Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Do You Love to Ice Fish? i.e. Why I love to Ice Fish!

I haven't done a generic type post about ice fishing in a long time.  But after discussing a certain topic about ice fishing with someone on my favorite web forum, Iceshanty.com, I got to thinking...why do I still love to ice fish?

I mean, after all, most people, my wife included and most of my friends (since I live South of what is really ice fishing territory) think that I'm nuts.  And, we ice anglers really are off our rockers!  We spend all kinds of money on stuff to keep us comfortable to cut a hole through the ice and fish, and in some cases (even though we know it's "safe") there is enough risk that we always have to be careful, and often we're out there in cold nasty weather when 99% of society would rather wrap up in a blanket next to a fire and rent movies all day.  I won't go into how ice anglers spend a ton of money on ice fishing tackle, gear, and clothing just to catch fish through a hole in the ice.  All anglers are considered crazy for our fishing spending from the viewpoint of the non-angling crowd.

So, why do you love to ice fish?  What is it about our sport that pushes your buttons to keep on getting out there, year after year, in sometimes brutal conditions to try and catch fish through the ice?  Please feel free to post your answer in the comments section.

OK, for me, here it goes.  First, I like the fact that I can catch fish all year, and ice fishing extends my fishing season.  I like the fact that you really never know for sure what you're about to catch.  I like that you can pretty much get to fishing holes that only a boat can get to, and sometimes get to hot spots that boats can't even get to.  And, not only that, you can find fish and stay over them and not worry about drifting away.  No boat control to worry about!  And, you can catch fish, often a lot of them, and sometimes bigger than any other time of year.  And, you can haul all kinds of gear out there to catch fish and to keep you almost as comfortable as those folks wrapped in their blankets next to their fires watching movies.  Ice fishing can also be a great social activity shared with friends, or to make new friends.
Of course, a joy of ice fishing is when you can share it with friends, or even make new friends.  Here, my good friend Jim Cumming sports a fat largemouth bass that he caught while tending his tip-ups.  I was fortunate enough to introduce Jim to ice fishing many years ago when he lived down my way.
But, that's all great, and many of you probably share the same views.  But here's what really gets me stoked up, why I love ice fishing more than just like to do it:

I have always enjoyed vertically jigging for active fish.  On the ice, I mostly target panfish.  I still primarily target panfish but also bring enough tackle to jig for predators.  But really floats my boat is jigging over active fish and watching it all on my underwater camera, inside my portable shanty, and doing it productively.
Many ice anglers appreciate the seclusion of fishing in a shanty.  It's quiet.  Just you, your gear, and the fish, and you're out of the harsh elements.  But it's also quite beautiful out in the open air.  I always try to spend some time jigging outside too, to gain that appreciation and beauty of my surroundings, and move around and hit a few holes nearby to cover water.
So the crux of this post is basically that I really get my jollies while using my underwater camera.  When fishing with an underwater camera, the question I always read on forums is:  "Do you need to or not?  Or, do you wish to be more challenged or not?"  I guess it's like cheating to some, but I think it's more fun to watch the fish eat your lure than to watch a rod tip.  So yeah, I'll "cheat" for that extra fun.  Heck with the challenge.  If I want challenge, then I'll find some open water and musky fish.  If I find active panfish, then I'll watch, fish, and catch them.  If they are finicky, like most good ice anglers, I will move and use my sonar to find another school of active fish, then drop the camera down there again if I'm getting multiple fish.
This is my set up under my portable shanty...you can see the bottom and my jig easily.  It's great once you find a school of active panfish like yellow perch especially when the schools hang around for a while.  I can observe their behavior, figure out exactly what they want or what turns them off, watch them inhale my lure, and...SET THE HOOK!  It's so much fun.  
Sure, you can catch a bunch of fish using your sonar and not bring a camera!  But I think that the camera nets me even more fish under certain conditions than I would if I didn't use the camera.  Why?  Because I can see bites that I would definitely miss watching my sonar, a rod tip, a spring bobber, my line, or while trying to feel a bite.  I used to come home from a trip and dream about my spring bobber.  Now I dream about watching my camera and catching fish!
Sure you can catch plenty of fish using just your sonar.  I used to do it all the time, and still often do.  My buddies Geoff and Jack are doing just that in this picture.  It's a ton of fun too.  While they were catching a ton of fish, I was doing the same thing using my camera and took a break to get a picture of them in action.
Sometimes the fish bite so light that even a spring won't detect it.  But that camera doesn't miss the bite.  When you see your bait disappear, set the hook quick enough and you will get that fish.  If you miss, then it's not the fault of your electronics, it's probably due to slow reaction time (old age can cause that speaking from experience).  I just get a kick out of watching the fish and their reaction to what I'm doing.  When fish leave my bait or lose interest, usually I can see exactly why (like the lure spinning thing or if they've cleaned the maggots off my jig).

But even cameras have limitations.  For the type of productivity that I describe above, you really have to find a good school of fish or have a great spot.  It takes some time to set up your gear over them.  You lack the mobility and ability to follow a moving school.  Using the flasher, you can stay more mobile.  When you're having one of those "one fish per hole" days, those are the days that the flasher works much better than a camera.  Both are tools, use them under the right conditions to maximize your catch and your fun.

My underwater camera model doesn't work well at night for that evening crappie bite.  At least, I haven't figured out how to make it work.  The light needed to generate an image on the camera end attracts zillions of zooplankton grouped in a cloud that is so thick that you can't see anything, much less your lure or fish.  The newer models of underwater cameras have come a long way though, and may have solved that problem.  Some day I will investigate and get back to you on that.
I recommend bringing both a camera and sonar for your day trips.  Use the sonar to locate large schools of active fish.  Cut a ton of holes if necessary, but be active and find them.  Once you find them, set up your camera and have fun.  If the fish disappear and you stop seeing them or stop getting bites, start the process over and find new fish.  Also, the sonar will save you at night for fishing for suspended crappie.  At least in my case, the camera isn't that useful after dark, but the sonar always shines.
A huge advantage using the underwater camera is that I always know what type of fish are down there, whether or not they are dinks or fish worth targeting.  And it's really cool when a predator stops by.  Yeah, you can see the blip on your sonar, but you really don't know what kind of fish it is.  With the camera, you can identify it and see their mood and why they appeared.  Was it random or did you jig that fish in?  It's a big fish, but is it a carp, a bass, a pike, or a big walleye?  If it's a larger predator, then I can quickly adapt and drop something down there that might tempt them more than a tiny panfish jig.  Also, it's pretty fun when you're fishing for, let's say yellow perch, and all of a sudden a bass, pickerel, pike or musky shows up and tries to eat the camera!  My camera is an Aqua Vu and the camera is shaped like a fish.  I guess I need to attach a treble hook to the camera!
But using a camera can clue you into bigger fish too!  I dropped a bigger gulp minnow down the hole to catch this bass that was drawn in with my smaller panfish jig and wouldn't bite it.
With sonar, you can get a general idea of what the bottom is like, if the bottom has weeds, or is soft or hard.  But with the camera, I can see exactly what makes up the bottom.  I not only see weeds, but what type of weeds.  I can see logs, stumps, rocks, algae, if it's a muddy or a rocky bottom.  I can see baitfish move through and predators follow.  I can see why the fish are there.  I can see pretty much everything.  It's like fishing TV and I'm the producer.  I wish I could be the director and then I'd even catch more fish!

I've seen other guys hole hop and use the camera in shallow water flats to search for pods of fish, and that's effective too.  But for deeper water (10 to 25 feet deep or deeper), which is just about everywhere in the lakes that I fish, I cut a lot of holes and use my sonar to find fish then hone in and watch and fish with the camera.
My friend Scott using his old Aqua Vu to check a bunch of shallow water holes to locate schools of fish while positioning  it to view horizontally so that he could see all around the hole, not just under it.  He'd drop the camera down and spin the cable 360 degrees to check out the areas around the hole to look for schools of fish.  If he spotted a bunch nearby, he'd stop and drop a jig down there and catch a bunch of fish.  It's a great technique to find shallow water bluegills and other panfish, and also to get an idea what type of cover is down there.
Another thing that I do that most people don't like doing is that I like to set my camera to look down on the fish.  I feel that I can more effectively target them while viewing down on the fish.  I can see the fish come from any angle.  Sometimes, if the water is clear enough, I can set the camera about six to eight feet off the bottom and see all the way to the bottom.  It's not right or wrong if people like to watch horizontally, in fact, most people probably fish with their cameras that way.  I simply prefer to look down on 'em..  I rarely see fish approach from above the camera, but sometimes they surprise you and do just that.  But if you're using your camera to find fish in the shallows, then it's probably better to set the camera to view horizontally for sure.
Here's a nice sunfish caught while jigging and using my camera.  You can see the actual camera unit laying on the ice showing that it's shaped and painted to resemble a sunfish.  Maybe this fish was attracted by the camera thinking he met a buddy?
It's so fun to fish that way to me that I think that it's kept my interest up in ice fishing even more than ever, especially given the lean ice years we've had the past decade that really make me wonder of those long drives to even find ice are worth the effort or not... Now I'll make those long drives like I used to do when I was younger and first addicted to ice fishing in general.

These fat yellow perch and a nice chain pickerel were caught using a camera while jigging.  It was so fun to see that pickerel move in, literally with it's snout right up against my lure.  When I gave the jig a quick snap up, he attacked with lightning speed and the fight was on.  Not only did the camera help me set the hook, but I was able to witness the entire scene!
You know what is funny?  When the Aqua Vu first came out, I was a skeptic.  I thought it was a waste of money.  Now I think it's the most fun thing about ice fishing to me.  It's like I'm down there diving with them!  So really, I can be warm and toasty in my portable shanty and watch TV all day long just like those folks wrapped up in a blanket on their couch renting movies on TV, but even better because I'm a participant!

So now you have somewhat of an understanding about my approach to ice fishing.  I love to jig, I try to use my electronics effectively, and most of all, I have fun doing it.  That's what it's all about.  Since we've had some cold temperatures, snow and our lakes are icing up recently, my mind has been occupied about getting out on the ice again to do some jiggin'.   Maybe I'll see you out there!

Please also visit Iceshanty.com if you are interested in learning more about ice fishing.  If you're an avid ice fisher, then I believe that you'll enjoy the site just as much.  It's free to join, no spam and it's a very friendly web forum with plenty of people to interact with that are more than willing to help you about our sport.  Hope to see you on the forum!

So, please leave a comment and tell me why you love to ice fish!