I watched closely at the colorful flashing lines on my fish finder, almost mesmerized by the movement of some of the "bleeps" on my screen. Those were fish, and I was prepared to set the hook with a quick lift if one took my jig. I had moved four or five times this morning looking for active fish, and now had found some. My initial idea for the day was a bust, so I went to plans B, C, and D before finding some success.
I changed all three general approaches that I had planned to use that day, and did so all within about 20 minutes of no action, so don't let an initial quiet time spell the results for the rest of the day. A lot can and does change.
Those three most common elements I use for adjustment when ice fishing are depth, initial presentation, and subsequent lure movement.
Having started my crappie and perch search in 25 feet of water, it was quickly obvious that nothing was moving down there. I made multiple moves over some areas I knew had sudden depth changes to deeper water, and fished the upper shelves. As it turned out, 40 feet of water with a falloff to almost 60 feet within a short distance held numbers of fish, all apparently active. And hopefully cooperative to a patient angler.
I had begun the day with a tiny feathered jig, tipped with a wax worm, but I moved up in size when the fish showed more interest in a larger offering. I fished slowly, but soon found that the crappies were hitting best when I kept the bait just above them. In fact, the perch liked that too. Crappies tend to feed "up" anyway, based upon the physiology of their head and position of their eyes, so dropping my lure of choice right into the school wasn't very productive. They wanted to chase it, and that's when the best of the hits came. Sometimes they react strongly to a fast drop; other times it's a slow presentation that is more satisfying to your quarry. Watch for patterns of success, and try to repeat them with each drop.
I elevated my lure a few feet above the fish, and made some high lifts and slow falls with the jig. Once the fish began to come up for it, I found that if I stopped the jig right then, the fish were more likely to continue the chase and finish off the job. If they didn't, another movement upward, but slight and slowly, seemed to trigger a response.
These aren't tactics I just imagined in a dream. I tend to make them up as I go, allowing the fish to tell me what they want. So I find that using various techniques, lure sizes, and presentations will eventually tell me what I need to know.
Fishing with a couple of friends or family members can make it easier and faster to come to such conclusions. The sharing of information is vital to finding the right combinations that will work for you. Often, you'll even get a visit from a nearby fisherman who can't help but notice that you're putting fish on the ice. I always give them a few tips on what we're doing, after I ask him what he's been trying. I like to know what other methods there are out there, and that's a part of sharing info. I've never been refused such details.
Bait is another frustrating aspect of the picture. While most seem to utilize wax worms or meal worms, there are those who prefer nightcrawlers or pieces of cut minnows. I've had luck with those, too. And it never ceases to amaze at how slight a change can make a big difference in catch rates.
There also seems to be a kind of karma that settles in on the day when you share information. Everyone catches fish, and everyone is happy. That's why I don't mind sharing facts. Unless of course, an angler or two moves in on top of us to try to take advantage of the fish we're over. That never goes too well with me. I've invited a fellow or two to move in closer to us, but land grabbers aren't my cup of hot chocolate on a cold day on the ice.
One last item that may be of interest is the use of the holes you drill for fishing. I tend to go back over seemingly "dead" holes from an hour or so previous, and often find there are fish now present. I don't know if it's the disruption of the surface by a power auger, or the fishing pressure from nearby areas that tend to move fish, but it works.
And there's a fish now, just separating from the school as my Kastmaster-jig combo races toward the bottom. I come to almost a sudden halt, and allow the fish to continue on. When the crappie stops just below my jig, I give a small, half-hearted lift and fall again. He immediately comes to it, and the wire bobber dips. Fish on! And isn't that what we live for?
Brad Kerr is an avid angler who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.