The cold temperatures have added a significant amount of ice to the lakes, with most lakes now having at least 14 inches of good ice in most locations.
Anglers have started to drive their vehicles on most lakes, with many people rushing to get their stationary fish houses on their favorite locations before someone else beats them to the spot.
Fishing has been slow recently, partly because the cold temperatures take away the motivation for anglers to be mobile and go searching for fish. When the conditions are tough, most anglers are content to sit in one spot and wait for the fish to come to them.
Some wheeled fish houses are nicer than many peoples homes and almost as big. Once they are set up on the ice, it is not hard to be comfortable, even with the temperatures staying below zero as they have been for much of the past two weeks.
There is still a flurry of activity during the prime hours of the day, but the day bite has been poor, partially because of the full moon and partially because of the cold temperatures.
Many of the fish have been moving into their least active positions during the day, completely withdrawing from structures and holding or suspending over the basin a good distance away from their active feeding positions on structure.
Not every fish participates during each feeding movement. Usually only a portion of the school will get active at any one time, with less fish participating for a shorter period of time when the conditions are like they have been recently.
Anglers will often see fish on sonar, but it is difficult to get them to bite. Downsizing lure size and line weight and adjusting to a more subtle jigging pattern can help, but there is no fool proof way to catch fish with a negative feeding attitude.
Being in the right place at the right time helps when the fish get active, but that leaves a lot of down time on the ice.
“Car dooring” is how many guides usually look for fish, punching a hole or two in strategic areas to see what the fish are doing. The anglers sit with the door open on the vehicle and the heater cranked for long enough to see what is happening in the area before moving to the next spot.
Anglers looking for a spot to set up their fish house should take the time to survey the area by drilling a few holes to check the area with an underwater camera.
It is better to put a house by something “fishy” on the bottom rather than putting it on a featureless spot with nothing to attract the fish. A few rocks, a patch of gravel or locating the house on the crown of the hump or on the cusp of the drop-off are all better locations that on a flat with nothing on the bottom.
Active jigging patterns are also best left for peak periods of the day. A rattle reel with a plain hook and a lively minnow will often outfish an active jigging pattern most of the day.
Anglers in houses can leave the lines in the water on the rattle reels while they play cards, watch TV or nap, with the sound of the rattles drawing their attention when a fish bites and takes some line.
Just like with tip-ups, it is usually better to go with a larger minnow on a rattle reel, so only the serious fish take the bait and hopefully most of the small perch leave it alone.
Anglers are reminded if they are fishing panfish in deep water, they should be keeping what they catch. It doesn’t mean the fish are making it back down to the bottom when they make it back down the hole.
Sorting fish in deep water should be considered unethical. If you don’t believe this, take a look with an underwater camera at the bottom of the ice around your hole after releasing fish taken out of deep water.