By all reports, the ice fishing bite in the area has been excellent over the holidays and into the New Year. After a one-day fall off the fiscal cliff, I was worried about all of us being able to afford to continue to fish. As it turns out, they sky isn't really falling and life goes on and so does the fishing. I was out of town for over a week and was informed I missed out on some great action.
A few weeks ago, I talked about all the significant changes and improvements in the world of ice angling. One factor almost more than all others has significantly improved ice fishing success -- the improvements and affordability of electronics. The small cone angle and high-powered units now give tremendous target separation. Not only is it easy to detect fish coming into your zone, but also you can watch the interaction of your bait in relation to the fish. Inches of separation are detectable with the modern ice flashers.
Some units read the traditional flasher style while some allow the angler the viewer to watch the action on a vertical plane. After using flashers, it feels like fishing "naked and blind" to be without them.
Electronics allow you to check depths, discern bottom content, locate your bait in relation to the bottom, and see fish. Practice reading with your electronics can even help you distinguish size and good guesses as to species.
Kids love to watch the action on the electronics (even us older kids!). It is like a live action video game. Get the kids off the computer and TV video games. Get them out ice fishing and let them fish with a flasher. The first time they are watching their jig hop up and down and they see another mark on the screen, and then feel the bite they enticed, they are also "hooked."
Like fishing with all electronics, it is important to learn to trust what you are seeing. Recently, I was out walleye fishing and the fish that were biting were very tight to the bottom. My buddy and I were fishing in holes very close together and I started to see marks high up in the water column. After turning down my gain and changing frequencies to stop getting the interference I thought I was receiving from his unit, I kept getting a few flashes at the same suspended depth. I pulled my jigging spoon up to depth and jiggled it a few time and "bang," nice walleye. It happened again, to my buddy and me, and soon after that, the fish were back on the bottom.
This kind of experience has happened many times with different species of fish. Without the electronics, those bonus fish would never come up the hole. The ability to observe what is going on below us also helps us adjust to the bite. Sometimes the aggressive jigging will call the fish in, but it may be a slow lift of the bait, a twitching of the bait, or a pause, that triggers the bite. Without the visual, you wouldn't know when to change your cadence or make the depth adjustments.
Underwater cameras have been around for some time now, but they have also improved and are more affordable. They can be a great addition to your electronic arsenal. Kids (again, even us big kids!) really love to watch the action on a camera. Some anglers will record their action or transfer the picture onto a larger TV screen in the fish house.
It is important to be slow about dropping the camera lens to the bottom. You don't want to hit the bottom or you can create a cloudy picture for a long time until the sediment settles. Your sonar in the hole will help you know when you are close. It takes time to get the cable to hold the lens the direction you want, so turn it slow. Once you have it in position, it is fun and educational to observe how the fish relate to your presentation.
Don't fish down the same hole you have your camera set in as you are guaranteed to have the fish you catch wrap you around the cable. The inconvenience of drilling the extra hole for your camera can be well worth the entertainment it can provide for you or the kids. Have fun and stay safe.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)