Call it the “dead of winter” or down times for catching fish through the ice, but anglers using not-necessarily-high-tech tackle can have fun working a jigging rod along the weed edges of area inland lakes and ponds right now.
As ice thickens and oxygen levels drop in early February, fish tend to be less active. But they still remain on the move and feed throughout this down time of the ice-fishing season/year.
Freshwater fish of all sizes and species move up and down the shoreline and it can be challenging at times to find where fish settle and feed, especially during the mid-winter doldrums.
Angler numbers tend to drop off; some walkers and machine runners head out to deeper waters in search of suspended and bottom-hugging perch schools. Walleye and perch jiggers run to deeper drop-offs and the deepest depths to find these roving schools. But there is a solid shoreline fishery that can possibly on virtually every lake that provides good weed-edge areas.
From ice on Chautauqua’s Burtis Bay to Oneida’s Big Bay, to every Southern Tier and all frozen-over western Finger Lakes between, a hard-core band of persistent folk can be seen lining shoreline weed edges that continue to hold everything from puny panfish to plucky pike.
Depths vary. But most of the good weed-edge spots range from 5- to 10-foot depths. During first ice and just before melt-off the bite can be solid; virtually everyone dropping a lure or bait into a hole can pull out a few fish.
But as the season progresses and a thick coating of snow covers a substantial depth of ice, the fishing can be fun but the catching tends to slow.
Right now, three main factors come into play: rod setups, sizes of lure and line and movement of location and of terminal tackle.
A good ice rod should be short, shorter and possibly shortest in the fold for jigging. But the rod’s main, must-have accessory has to be a spring tip. Either a solid metal band or a spring-bobber tip assembly works well.
The band of solid metal holds better for vertical jigging movement; the spring-type tip give a bit more flex for those light lift and lateral bites that sometimes will not even show as a bite.
Early in the season a 1/32 ounce jig head is fine. As the bite gets lighter, think about dropping to a 1/64 jig or even smaller.
Four-pound test worked well when fish were meat munching, but now a light jigging reel should be wound with 2-pound test line or even lighter.
Most bug/grubs connect. Mousy grubs, spikes and waxworms all do well, but for bluegills the waxworm has prevailed. Keep a fresh waxy on, hooked at its center to give it the wiggle action of a whacky worm rig bass anglers use during the boating season.
At this time of the year, that wiggle movement may come down to just a pulse rather than rattle or sweep movement. Even the slightest moving might be too much for this jig rig. And a so-called “dead stick” sequence, setting the rod on a bucket or on the ice, also could draw more of those light ‘gill and crappie bites. But a firm grip on the rod’s handle, held more like a pistol than a rod handle, often gives off just enough of a twitch to move a grub body or “plastic” bug on the hook shank. Many plastics work as well as live bait. The small, pink Maki Plastics simulates a freshwater shrimp and has taken many a panfish.
In general, ‘gills and perch hold closer to bottom while crappies and bass tend to move up closer to the surface. Nonetheless, bites come as slight changes in line direction more than a tap or whack; ‘gills usually head down with the bait and crappies often swim upward when they hit.
As for movement, every successful angler differs. Some move from hole to hole quicker than the credits on Big Bang Series. Others sit over one hole all day like a Sphinx and at times fill a bucket with a respectable mix of filleting-sized fishes.
With a basic sonar unit, not even a color-coded, target-separation model or camera unit, an angler can see if anything is swimming below an ice hole. Fish can be stubborn biters. A check with lure color combinations and both live and artificial baits should be tried at each site that shows fish moving through the area.
Big fish such as pike, bass, walleye and others, keep panfish on the move. But once the bruisers move through the panfish bite often proves even better later. As for jigging presentations, a nice, slow lift and drop, with an occasional bottom bouncing to stir mud and/or weeds and a solid grip on a dead-stick hold draws all kinds of fish to your terminal tackle.
Buckets get varied fill levels at this time of the year and not every shoreline light-jig approach works steadily every time out, but dropping to smaller jig head sizes, using lighter line and trying jigging sequences that include stops at levels at and above bottom could up the catch count when the hard-water bite is slight.