The Panfish Search

Throughout my life, I’ve been trying to get more ice fishermen to venture out on their own and search for fish. It’s very common for people to “go to the end of the plowed road,” so to speak, seek out groups of others anglers and simply assume they’ve found the best spot on the lake, and fish the pack. These tips should help take you on an adventure with the possibility of some great catches.

I have talked about using lake maps for ice fishing, and this is where the use of a contour map is critical. Even before you leave home, study the map. You might find a large bay, for example, that could easily hold fish. Personally, I’m bringing my GPS with a lake map chip; this saves me time by helping me find the spot.

Drill holes and check the deepest water in the bay, for fish that are sought out deep water, and for those that are suspended in mid-depths. Check the points that create the bay, and the inside turns that go into the bay.

Try to limit yourself to an hour of fishing in any one distinct area. An hour in the deep basin of the bay, an hour on one point, an hour on another point, and so forth. The process is active; you are drilling holes, checking depth, looking for weeds and other cover, fishing, looking for fish, keep moving on if you don’t catch what you came for.

This is so different than the tradition of drilling one hole and waiting for the fish to find you. This is fishing the way you do it out of a boat in the summertime – trolling the frozen surface of the same lake.

In my opinion, even putting down two lines takes too long. When I’m search out new spots, the FL-22HD is my most useful tool. If there is no fish on the screen there is no reason to sit there.

Setting up a wheeled fish house, getting settled into it, and organizing your gear also takes too long. That’s why a truly portable fish house, like the Fish Trap, is the way to go. Wearing IceArmor keeps me plenty warm as I searched out new fishing spots. These garments are made for us to enjoy winter.

It’s hard to imagine how efficient you can be. I often fish with three friends, we hit a spot, as one person fires up the StrikeMaster auger and handles the job of drilling holes; the others take on the job of quickly fishing as many holes as possible. We’re constantly talking to each and asking questions, such as:

“How deep is it where you are?”

“I’ve got weeds in my hole. Do you?”

“I haven’t seen a fish yet. Anybody else see any?”

This is not a time to be selfish about who is catching what. We take turns being the hole-driller, and each person accepts a role, like teammates on a football team. We know we don’t get to be the quarterback on every play. We shuffle around, getting a picture of what’s going on, until we hit a distinct area that is holding active, biting fish.

It’s hard to unravel the mystery of a lake by yourself. Fish as a team, if you go alone; “team up” with somebody you run into on the lake. You go deeper; let the other guy go shallower. Check with each other. Work together. There’s no better way to make a new friend that you might fish with in the future.

You have to resist the temptation to sit over fish that you see on your depth finder, assuming that you will figure out what it wants if you sit there long enough. For some people, the use of a depth finder becomes a liability, because they refuse to leave a fish after even an hour of trying to coax it into biting. I know, because when I first started using a FL-8, I was the same way.

The first time you drop a lure down a new hole is the highest percentage time for catching a fish. The more time you spend in a hole without a bite, the less chance you’re going to catch a fish out of that hole.

Now, there are days when fishing is just tough, and you have to tough it out over a few fish and coax a few reluctant bites. But you only know this if you’ve been fishing a lake for a number of days in a row, and you know the fish in that lake well enough to make a reasonable guess that’s the case. The first time you fish a new lake—or the first time you fish a lake after not being there for more than a few days—you have to assume there are biters somewhere, and keep searching until you find them or run out of time.

One last thought on fishing the edge of the pack. I’m not against heading for the cluster of fish houses, or the band of bucket-sitters, especially when I first get to the lake. I want to see what they are fishing: is it a shallow weed flat, a drop-off, a deep hole? I look around on the ice and talk to people about what species of fish, and what size, they are catching, or had been catching before things slowed down.

If the bite is hot, by all means, get in on it. Be courteous, and keep a reasonable distance from the others as you drill your holes. But, most of the time, things will be relatively slow.

Try fishing the edges. A lot of time, fish simply move off a little ways in response to the commotion at the community spot. You can often find good fishing by making a large circle outside the pack.

So that’s it, in a nutshell. There are many little things that make a difference, and experience teaches you a lot. But if you take it with the attitude that you’re going to fish hard, and try different types of spots until you catch what you’re after, ice fishing will be a whole new sport for you. You’ll be amazed how warm you stay, how engaged you feel mentally.

You will discover the feeling of satisfaction that comes from catching a fish, looking around, and realizing that you have the spot all to yourself.

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2019