Ice anglers will notice this time of the ice season that many fish may come into your flasher’s view, but not bite like they did earlier in the season (especially the walleyes).
Fish will seem to key to a couple of short major and a short minor feeding period. Catching them or getting them to bite other than the peak times can be a frustrating challenge. You can tease them and they will hang in the area and peak their heads into your sonar view, maybe even bump the bait or lightly pull on the piece of minnow but won’t commit to the offering.
When this kind of neutral to negative mood starts with the school of fish you are working, it is a good time to try and change things up. Aggressive jigging may have called them in but won’t trigger the reaction bite it did several weeks ago, so change up your cadence.
Sometimes slightly twitching the bait or slowly lifting and dropping the bait under tension will get a reaction. If it spooks them out of view, jig aggressively again and then pause, repeat, and when they come back into view try just holding the bait next to them or barley above them and hold still.
You may need to watch the flasher and the rod tip at the same time. A small tick on the rod tip that you don’t feel, but observe, or a slight pressure on the rod, may be all you’re going to get. Hooksets are free and some of them you will be pleasantly surprised with life on the other end.
Sometimes you will feel the tear off of the minnow or minnow head on the hookset – it happens!
Other adjustments will be to change lures. Smaller bait/lure styles on finicky fish is usually the better direction to go with your adjustment. Sometimes jigging spoons with rattles or a small flash blade may be all it takes to get the reaction.
Color can be a key, and that can change with changing conditions (like cloud cover, dim light, snow, or bright sun). Some lakes always have a base color that works better than others with minor adjustment to those color spectrums. Lake of the Woods is a classic example of gold, pink, and red being base.
Lakes with a perch forage base like Leech, Mille Lacs, Otter Tail and Winni will have the yellows, greens and chartreuses as a base. Lakes with high shiner forage bases will fish well with greens, blues, whites and glows as a base.
Stained water vs. clear water will require playing with color. Most lean toward bright and glow in the stained water, but that is not always the case. Blacks, purples, blues and reds can fish well in the stain and create a contrasting shadow effect that can draw attention.
Changing baits or bait sizes can be another consideration. On vertical hanging baits, ½ a minnow may have worked, all the sudden, just the head may be the ticket. Sometimes adding a whole small minnow, or switching to wax worms or plastics gets it done. When the bite is difficult, small up first, then try other baits.
Most of the time the fathead head of a minnow is all that’s needed, but other times the shiner head or rainbow does better. Fishing in a group and everyone trying something a little different can help you hone in on what is working best.
If that dead rod with the tail hocked minnow worked, it might not be a fluke. Pay attention to the details and change it up. Trying to solve the puzzle is really as much about fishing as the hooksets and fights. Solving the puzzle and fooling the fish can give great satisfaction (even though we are supposed to be so much smarter!).
There will be times during the later ice season when you throw the kitchen sink at them, make all the adjustments, know you are on fish, and they just won’t cooperate. That is fishing. The time of year, mood of the fish, body of water you are on, times you are able to get out after them, will all make a difference and scratching out a few may be as good as it gets.
One thing for sure, you can learn as much, if not more about fishing from the challenging days as you will when they are jumping through the holes onto the ice. You sure can’t catch them sitting at home on the couch.
By the way, many reports of big northern pike, nice crappies and sunfish have been biting well on area lakes this last week (as well as a mix of perch and some walleye).
Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.