If you are a serious walleye fisherman and you like to watch a cork, buy the best shiners you can find. If you are a jig fisherman, make sure the fatheads you are using are fresh and full of life.

Even if you are using just tails or heads, I want the best bait money can buy.

If panfish are your target, don’t buy meal worms or waxies that are dark and dying.

Make sure your bait is fresh. I am always dismayed when I see anglers who have the best of the best vehicles, fish houses and equipment that money can buy, scrimp to save a buck when it comes to bait. Don’t buy the most, just the best.

Winter ice fishing in Minnesota is one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities to do. With a wide variety of options for destinations on lakes throughout the state and the relative ease of access to these lakes, there are endless opportunities that we as adults should try to share with kids as often as possible.

So, with a New Year upon us, take advantage of the wide variety of portable equipment which is quite affordable and have fun putting some fish on the ice this winter season.

Jeff Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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