A Sneaky State of Affairs

A grand great bite can turn bad quickly if you don’t pay attention to the commotion you make

By: Mark Martin

Who me? A believer in hocus pocus? Not really. But I can easily understand why the winter months are such a magical time of year for most anglers. The catching of walleye, pike and panfish becomes much simpler a soon as a lake’s exterior solidifies, and will stay that way for quite a few weeks to come.

But even something as grand as a great bite can turn bad quickly if you don’t pay attention to the commotion you’re making while fishing.

To put it simply, you must stay as stealthy as can be or you’ll spook fish. And, obviously, if you’ve scared the fish out from underneath you, you’re going home with nothing more to show for your day’s fishing other than frigid fingers and a walk through the grocery store for a can of baked beans for the dinner table… As well a bad attitude.

Here, there, just not anywhere

The primary key to catching success is knowing where, exactly, to drop a line right away. If you do, you won’t be creating chaos by moving throughout the day and spooking fish. And if you did any fishing (better yet catching) this past fall, you already know where to go.

The first place to be in the ice-fishing season is also some of the last places I caught fish late during the fall months. The fish haven’t left. In fact, more may have shown up since I was able to last launch my Lund or waded in open water.

Wade, you question? Yes, wade. You see, the late-fall period was the time of year the fish where feeding within shallow water; all within easy casting distance of an angler walking the shallows while donning waders. And it’s in these same close-to-shore areas, sometimes literally within just a few footsteps of the shoreline, that I’ll find fish no matter how late in the ice-fishing season.

For me, it’s the areas along the outer edges of the weed beds closest to points, especially when adjacent to deep water, which I was casting to right before the freeze that I will try first. And these outer weed lines usually occur along a breakline (aka: drop off) no matter how slight they may be.

Breaklines are easy to find when using mapping from Navionics. An SD card filled with hydrographic maps by Navionics in the card reader of my Lowrance HOOK-5 Ice Machine will show me with pinpoint accuracy where all the breaklines in a particular waterway lay below me. This is imperative when it comes to walking directly to my fishing spot, so I can and drill holes all at once over prime water so as to keep commotion down to a minimum throughout the day.

On the move

If the ice is still too thin to drive my quad or snowmobile upon, I’ll hoof it rather than ride. And if I can get away with not having to wear ice cleats over the soles of my boots, all the better. This is because the noise from ice cleats scraping and digging into the ice will reverberate tenfold under the water and give up my whereabouts to the fish.

Instead, I don boots with a soft yet aggressive rubber tread built right in, which are super warm as well provide superior grip on the ice. My boots need to be 100-percent water proof so as to keep my feet dry when water splashes up and out of the hole when I am boring a hole with my auger.

And speaking of augers, I make sure the blades of my StrikeMaster Lazer Synthetic Ultra-Lite or StrikeMaster power auger are razor sharp well before the ice-fishing season starts. This is because I want to bore as many holes as possible in a short period of time, quickly and efficiently. This way I can keep the uproar later in the day to a minimum.

Before my blades dull, however, I’ll purchase replacement blades so as to always have another set on hand in case I damage the originals somehow. In short: Sharp auger blades are one of the biggest reasons for frustration when ice fishing, yet, replacing them with new ones is the last thing on most angler’s minds.

Cover me, I’m going in

Once I have drilled several holes, checked the depth and looked for fish at each one with my Hook-5 Ice Machine, it’s time to lower a line. But even while fishing I try and stay as quiet as possible.

First off, I’ll deploy my tip-ups, hooking up minnows fresh from my Plano minnow bucket, and then lower them into place. Once done with that, I’ll erect my Clam X200 Pro Thermal two-man ice shelter; not only to stay warm while inside its thick, insulated walls, but also to keep my silhouette shaded while on the thinner, clear ice. (Tip: Another trick I use for keeping quiet is to lay a piece of carpeting down on the ice where my feet are going to be so as to muffle any sound my boot may make as I shuffle around. This will keep your feet warmer, too.)

Hear that? I didn’t think so…

If you’re looking to catch more fish while ice fishing, then by all means take every measure to stay as stealthy as possible.

While wearing footwear that will let you walk upon the ice quietly yet safely, walk directly to the spot you last caught fish before the lake froze, and drill as many holes as you can muster. Get those tip-ups set, and then get inside a portable shanty.

Overall, if you keep your footsteps hushed, you’ll catch more fish. I promise.

Mark Martin is a professional walleye tournament angler and instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/School. For more information on Mark, any of the items mentioned in this article or the school, visit his website at markmartins.net.