The "System" is the foundation for ice fishing success!
Ice fishing success is hanging out there for anyone who wants to grab it. A new ice angler coming into the sport who gets all the right tools, and learns the right approach, can pass up ice fishermen with years of experience, who haven't upgraded their equipment and way of thinking. It becomes clearer to Dave every year that a lot of people hang onto their old traditions, like using their grandpa's wooden jigging stick and sitting over one hole, smack in the middle of a crowd, because at sunrise or sunset they catch fish. The fish are active at that these magical times, you will catch them if they can find your bait, no matter how crude your equipment is. But to catch fish that you find by striking off on your own, in the middle of the day, you need to learn the “System”. Even if you own no decent ice fishing equipment right now, it's amazing how small the investment is to get you better equipped. You can get the right rods, reels, line, lures, shelter, auger, depthfinder, and clothing for much less than the comparable gear you need to fish during the open-water months. We’ve learned more in the last 40 years about what it takes to make fish bite through the ice than was ever known. But it took improvement to equipment to let us make the discoveries, no question about that. If you really want to catch more fish this winter, gear up with the best stuff available to us. Having the right equipment will make immediate change in your “luck”, the first key to the “System”.
You need a electronic depthfinder
You need a depthfinder, rigged for fishing through the ice, to get the most out of the sport. In Dave’s opinion, you simply can't fish the way you have to without one. Without sonar, how do you know when a fish comes swimming up to your bait? How do you know when to start changing things up with your presentation? How do you know how the fish reacted to how you were jigging, so you can try something different the next time a fish comes up to your bait? A depthfinder becomes your underwater eyes in the winter...in fact, because you're stationary, a good depthfinder makes ice fishing even more fun than open-water fishing.
For his money, the FLX-30 by Vexilar is the best sonar to get. It's a flasher that gives you instant feedback as a fish reacts to your presentation... something you can't duplicate with a liquid crystal. The features found in the FLX-30 read like the wish list of avid ice anglers starting with digital depth, Auto Range, Two zoom zones, battery status, FIVE color palettes to select from for maximum visibility, five foot depth range adjustments starting at 10 feet, Maximum range of 300, Day and Night display brightness settings, Low power options for fishing in super shallow water, a unique Weed Mode for better performance while fishing in weeds. And to top it all off, the unit even has its own Demo mode so you can show non-Vexilar fans how the system works with a lifelike fish catching simulation to watch.
You need to drill holes easily
Dave compares drilling holes in the lake in the winter to making casts in a lake in the summer, the larger the area you cover the better chance of finding the right spot. A good auger takes the work out of the process and give you more time catching fish
Drilling holes through the ice can be a very simple process. Buying a gas, electric, or hand model depends on how thick the ice gets in your area. If the ice seldom gets thicker than a foot where you fish, a hand auger or a portable drill auger will handle anything you need to do. Dave personally uses the K-Drill Ice Auger System attached to a Clam Ice Auger Conversion Kit with a K-Drill Adapter.
Fishing a Hole, How Long!
As a modern ice angler who is searching for fish at midday, you should take a personal pledge to fish in each new hole for no more than 10 to 15 minutes, unless you are catching fish. If Dave isn’t seeing fish on his Vexilar, he begins with an aggressive jigging presentation. If fish don't show up (you'll see them on the screen) in a reasonable time, he’s on to the next spot. In fact, what he normally drills 3,4,5 or more holes in a general area, and fish them all within about 20 minutes. Fish outside on a bucket if you want to, but the wind is your enemy, even when it's relatively light. It can freeze the hole shut, fill your rod guides with ice, coat your line with ice, and blow your line around so it becomes more difficult than it should be to detect bites. It should be mention that sitting still can be an advantage. Ice anglers can be even more effective than open-water anglers who are fighting the wind. If you can get your line hanging straight down through a hole in the ice, and you're getting a clear picture (on your sonar screen) of your lure, you'll see fish come swimming into your hole. If the fish comes right up to your bait, you go into hyper-alert mode and really tune your senses into what's going on. Fish without a depthfinder and you get caught by surprise a lot of times, and miss bites. If you're paying attention, you'll feel a slight tick, or see the line move slightly, and a quick hook set normally brings a throbbing fish into the picture. Compare that to bouncing up and down in a boat, trying to detect bites.
Do you need a portable shelter?
This is up to you, what is your comfort level in the elements. But, if you do have to be in the elements, make the most of your ice fishing advantages with a shelter. The Fish Trap, available in one, two, three or even a four person model, may be the ticket for you. Puts canvas walls around you with the flick of a wrist in about twenty seconds. Inside these fishing shelter there's plenty of dry storage for your gear, a seat, and your ready to catch more fish than ever. The molded polyethylene sled base makes moving easy; just flip the top down, grab the tow rope and go.
You need the right clothing
Never look at a small grouping of your garments and say 'these are my ice fishing clothes. You don't wear the same outfit when it's 25 above zero as when it's 32 below. The best ice anglers are learning to dress for mobility, much like hunters dress, changing layers for differing conditions. Clam Outdoors has the right ice fishing suit for you. May it be warmth, just a shell to protect you from the element or float cabilities. The parka and bib combo were designed by ice anglers for ice anglers. From the padded knees, to customized hand-warming pockets and protection for your GPS/Cell phone. A perfect ice fishing suit is waterproof, windproof, and has a breathable outer shell. You're going to be moving a lot, so you generate body heat while walking, drilling holes, etc. So start with a layer of good insulated underwear, the modern type that helps body moisture escape, so you don't get that chilled or clammy. Above all, avoid any rubberized rain gear, or any other clothing that seals in your own body heat.
Balance between the rod, reel and lure
One thing you need to know , Dave fishes more by feel than line detection, He feels a good rod and reel lets you feel the weight of the jig as you move it, and a sharp tick is a bite most people will feel. But if the fish just slides up and sucks in the bait, or rises up with the bait in its mouth, you also have to be able to detect this, or the absence of the weight. Either way youo nee to set the hook.
In Dave's opion, a rod must remain stiff when the lure is at rest. It has to be soft enough that it helps cushion the line from breaking when you're fighting a fish, but it has to have enough stiffness that it holds firm when the lure is at rest. Open water fishermen know the value of a good rod and ice fishermen need that same quality. Your rod needs to be matched to the pound-test line you’re using. With lighter line, you can use a softer action rod. With heavier line you can use stiffer rods.
Something that is now well understood is that the rod, reel, line and lure all have to balance for the package to work well. You normally only hear about the rod and reel being "balanced." It's common for people to use line that's too heavy, or a lure that's too light to make the line hang straight. With a setup that's "right," the lure is heavy enough to make the line hang straight down, with no coils or kinks in it. That makes it easier to detect light bites. And the rod is stiff enough to keep from feeling "sloppy" when you're working the lure. After you have achieved this all-important balance in your equipment, you can start expecting to feel the weight of the bait as you jig. How you jig is the big thing. It's a jiggle, not a smooth pumping motion. It’s a short, rapid style, which gets even small panfish jigs to kick in a tight, sharp bounce-bounce-bounce' sequence that your fingers can feel. Using enough motion the fish can't just inspect the bait; they will want to grab it. That short little movement makes the bait quiver. Again the movement is quick and sharp.
Snowmobiles vs. ATV's
Dave uses a snowmobile a lot, because he makes some mighty long runs out to his fishing spots. You can walk if you want, but it all comes down to how much time you have to go from vehicle to fishing spot and back. Dave prefers a long-track snowmobile, like the Bearcat series from Arctic Cat; it is geared more for power than speed. The newer models have a high and low range. “The low range is the "power" setting, which I consider more applicable to ice fishing, when you're pulling a Fish Trap or two behind the machine. You don't want to get going that fast anyway, and any machine speed is quicker than walking.”
ATVs, 4-wheelers and 3-wheelers, have a place in ice fishing, but realize that they won't go anywhere a 4-wheel-drive truck won't go (except maybe over thinner ice, because they don't weigh as much).
You not only have to have the right equipment, you have to limit how much of the right equipment you bring with you for a day on the ice. All your stuff has to be quickly mobile and organized to move if you're going to fish with the spirit of adventure it takes to succeed. It needs to be as light as possible, meaning you shouldn't bring even one thing you aren't likely to use out on the ice.
At the beginning of the day, Dave makes a decision about what he’s after. He might hit the lake targeting the bluegills, but he’s ready to switch over if the walleyes are going good, or there’s a big bite for pike or something else.
He brings the equipment to target the first fish species: but, is ready change over in hurry if he decides to do so. “You wouldn't believe how light I travel, I often have just one small tackle boxes that fit in my pocket, with backup equipment in the truck parked on shore, and in some cases on the trailer that is pulled behind the my snowmobile.”
Another key to the “System” is to pack light, making mobility painless. There are essential piece of equipment that you’ll use most of the time. These items get packed for every trip; lets look at the list. The first thing on the list is the Fish Trap, the instant setup shelter that holds all you gear and protects you from the elements. In the tub of the Fish Trap, Dave packs his Vexilar, auger, heater, rod and a bucket for fish. In the storage hammock of the Fish Trap, he packs a spare can of propane for the heater, a towel, a spare spool of mono-filament line, a bottle of water, a snack, ice cleats and his rods and reels for the day.
On his IceArmor jacket and the pockets are some the universal tools that never change. The list includes his jig box that holds his ice tackle for the species of fish he’s targeting for the day. He also will have a linr=e nipper, a multi tool and the all-important cell phone.
You need knowledge of the lakes in your area
What's in your area lakes? If you want to increase your catch of walleyes, or panfish, or northern pike or bass, or trout, you have to be fishing on waters that have good populations of those species. You need to do some off-the-water homework, something most anglers fall short on. The most under-used source of good information is the local fisheries biologists who work for your state's natural resources department (they call them Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Game Department, and other such names, depending on the state.) Call directory assistance, or do a search on the internet and find out who the local biologist in your area is. Ask him or her about the fish populations in your area lakes. Ask which ones might have a tendency to get low on oxygen as the winter wears on, and make sure to fish them early in the ice season, if at all.
Some lakes are just not good ice fishing lakes, something we don't completely understand, but we have to accept. Other lakes seem to kick out more good fish through the ice than during the open-water-season. Also talk with bait shop employees. Carefully read the local newspapers to see where fish tend to come from (remembering that not everybody tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.)
What are you targeting for the day
You also have to know about the species of fish you want to catch, and how they react to the winter season. Read articles and attend seminars by good ice fishermen, to learn what depth of water and types of spots your target species stakes out at different stages of the winter season. And don’t forget to study the lake map, look for the flats, weed lines, the inside corners. Other great tool out there are GPS’ with a LakeMaster chip in it or Navionics downloaded to your smartphone.
At this point, it's a matter of taking the right gear only as much as you need onto the ice, and chasing fish with the spirit of a modern ice angler. It is an ever-evolving system that now involves using the truck, and in some cases the trailer that is pulled behind the snowmobile, to hold “extra” stuff. All in all, ice fishing is hardly the sport it used to be. .