Fishing & Hunting Tips

Winter lake fishing tips and tricks

Howdy. It’s that time of the year again when fish stays suspended and lethargic. After all, they are cold-blooded creatures. Blazing winter slows down their metabolism. So they lose the enthusiasm to feast. So you’ll need to use slow action rod and live bait to draw their attention.

A few Ice fishing facts-

  • Early winter, look to fish at the points and bars that extend from the shore and all the way to the weed lines.
  • In the mid-Winter, fish take refuge near structures and rock piles at the mid-lake.
  • As spring gets closer, spawning fish will move back to the shallows of the lake

Whether you’re gonna fish in the river or lake, the tricks are pretty much the same more or less. Today, we’ll be focusing on some winter lake fishing tips and tricks. Unlink your prey, you can’t slow down. We’ve got a list of the best ice fishing boots to protect your extremities from frostbite and hypothermia. Take a peek if you’re old pair needs replacement. Now let’s get right to the topic. 

Winter lake fishing tips and tricks

Not all lakes across the country freeze up during winter. Today I’ll focus on those water bodies that freezes up. Besides, the technique doesn’t vary that much between summer and winter lake fishing that much. It’s different when the water is frozen. 

O personally find winter lake fishing way easier and relaxing than in the summertime. All you gotta do is dig a hole and drop the line. Meanwhile, take a sip of your hot cocoa and think about life’s perspective. No more casting, cranking drag required. Get set with your jogging combo and use live bait if you can. It’s that simple. 

It’s good and fun unless you get some bites. Inspire having full access to the lake, knowing where the fish are could prove more difficult than we anticipate. I’ve listed some tips that cover winter lake fishing and ice fishing as a whole.

1. Ice fishing rods and reel

Veteran anglers already know what kind of tackle set up they need. But for our new anglers, it is crucial to know the right rod and reel type for ice fishing. It’s an important ice fishing tip after all.

Unlike open water reel, you need ultralight reel set up. You can also use what fly fisherman use. A round “straight line” reels. And for rods, we made an awesome list of the best ice fishing rods just for you.

2. Digging holes

Use your augers to drill holes. Measure the ice and see if it’s at least 4 inches or not. Anything less than 4 inches is considered a dangerous ice surface. You gotta dig multiple holes. But in the beginning drill holes according to the number of your line you’re gonna drop. If you’re going in alone than I suggest don’t exceed more than 5 holes at a time. 

I personally prefer manual augers. They are cheap and silent. And there’s less chance of spooking the fish. I’ve seen some people advice to drill hole after hole to find a school of fish. That’s just not the way. You have to understand that during the cold season, fish metabolism slows down. They become less enthusiastic to feast and stay suspended most of the time.

3. Avoid rotten vegetations

As the water began to freeze, light cant reaches the underwater vegetation. So they began to die out. The decomposition process depletes oxygen into the water that affects the elemental balance. So if you drill through and smell a rotten and foul odor, find a different spot. Chances are, you’ll be pulling up rotten plants and other organisms. 

Fish would likely to move and find a shelter near underwater structures and live weedbeds. Fish finds better insulation and foods near these structures. So you know where to drill now. I couldn’t emphasize enough to use the best ice fishing flasher or fish finder. It’s easier than digging a dozen holes.

4. Structures & Topography

There’s an old saying that 90% of the fish are in 10% of water. Once you master the art to identify that 10© spot, you’ll be in business. I’ll give you a hint but this would not be the case always. Weedy waterbeds are ideal for fish survival in harsh cold winter. Look for such place with grass. To be sure you can drop your lines a few times. The best way to know the exact location of the fish is a flasher or fish finder.

5. Identify warm spots

This sounds so silly. I mean how are we supposed to find warm spots in a frozen lake? To understand what happens to the fish and other living organisms underneath the thick cold ice. You have to rewind the freezing process all over. Warm water is less dense than cold water. That’s why it sits atop of the cold water during summer.

All the water beneath the ice is warm. But the temperature may drop slightly if your hole is exposed to the outside temperature for longer. 

Remember the number 4. Because that particular temperature when the lake water is at its most sensitive. In the summer the heavy dense water settles down at the bottom and sends warmer water close to the surface. But upon the arrival of winter, the surface water begins to go below 4° and eventually freeze. During the freezing process, colder surface water shifts down under and sends less cold water stop. As the snow makes the water surface hardened, the temperature within the water suddenly starts to rise. Because the frozen surface acts as an insulation for the entire water body of the lake. And also sealing off entire atmospheric oxygen, the ice acts as an oven too.

6. Channel Creek

Channel creeks are also an excellent spot to get some bits. Underwater humps and hills are also a great place to find some big catch. Especially that spot where shallows meet deep water. You’ll find such spots in main lake channel swing points.

7. The right bait

Winter ice fishing tips and tricks are incomplete without a proper explanation of suitable baits. Because this might confuse, especially novice anglers. But if you follow some basics it should be easy enough to pick the best lure. Live bait is the go-to choice for success. Fish metabolism slows down during the cold season. They stay suspended most of the time. If you present them artificial bait, they might get spooked by the unnatural movement. 

If you don’t have live baits then present them slowly. Try to mimic their movement. I personally use minnows and shiners. Simple and effective. Some of my folks use live worms. I also used article bait with hair and feathers. They get stiff and renders limited movement. Excellent for slow style baiting. 

To be safe, use multiple lures that attract different species. Such as Shad, yearling sunfish or perch and herring. These are the preferred meal for most of the winter fish. For artificial baiting, choose soft plastic with linear tailed worms. Another couple of effective baits are grubs and tube baits. 

Don’t forget about the right color choice. Colors that imitate winter forage will be productive. White, silver, even transparent color with color flakes will be worthwhile. You should also present smaller lures. Anything between two to four inches will be perfect.

8. Locate the predators home

Even in freezing cold water, lakes bottom surface stays muddy and sticky. Predator fish like bluegill and different species of panfish use the sticky mud as their holding place to catch prey. Drop your lines until it hits the bottom. Now pick it back up and check the hook for evidence. Interestingly, this trick works in both winter and summer alike.

9. Oxygen Level

Oxygen level varies with temperature. Most of the anglers target at the bottom part of the lake. During the summer, deep water holds an adequate supply of oxygen. But oxygen levels decline as the winter progresses. And fish starts to dwell close to the surface. You’ll likely find more fish close to the surface during deep snow. Because light can’t penetrate through thick ice and reach deep water vegetation. This causes the demise of microorganisms and other living things that helps fish to sustain.

10. Chum

Another sleek winter lake fishing tip is using Chum. But make sure that it’s legal. Ask the local wildlife and fisheries department for any kind of specific information and restrictions. I usually mash up a few minnows or shiners and sprinkle them on the surface. Waxworms also helps attracts sluggish fish with their odors.

11. Spear ice fishing

Some anglers like to wait for their bites from the comfort of their shanty. While others go on an ancient way to impale their next catch. If you haven’t seen ice spearfishing than you’re missing out on the fun.

12. Location

Understanding the exact location of the fish is crucial regardless of what you intend to catch. You can present live bait but it won’t matter unless the fish detects it. Earlier we discussed lake turnover. Where bottom water replaces the surface water layer. 

So if the lake is frozen, bait closer to the surface. If it’s not frozen then deeper water is the place to be. You can also cast over structures like ledge or hump. Fish stays close to such structures to feed and take refuge during the winter onslaught.

13. Twist the transducer

I read about this particular ice fishing trick online. At first, I was a bit skeptical. But it really works. Gently lower your transducer in the deep to detect fish via cone angle. All you have to do is twirl the transducer. Don’t jerk it off. Do it gently. 

The rotating cone will enhance side imaging allowing you to determine whether its dead water or a school of fish. So the basic idea is to cover more water. And the lightning-fast flasher will display fish location in no time. 

Ice fishing pro tips

  • Don’t wait for the lakes to freeze up. Start winter lake fishing earlier. You’ll be enjoying ice fishing for longer. 
  • At the beginning of early winter, you’ll be getting plenty of bites. But as the season progresses, drop your line in larger lakes. Because, more water means more feeding ground, vegetations, and habits for fish. But the most important of all, a large lake holds more oxygen. 
  • I always emphasize people to use a fish finder to identify structures, creeks, weed beds, etc underwater. 
  • Read and follow pro anglers tips online for more detailed ice fishing tips and tricks. Drill multiple holes and don’t spend more than 15 minutes in each one only if there’s no bite. Keep changing holes in every 15 minutes. 
  • If you’re baiting for walleye or perch, sink it at the bottom. And remember, crappie and sunfish can be found near underwater structures. But they’ll be suspended so use live bait instead of artificial for higher bite ratios. 
  • For bigger fish use a larger jig. Start by the foot of the bottom to attract these hot head baddies. But if they aren’t taking the bite, switch to smaller portions of jogs. In the winter bigger fish may not always get enthusiastic to feast. 

Ice fishing safety

Better safe than sorry. Ice fishing is an attractive activity that comes with a price unless you’re taking a few safety notes. 

  • If you know the lake you want to ice fish than avoid those spots with a strong current. Look for ice that formed on moving water. Avoid such spots unless you need to access. In that case, make sure that the ice is at least 5″ thick. Use your auger to cut a very small portion of ice and measure the hole. The thickness of the ice is the main ice fishing safety measure. 
  • If you’re fishing at a new location, asking local anglers for specific information is a good idea. Thanks to the social media platform, you can query in any specific area based angling community forums online. But if that’s not available then you’ll find a couple of taverns and bait shop at the nearby town. You won’t get disappointed.
  • Watch where you’re walking. If there’s a pile of snow right above the frozen winter lake, your safety could be compromised at any moment. Surprisingly snow can insulate the hard icy surface and make it prone to crack. Try to avoid walking through such snowy piles unless you absolutely need to. Also, snow piles increase the pressure on the ice surface. 
  • Another underrated ice fishing safety tip is to focus on your surrounding sounds. If somewhere in the lake or God forbid, underneath your feet ice cracks, it’ll make a vivid sound. Move away as far as possible from such places. In fact, postponing the ice fishing session altogether. 
  • But what if I break through the ice? To survive such a horrible incident, you need to wear ice fishing spikes around your neck. See those two sharp objects attached by a rope. Use them to crawl back out of the freezing water. It’s not that hard. Impale the ice with those sharp edges, similar to climbing a rock. 
  • If you’re a beginner or fishing to a new lake or else, don’t go solo. I know part of winter angling is going in it all line wolf style but, when safety is at stake, better leave some desires locked up somewhere back of your mind for your loved ones. 
  • Go on as a group but don’t stay too close once you guys hit the frozen lake. If one of you is to break through the ice and fall in the hole, others can rush in and help. Each individual should carry at least a dozen meters long rope. Once someone gets affected, throw the rope immediately to drag them back out of the freezing water. Avoid rushing towards that person. There’s a good chance that the ice surrounding the broken hole is thinner. 
  • And don’t forget to wear proper warm clothes for better insulation. Remember the air will feel much colder than the ice and snow. 
  • I would suggest you bring your cell phone and a radio with a decent range. Stay connected on the frequency of local law and order authorities in emergencies. You might not get network coverage. 

There oh have it, folks. These are the complete winter lake fishing tips and tricks up my sleeve. Just remember that ice fishing isn’t always fun and easy. It can be dangerous if you don’t follow these tips. 

PS: Safely use your heater to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Nicholi Wyto

Hey I'm Nicholi Wyto is a professional sports fisherman and hunter, love to enjoy spending time in Michigan’s rugged northern forests. I love to explore my experience and help others who are interested in fishing and hunting.

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