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Ice Fishing Guide - Finding Fish

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Narrowing the search for fish down from the acres of lake surface to just a few square inches where the hole is cut is probably the most important aspect of ice fishing, and to neophytes it can be the most baffling. Sometimes finding fish is easy. If there is a crowd of fishermen busily pulling in fish, it would be foolish to do anything but join them. But, on an empty, unfamiliar lake, it takes more skill to successfully locate fish.

An angler must first know what species inhabit the lake, then decide which to pursue. The angler must know the quarry's cover and water-depth requirements and know where to findthose conditions on the lake.

A reservoir map is a big help, especially one showing water depth in two-to five-foot intervals. Maps showing depths at greater intervals are less useful. Some maps also show underwater structures such as old creek or river channels and inundated roads.

Even without a map, an angler can get a good idea of what's under the ice by studying the surrounding terrain. The topography of the shore immediately adjacent to the lake probably extends into the water. A gently sloping plain probably indicates a shallow flat offshore. Rough hills at the shoreline probably continue below the waterline.

A deep draw or canyon probably extends some distance underwater. On the ice, a meandering line of dead trees, stumps and stickups obviously denotes the old creek or river channel, usually loaded with flooded cover.

Another aid to divining a lake's secrets is an electronic depth finder, a portable version of the units anglers use in summer boat fishing. These devices read through clear ice when their transducers are pressed against its wet surface. A plastic bag containing a solution of little antifreeze and water and can be held around the transducer with a rubber band and provide the necessary contact. When it is in contact with the ice, the unit will read right through the bag just as if it were in the water. When the ice is cloudy, as is often the case late in the ice-fishing season, it is necessary to cut a hole in the ice and place the transducer directly into the water.

The Key to Success

Gathering up equipment and bait, lugging it out onto the lake and staking claim to a slab of ice with fish under it are all important aspects of ice fishing. But it all comes to naught if you select the wrong pole, line and lure or bait, fish the wrong depth or fail to detect the bite and hook the fish.

Techniques vary with the species, since each lives in different kinds of cover at varying depths and eats different kinds of food. Successful anglers understand these characteristics and take advantage of them.

The angler should be aware that size limits imposed on various species are in effect during the ice-fishing season just as they are during months of open water. Catch-and-release fishing is as beneficial in winter as in summer, and proper release techniques are just as important during the winter as in summer.

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