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Redefining Rock Structure
By Jason Mitchell

Look for hard bottom areas to catch more fish this winter.  Bars, points and saddles that are covered with rock are a good bet if you are looking for perch or walleyes.  At least that is what I have been told.  Walleye anglers in particular are infatuated with this structural element.  Watch an ice-anglers eyes light up when you describe a tiny rock pile around the corner that nobody knows about.  Lets face it we love rocks.  Big rocks, small rocks, I guess we love all rocks.  Why do we love rocks?  Good memories perhaps.  Maybe this structure might be more obvious to us and we spend more time in these types of areas.  Perhaps the rock pile phenomena has been beaten into our heads so many times that we just feel really good inside whenever we drill in on a good point or hump that is covered with some kind of rock.

In so many cases however, just drilling a hole on top of a rock pile isn’t good enough.  When dealing with rock, remember that bottom hugging fish like walleyes and perch are often between the rocks, not above.  So often, large boulders and rock will prohibit fish from moving or seeing in certain directions.  There is almost set routes fish use as they move across and use a rock pile.  The beauty of structure strewn with rocks and boulders is the fact that fish movement is often directed and limited.  What I mean by this is that usually, fish seem to swim around the base of the rocks instead of swimming up over the rocks unless when really aggressive.  Fish movements often get funneled into gaps, opening and cavities within the rocks. 

In this regard, the “spot on a spot” is often very predictable.  What’s the down side of fishing rock piles?  Not being able to get completely dialed in to the “spot on a spot.”  So often, one hole can be extremely productive while a hole two feet away will produce nothing.  This feast or famine can really become evident when dealing with a fish house.  There will be some holes in the fish house that just don’t produce. 

The best way to find these high percentage honey holes is by fishing.  We all wish there was an easier way don’t we.  Even the best GPS won’t get you close enough.  You will be able to find the rock pile with ease but you will never find where that exact hole was that you slammed the fish last winter.  Mark hot holes with a tree branch or something else so you can find the exact spot again.  Use a depth finder and drill some holes to really learn what is below.  A little trick that works for me is to mark the depth on the Vexilar with my fingernail as I walk from hole to hole so I know the exact difference in depths from hole to hole. 

Many anglers know how to use a Vexilar to find structure by reading changes in actual depth.  When figuring out a rock pile however, you can find out so much from your Vexilar by reading the differences in bottom separations.  Bottom separation is the target separation between your lure and the bottom.  If you have to raise your lure up a foot and a half before you can see the lure on the dial, you have a rock that is sticking up from the bottom, giving you a “blind spot” within the bottom.  Differences in this bottom separation can give you clues as to how big the rocks are and where the size of the rocks change. 

Finally, an underwater camera can give you an even better understanding as to what is located directly below.  Honestly, I don’t use a camera much myself when actually fishing.  A camera isn’t a “fishing tool” so to speak but a “learning tool.”  When you have a question or can’t figure out what is going on down there, dropping the camera down to the bottom usually gives me the answers to my questions.  An underwater camera can really give an angler a better understanding as to how the rocks look from a fish’s perspective and it is beneficial to see how fish float through these underwater mazes with our own eyes.

When fishing right down in the rocks, remember that a fish’s sight is often narrowed down to inches.  We often find ourselves having to raise the lure up above the rocks to get the attention from fish further away.   When dropping a lure down into a cavity or opening.  Reduce the gain on the Vexilar until you get a really week bottom signal.  Often, we can see our lure flicker and move within the bottom reading.  Watch for the bottom signal to jump or get stronger when a fish moves in.

Rock piles are a popular option to explore during the ice-fishing period.  The reason is simple.  Rocks are often very productive.  Walleyes, pike and perch will all use this habitat sometime during the winter.  The key to catching fish over rock is remembering that just being close or on a general spot isn’t quite good enough.  Nowhere else has location have to get so narrowed down as over a rock bottom. 

Take the time to learn the bottom well.  Experience will tell you what characteristics of rocks are attractive to fish.  Time spent fishing will tell you how fish relate to this structure and where you should fish. 

Editors note* Fish with some of the best ice anglers in North America this winter.  Give the Perch Patrol Guide Service a try on North Dakota’s Devils Lake.  Contact Steve “Zippy” Dahl for more information regarding this incredible fishing experience.  Excellent accommodations available through Woodland Resort, (701) 351-1890 or Spirit Lake Casino, 1-800-WIN-UBET
Jason Mitchells guideing service on Devils lake North Dakota

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