Hitting Rock Bottom

Does your lure makes noise? If not, just whack the lake’s bottom.

By: Mark Martin

What grabs your attention more than noise? Not a lot. The same holds true for fish. In fact, no matter the species, fish rely on the very sounds forage makes to help them zone in on their next meal.

Now let’s talk ice fishing. With this sport, you are extremely limited in the areas you’re able to fish within a waterway; only the spots directly below the holes you drill, to be exact. To get the attention of any fish that may be nearby your lure has to make a lot of racket.

As you know, there are lures of all many makes and models hanging on the pegged walls of your favorite bait-and-tackle shop. Some are manufactured with noise-making devices built within them; some are boisterous in shape alone, while other share a little of both. And all assert they attract fish from afar.

But sometimes it takes more than just the ordinary wiggle and jiggle of one of these lures to get a fish to bite. Often, it’s how aggressively you fish, and, where in the water column your lure is that will trip the triggers that make fish strike. Sometimes, however, you have to hit rock bottom. Literally.

On the softer side

Early on in the day, before getting loud with my lures, I’m careful to be the opposite of noisy. Instead, I try to be as stealthy as can be.

Before the crack of dawn, I crank up my ultra-quiet StrikeMaster Honda 35cc Lite and drill as many holes as I can muster. This way I’m sure to have at least punched one hole over structure before the bite starts.

The Honda 35CC Lite with a 10-inch cut only weighs 26 pounds, yet, has a lot of torque and thrust behind it. Couple its lightness, and power, with the ultra-sharpness and shape of StrikeMaster’s blades and I’m able to drill holes quickly, efficiently and quietly. This allows time for the environment to settle down under me well before the sun rises up over the horizon.

To increase the efficiency of walking on ice, as well my own safety, I use ice cleats on the soles of my boots; all the while keeping my footsteps as quiet as can be. Although the traction on the sole of most boots is excellent, the added grip of spikes of any easy-on/easy-off traction aid allows me to be the most proficient I can be. Especially on smooth, slick icy surface. And cleats with short spikes are much quieter than the large fang-like spears found on some ice walking aids.

Now, rather than later

As quickly as possible, I’ll walk hole to hole and check for depth and to see if there are any fish below me with my Lowrance Hook-5 Ice Machine – a portable sonar and GPS, made with the avid ice angler in mind.

What I am looking for besides fish (obviously) is hard bottom areas of any kind; especially those adjacent to a drop off or a hump. These areas are easy to find as hard bottom shows up as a thin, brightly-colored line on the color readout. And, of course, I can figure out which way the bottom falls off by paying attention to the depth of each hole. But with an SD card filled with Navionics mapping in the unit’s card reader, the process is a no-brainer.

Once hard bottom is found on sonar, I can confirm what, exactly, it’s made up of via my MarCum Recon 5 Plus Underwater Viewing system – a compact underwater camera with 5-inch waterproof hi-resolution, 800 x 480-pixel color screen.

With my MarCum, I can see firsthand the composition of the lake’s bottom. And what I’m often looking for, especially in dingy water, or, when the bite’s been off and the fish are known to be lethargic, is rocks, be it gravel or large boulders.

The reason? Simple, really. I’m looking for rock bottom so I can bang my lure off the hard surface every so often. A real attention-getter to fish that aren’t right under me. In fact, the banging of a lure on rocks can be so loud that, from within the confines of my Clam portable shanty, I can actually hear the lure smacking the surface.

This especially holds true when I’m using line with very little or no stretch. And that’s one of many reasons I use 12-pound-test Berkley FireLine, which I use as my main line, and then a 1-foot leader of Berkley 10-pound-test Fluorocarbon line. I connect the two via a small Berkley Ball-Bearing Swivel. And when ice fishing, I always connect my lure to the fluorocarbon by a Berkley Cross-Loc Snap, rather than a snap swivel, as the latter adds too much hardware and bulk to the rig.

Banging on bottom works well with all my favorite lures whether they are metal jigging spoons or hard-bodied baits. Personally, I like Northland’s UV Macho Minnow – Kickin—painted in six different ultra-violet hues, including glow-in-the-dark. It’s a heavy lure and raps well against a hard bottom. And speaking of rapping, Rapala’s Jigging Shad Raps and Jigging Raps work wonders for creating chaos on hard bottoms, as well.

So, when’s the right time for whacking rocks with your bait?

I like to thump bottom every few minutes until a fish is either spotted on my Lowrance or on the MarCum, and then fish it as I normally would off bottom. But tapping hard bottom works well when a hole’s gone dry and the fish have left the area, as well, or when I get a strike but the fish missed the lure. In the case of a missed strike, I’ll drop the lure to bottom immediately and rap it on bottom quite a few times, then lift it up and let it set for a few seconds; most of the time, fish will either hit it as the lure flounders on bottom, or, as it sits motionless.

Rock rapper

Drawing attention to your lure is often as easy as hitting a rocky bottom with it. But remember to be stealthy in your approach, and then let your lure be the loud device. Drill lots of holes quickly, check for depth and bottom composite, then fish. If the fish leave or you get a strike but miss, drop your lure to bottom and let it knock the bottom. The strike that occurs next might just rock your world.

Mark Martin is a professional walleye tournament angler and instructor with the Ice-Fishing Fishing Vacation/Schools (fishingvacationschool.com), who lives in the southwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.