Do you panic when conditions limit your ability to spread out over the ice? Extreme cold, deep snow or slush, bad ice/open water all make picking up and moving hard. When you’re limited to fewer or smaller fishing areas, do you think that puts you at a disadvantage?
When I can, changing spots is something I do all the time. Sometimes just a fresh set of holes on a new, different type of structure is all it takes to get things rolling again. But I’ve also had good success sitting on specific spots and waiting for fish to move in or become active. Some of our cold snaps so far this winter have been brutal, and many lakes have deep, sloppy snow and slush. Being patient on good spots with high percentage techniques continues to be productive for me. A lot of it is mental. If you could only cut a single hole to fish out of it all winter, could you handle it?
Your confidence techniques really are your own baby. For me, some form of live minnow rig fished near a good jigging bait is my favorite. In really cold weather, this normally means cutting a pair of holes inside the Fish Trap and watching for fish on the sonar. Jigging close to a setline means choosing jigs that won’t wander too far and tangle your other rig. With certain spoons and swimming plugs, I might have to angle them way out, away from the minnow when I drop them in. With some practice you can do this easily. Once they make their way back under me, slower, less aggressive jigging strokes keep them out of trouble. And in deep cold, this usually isn’t a bad way to work your baits, anyway. Of course, presentations that fish straight up and down are easiest to use here. Heavy tubes or other plastics and compact spoons like Buckshots are ideal. A plain leadhead jig and minnow is never a bad option. I like hooking them near the wrist of the tail. It keeps them working hard against the weight of the jig.
Minnows are hard work to find, care for and use, but there’s nothing better for soaking good spots. Depending on what you’re after, it might be a small shiner, large sucker or even deadbait. For pike, wind-activated tip-ups like HT’s Windlass send out vibration and heavy scent. Setting them out in good spots will bring pike in. For live minnows, I normally either fish them under a slip bobber or simply set the rod in a holder and watch the tip bounce around. I’ve caught way too many fish of all species ‘hole sitting’ with minnows to not do it. It absolutely generates action. Jigging close by keeps the minnow jumpy, and the two work together to call fish over. You’re not moving around much anyway. Let the natural magic of a live minnow stir the pot underneath you.
As long as I’m on a good spot, I can confidently hunker down, fish precisely and wait for things to happen. On unfamiliar water, it takes a lot more confidence to hang in there without any personal history to draw on. About a month ago, I picked four days to fish for walleye on a fishery I know pretty well. It turned out that these were the worst possible days to be out there: a solid week of very high barometric pressure and daytime highs in the -25C to -28C range. The nights were so cold I could hear our wooden deck groaning and popping outside the bedroom. It was just too cold to be out cutting holes or fishing outside my heated shack. The fishing was slow, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t covering any water.
I chose to fish the last five hours of daylight each day. Mornings were just brutal to be outside and historically, the 12pm to 5pm shift is better where I was anyhow. Using my GPS, I set up shop on the same transit-type spot every afternoon. Fish there are rarely waiting for you drop a line in, but almost always move through in schools on and off in late afternoon and early evening. I took a selection of live minnows to fish under a slip bobber, one rod to jig with and three good lures for that lake.
By the time I headed in every night, I’d caught most of the fish I marked. They’d either pull the float down or I’d tease them into hitting with the jig rod. Being stuck in a small area with a few proven fishing methods was more than enough to get into walleye. I didn’t have to run around the lake or try all kinds of exotic baits and lures.
I think there’s a real lesson here. If you’re not able to pick up and move, use it to your advantage. Fish prime times on good spots with what works. This definitely isn’t an earth-shattering philosophy. Most good things in life aren’t. Up at Rob Hyatts on Lake Nipissing, it’s a very similar situation. We spend four days basically fishing out of two holes each, nothing more, and catch all kinds of fish. Rob sets his bungalows on ace spots and the fish show up on cue during daily windows. Staying in a small area is actually a huge advantage.
Right now, the lakes in my area are covered in deep, sloppy slush. Travel by atv, snowmachine or on foot is very tough. Most fishermen who’re out are traveling light, on foot. The conditions have made mobility exhausting and taxing on vehicles and equipment. Having the confidence to pick a select area and beat it to death is a smart approach.
Believe in what you’re doing, believe in your spot, focus on the details and let them come to you. During an Ontario winter, there’s times when that’s really all you can do.