The end of your ice
fishing rod should be dangling an interesting combination of sight, sound and smell when you are out on the ice.
These three things make the difference between a
bucket full of fish, or going home empty-handed. There
actually four things, but let's start with the obvious.
Can the fish see your BAIT?
While this may seem obvious, it might not be. Yes,
the fish can see bait, but that isn't the question. The
question is, "Can they see your BAIT?"
If you dangle a piece of chicken liver down there,
are they going to see that as something they'd like to
eat? Doubtful. They can see the bait, but is it
something they want to eat? Ah...that's the question,
Some fish are full of the natural food around them,
others are starving and will take anything. (The latter
This past winter, I spent a LOT of time using my
underwater camera while ice fishing. I noticed something
They didn't like the camera!
They saw the bait, but then they noticed the camera,
and suddenly, they weren't as interested. Folks around
me, withOUT a camera were doing just fine with their
Vexilars, but me? No dice. Or fish.
I'm thinking the camera looked like some bouncer
ready to throw them out of the fast food restaurant for
not tipping? I mean, that camera had to be an issue.
I know I had the right bait, but that stupid camera
made the fish cautious. It took me several weeks to
figure this out, but now I'm certain that that camera
made the bait I was offering a secondary issue to those
I'm coming to the conclusion that multiple holes,
with several different baits/presentations within a few
feet can also be a problem. Maybe it wasn't just the
camera, maybe it was my daughter's presentation that
made them guarded? Who knows? But I suspect that, "What
the fish SEE will be the major difference between a
bunch of fish and nothing."
"Steak or shrimp? Or perhaps you want some glorious
sautéed mushrooms on your steak? Maybe you want some
lemon? Some pepper?"
I mean, c'mon, who likes to load up their dish at a
buffet filled with people in front of you? Servers
coming and going...too much. (Unless you are starving,
then of course...you'll get them.)
The fish you want needs to make one decision:
Is the bait you've presented good enough to eat?
Don't distract that fish from the one thing you have
to offer: FOOD
Can the fish hear your bait?
Live bait makes one noise, artificial bait makes
The idea of 'noise' is that you want to attract those
fish that are 15-25 feet away that might not be able to
see your bait.
The sound of a wounded baitfish is built into the
fish you want. It is called instinct. These fish just
salivate (although you can't see this, it's already wet)
over a wounded baitfish that they like to eat. They
DON'T like a wounded baitfish that might devour THEM,
With baitfish, I recommend going small. The fish
want an easy meal, not a fight.
This is why tip-ups with frozen dead fish seem to
work so well for Northern Pike; they just adore the easy
Now, when it comes to artificial bait, I like
something that makes noise. A lot of noise. It is
supposed to sound like a wounded fish...or something. I
don't know the physiology behind what works and what
doesn't, but I do know that some artificial baits catch
more fish because of their sound. I'm thinking crank
baits here. You know they work exceedingly well in the
summer, so why not try them in the wintertime?
Vertical Crank Baits?
Yeah, why not? Just call them that. You lift the bait
up...and let it flutter down...it is sorta like a "crank
bait", isn't it?
Over the years I've noticed more and more people
catching their limit of fish using artificial lures,
using the sound (and sight) of that presentation to
catch a lot of fish. I haven't given up on live bait,
yet. My kids still like playing with the wax worms and
night crawlers. It isn't a good idea to let them play
with artificial lures with several treble hooks...I'm
The smell of live bait under the ice.
I don't know, this one has me a bit baffled. If there
is some current, I suppose this is huge. But if you are
sitting on a lake, frozen over for several weeks, then
how far does that scent really travel? 10 feet? I simply
don't know. I can't imagine the whole lakebed is teeming
with fish that can smell my bait a mile away and wants
to check it out? If that is true, then why do the guys
10 feet away not notice when I put fresh bait down? I'm
not saying the scent means nothing, I'm simply saying it
really cannot mean much, unless you get them in sight
and sound range.
I almost forgot the fourth thing!
The forth item is obvious to me: Go with what you
feel comfortable with. Sometimes your experience with a
certain bait, bite pattern, advice from those who aren't
drunk, will work wonders.
Next up: 5 gallon buckets for ice fishing