Ice Fishing Techniques

2 January 2012 For The Angler

Learning how to catch fish through the ice is easy. Here are the top ice fishing strategies for catching perch, crappie, walleyes, whitefish, pike and trout.

Beginners only need to know a few of these top ice fishing techniques and tactics to ice fish like a pro.

Ice Fishing Techniques and Strategies

The first thing you need to do is get the required ice fishing equipment. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the basic gear is very affordable and can produce a lot of fish.

To get information on all the equipment, including tip-ups, lures, baits and clothing you need for ice fishing, go to the Ice Fishing Equipment Tips page.

Best Places to Find Fish When Ice Fishing

Catching fish in the winter requires an understanding of the lake you are going to fish on. Generally, the fish will be located near submerged structures, islands and drop-offs. In fact, if you know where to find the fish during the summer, odds are they will be in the same area during the winter. You just have to determine if the fish are near the bottom or suspended in the water column.

One sure way to tell where there might be fish is to look for a large group of fishing huts. Don’t be shy about approaching other anglers and asking for tips or advice. For some reason, fishermen tend to be more forthcoming with information during the ice fishing season.

Early winter conditions tend to produce fish closer to shore. As the winter progresses the fish move into deeper water. As spring approaches, they will begin to migrate back into shallower water.

How to Ice Fish for Jumbo Perch

Ice fishing for jumbo perch is very popular and rewarding, especially when you find a large school of them.
Begin by fishing shallow water near the shore. If you don’t get any action in the first 15 to 20 minutes move further out until you are in an area with 20 to 30 feet of water.
Present your ice-fishing jigs, spoons or bait at 4 to 6 inches off the bottom. Perch often bite very softly in the winter so it is best to use 4 pound line unless you are in an area where larger fish are likely to compete with the perch for the bait.
If you are lucky enough to find a school of aggressive perch, they will hit just about anything you offer them.

How to Ice Fish for Crappies

Ice fishing for crappies is the favourite winter pastime for many anglers.

Crappies are found in schools so once you catch one, you are likely to fill your limit. As with fishing for crappies in the summer the biggest challenge is actually locating them. Try your favourite spots first, then move around working different locations. Present the bait all the way up the water column starting at the bottom and slowly moving your bait right up to within a few feet of the ice. Once you find the fish, continue to target the same depth until you get your limit or the fish move on.

Crappies are very soft biting fish so ultra-light gear is usually the most effective. Using line as light as 2 pounds is common when ice fishing exclusively for crappies.

Small jigs presented in a quick jerk and drop technique will often entice reluctant fish to bite.

How to Ice Fish for Walleye (Pickerel)

Ice fishing for walleye or pickerel can produce a wonderful mid-winter meal.

Walleyes are almost always found near the bottom and in the same locations that you will find them throughout the rest of the year. Underwater structure is the key whether it is reefs, submerged islands or sharp drop-offs.

Ice fishing jigs and spoons that are worked near the bottom will often produce a lot of fish. As with the summer jigging technique, jerk the bait up and let it settle to a stop just off the bottom. Wait a few seconds and repeat the motion.

Start by presenting the bait at about 4 inches from the bottom and slowly move the bait higher. Walleye may be sitting as much as 12 to 16 inches off the bottom depending on the conditions. Also vary the time between jerks until you start to produce fish and stick with the technique and depth once the fish become active.

Sometimes winter walleyes are caught in the middle of the water column near structure or drop-offs.

Video Tutorial – Quick way to fillet a walleye

How to Ice Fish for Whitefish

Ice fishing for whitefish is very popular because it is the easiest time of the year to catch these delicious bottom feeders.

Whitefish tend to be more active in the morning during the winter. Whether using live bait, jigs or a combination of the two, it is important to present the bait about 8 inches off the bottom. If the fish are reluctant to take the bait, try dropping down to the bottom to stir up a bit of sediment and then bring the bait slowly back up 4 to 6 inches and let it sit for a few minutes.

How to Ice Fish for Northern Pike

Ice fishing for big pike is very popular because few things match the adrenalin and excitement you can get from pulling a 40 inch fish up through a hole in the ice.

Pike are normally caught using a tip-up rigged with a hook and a big live minnow. It is simple but effective. As in the summer, the pike tend to follow their food and are often located near structure, along drop-offs and between islands. In the winter they can be caught at almost any depth. Start by presenting the minnow, spoon or jig within two feet of the hole, and gradually work your way to the bottom. Remember to use heavier line and a wire leader.

Big pike are also often caught by accident when ice fishing for perch or walleyes. The pike either hit the smaller jigs, or pound a perch or walleye that is being brought to the surface.

Special Note:
If you are ice fishing for perch or walleye in an area that contains large pike, it is a good idea to use some heavier gear in case a big northern pike comes along to sample your offering.

Ice Fishing Techniques for Trout

How to Ice Fish For Rainbow Trout

Ice fishing for rainbow trout is usually most productive in shallower water in protected bays. Popular bait includes salmon eggs or trout eggs, or jigs tipped with worms, grubs or maggots.

Look for areas with 10 feet of water or less and start by presenting the bait about a foot below the ice. Slowly work the bait deeper until you get a bite. Don’t be afraid to drill holes in areas as shallow as five or six feet of water.

How to Ice Fish for Lake Trout

Ice fishing for lake trout is done in the same locations that you find them during the rest of the year. While they are known to prefer deeper water, the winter tends to produce lake trout at a full range of depths.

Spoons and jigs tipped with a minnow or a dead cisco tend to produce good fish. To determine the best depth you have to experiment a bit. Start jigging near the bottom of the lake and slowly work your way up. Make adjustments of five to eight feet, and work each depth for 10 or 15 minutes. Once you get a hit, continue to fish the same range.

Ice Fishing Book

Go to the Reading The Ice page to learn about safe and dangerous ice conditions.

Go to the Ice Fishing Clothing and Safety Gear page for tips on the best way to stay warm and safe out on the ice.

The Great Ice Fishing Gadgets page highlights the hi-tech gear that advanced ice anglers use to find and catch fish all winter.