If you are new to fishing in frozen lakes or ponds, you will quickly find that most of the considerations apply to this activity as to deep sea fishing. This includes figuring out what species to fish for, where to focus, what to use, and how to make a presentation.
Ice fishing versus open water fishing
The big difference in ice fishing is the decreased mobility and the greater difficulty of covering many areas.
Many ice anglers prefer panfish (particularly bluegills, crappie, and yellow perch) because of their abundance and liberal catch restrictions. While you can use some type of bait to catch frozen panfish, many anglers choose to jig these species vertically using small artificial offerings like ice fish flies and jigs.
Ice fishing flies
Since fly casting or fly rods are not used on the ice, you may be wondering about “flies” for ice fishing. Ice fish flies are an example of the sometimes confusing terminology used by the recreational fishing community. Ice fishing flies are simply a form of lightweight template made from material used in traditional flies but with a weighted head. While conventional devices have a small soft plastic body or a body made of soft material such as chenille, flies for ice fishing have fur or feathers or similar practically weightless material on the hook shaft behind a light head. You could call them jig-flies and they are just a little light to throw with spinning gear, a little heavy to throw with fly harness, but enough to drop vertically into the water column. (It’s worth noting that conventionally weightless, non-weighted head flies can also be used as droppers in ice fishing or deep sea fishing.)
Fly fishing techniques
A key thing in ice fishing technique, especially for panfish (and trout), is the use of light objects, and this is where small light flies and jigs glow. Panfish do not have big mouths and while they can be aggressive at times, they are often not in cold winter water. The rate of descent is therefore sometimes important. Presentation experiments are necessary here.
Successful ice fishing is not always about quickly lowering ice fish flies or devices to a certain depth. Sometimes the point is to bring them down slowly and a little inconspicuously and look natural in the water so as not to alert the target species. And once the bait is where you want it, it can also mean moving your jigging rod slightly rather than jerking it up quickly. Or just do a simple wiggle with the tip of the pole – you know how to do it if your cold hand is shaking (wear a good glove).
Going ice fishing soon? Make sure you have your fishing license before you go!