Finding Fish Under the Ice: Our Best Ice Fishing Tips and Techniques

The real secret to catching more fish is the knowledge you can’t go wrong with this! You’ll catch more fish the more you know. These ice fishing tips are proven winners.

It doesn’t matter if you are ice fishing for Walleyes, Northern Pikes, crappies, or Perch, it is important to learn as much information as possible about the species that you’re targeting.

These general tips will work for most fish species. However, each species is unique so be sure to check these links for more specific tips and tricks.

  • Ice fishing for Walleye
  • Ice fishing for Crappie
  • Ice fishing for sunfish
  • Perch Ice Fishing
  • Northern Pike Ice Fishing
  • Muskie Ice Fishing
  • Ice fishing for Lake Trout

Ice Fishing Tips and Tricks: How to Ice Fish

Ice angling is different from warm-weather fishing in many ways. Casting a line into a hole that has been cut in hard water is easy. However, the lure selection can change dramatically. You can also bring your winter jigging gear out on the lake in July for a good laugh!

One thing is certain, no matter what season it may be: If you can’t find fish, you won’t catch them.

Are you looking for ice fishing gear Take a look at our top picks for ice fishing gear?

Although the ice allows you to access all of the lake’s features, it is not as simple as crawling around a point or cranking up your trolling motor. Instead, you will need to drill holes after holes, plan a strategy and find out where the fish are schooling. Low oxygen levels and frigid temperatures can alter fish behavior. This is what separates the seasoned pros and average Joes.

It takes more skill, knowledge, and savvy to catch crappie, perch, and muskies throughout the winter season. Only the most skilled anglers can catch their limit of pike, perch, and muskies regularly. You can join them! Learn more!

These are some of our top tips and tricks that will help you have more success.

Know your weeds

As the days get shorter and the sun gets darker, underwater vegetation begins to die. Its decomposition causes oxygen loss, which can have a profound effect on the levels of oxygen in the lake. This not only makes fish slower, which can increase their cold-water-induced torpor, it also has an impact on where they live and eat.

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Take a moment to smell the ice as you poke holes with your auger, or snag a snag with your lure. Fish elsewhere if the ice you have pulled up is rotten or dead. You want green, fresh weeds especially late in the season when fish are starving for oxygen.

The gas is still being produced by live vegetation, so the fish will continue to move towards healthy weed beds as winter progresses. Many of the lake’s inhabitants will move to these weed beds, including the bluegill, crappie, and sunfish that they depend on. These species will be followed by larger predatory fish.

We like to target large, shallow lakes that can sustain lots of underwater vegetation during winter.

Topography, Structure, and Oxygen

Topography is crucial. The best anglers are as familiar with the bottom of the lake as their living rooms. It’s not just a statement made by experienced fishermen. We have found it to be accurate in our observations.

It’s not difficult to find the 10 percent every weekend. This is a lot harder than trying to find the deepest water.

Drop-offs and Weeds

Many species prefer to be near a steep drop-off. If there is a healthy weedbed, it can also be a great spot. These weedy areas provide shelter, oxygen, prey, and access to water temperatures. These weedy zones are a favorite spot for fish to drop a few lines.

Walleye fishing with shallow water weeds


Fishing a drop-off adjacent to a wetland bed

Points and Humps

A long, narrow point underwater is similar to a drop-off. If you look at the tip and sides of that point, you will likely find the fish you are looking for.

Submerged “islands” and hills all have the same topography. It’s essential to be able to read the bottom and identify where fish might cluster. Fish love to learn in these places because they have shallow water and varying depths. This allows for vegetation to get the necessary light.

Walleye fishermen use GPS to find structures

Muddy Bottoms

Bluegills and other panfish will eat many invertebrate species all winter. If you know where these prey items are, you can also find out what is eating them. These creatures love to live in muddy, sticky bottoms, which is why you will see bluegill and sunfish eating them all season.

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Brosdahl explains muddy bottoms

Oxygen

Ice anglers often focus on the bottom. However, as oxygen levels drop later in the season fish might be eating higher in the water column. Do not assume that the bottom is the best place. Fish may be attracted to the surface of the water where oxygen levels are dropping, especially if the water contains more O2.

This is especially true during periods of deep snow which can block light from reaching the water and limit photosynthesis in underwater plants.

Test patterns

Successful anglers in summer will use systematic castings to cover as much water as they can in search of strikes. Ice fishermen who are experienced use a similar strategy, but it is adapted for hard water.

They will use a topo map to help them identify the best structure, and then plan a series of test holes. They will start with a grid the size of a football field and then plot a pattern to divide large expanses of ice into smaller pieces. They’ll move from hole to hole using a transducer until they have a good idea of where the fish are, and where they should drill their final holes.

This is not a discussion of dozens of holes within a 100-foot radius. A hole every 75-100 feet will help you to understand where the fish congregate.

Example of running a test-pattern

Move, move, move

While you may not be as mobile while ice fishing from a boat, it’s important to follow the fish in winter.

You should stop jigging holes for longer than five minutes without any action and switch lures or presentations. You’ll be able to drill more holes through the ice than you thought possible, so you can test your skills.

Twirl your Transducer

This tip can change the way you fish.

Anglers tend to lower their transducers below the ice and rely upon the cone angle for fish detection. If you go an extra step, it’s possible to tell if you are in a school of fish or just water. Once your transducer is below the ice, gently twirl it by the cable. Rotate the cone it produces to extend its coverage side-to-side.

This will allow you to see more water, but your flasher will still show fish as a lightning-fast blip.

Pay attention to the dial!

You can lure hungry predators to your bait by using the right lure and actions

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Chum

Chum is another tip that can attract slow fish. This technique can be used to attract sluggish fish. However, you should check with your local wildlife or fisheries department before you use it.

You can try mashing up a few minnows, dropping them in your home, or putting a handful of waxworms in the water. This is how you can attract predators to your area by spreading scents.

Here are more Ice Fishing Tips

  • Smaller lakes freeze quicker so fishing early in the season will allow for a longer ice fishing period.
  • As winter progresses, you will be able to move to larger lakes. The fish will be more active if there is more oxygen in the lakes.
  • Fish are drawn to structure, so make sure you have a map and a way to identify the lake’s layout before you go fishing. You should look for breaks, weddings, and underwater humps.
  • First, ice fishing is for the bars and points that run from the shore and the weedlines. Midwinter, fish will be found around deeper structures like rock piles and mid-lake humps. As spring and spawning nearer, the fish will move closer to the places they were on first ice.
  • Following the lead of the ice fishing pros, drill multiple holes at different depths around the structure you are fishing. Try another hole if you don’t see fish or can’t catch fish in 15 minutes.
  • Perch and Walleye are two examples of fish that can be found near the bottom of lakes. Crappie, Sunfish, and other fish are usually suspended.
  • To attract aggressive fish, jig larger lures at least a foot above the bottom. If you are not seeing fish, switch to a smaller lure.

Bait Tips

Live bait is important whether you are jigging or dead sticking, using a bobber, or tipping up. For more information, see the tips and techniques for each species linked above.

Last Thoughts

Even the best equipment won’t help you catch fish if it doesn’t know where they are. Winter presents unique challenges for anglers. If you do your research and have a plan to reduce the size of your lake to your satisfaction, it is possible to catch fish. This will increase your chances of success in hard water. Have fun! While you’ll learn a lot from this site, you should also make an effort to put the information into practice whenever you can.

Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.