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By Gary Roach
The question was, "How important is it to find baitfish when you're ice fishing?" My answer was; it's very important. Like fishing on open-water, when you find forage, you know you're near something bigger. Something that has plans on utilizing these baitfish for sustenance. Now think about this. If you give this bigger fish a crack at something that's easy to catch, and looks and smells like something that should be edible, what do you think it will try to eat? A baitfish that runs away or an easy meal that only requires a tiny amount of energy?
You find baitfish when you search the structure. You're drilling a lot of holes and using your sonar to look for both baitfish and catchable fish like panfish, pike, lake trout, walleyes, whatever.
I'm using an Ultra for a sonar. It's a liquid crystal display which I really like. With a flasher you have to do a lot of experimenting to get to the point where you can understand what it's telling you. A liquid crystal screen tells you everything. Is it a single fish, a school of fish, a big fish, little fish? It's all right there on the screen, no guessing.
Some people will try to sell you a flasher because they say it's a faster response time. It's just a sales pitch. The graph has always been fast enough for me. I watch the fish swim up to the lure, just like the flasher and I know the precise depth of my lure, just like the flasher. Is there any benefits to having one or the other. The only one I can think of is that I can set up a split screen with my Ultra and zoom in on the bottom with one side and watch for suspended fish coming through on the other. This really narrows my presentation down to inches and I can put the bait right in front of that fish's nose.
Let's say I've drilled a dozen holes over a big sunken island and I'm looking for walleyes. I've dropped the transducer down four of the holes and have only spotted one fish, real tight to bottom. On the fifth hole my sonar shows a big cloud of fish just a foot-and-a-half off the bottom. My mind says baitfish and a smile proceeds to adorn my face.
I position my bucket, make sure the sonar is right where I want it, and grab the rod that has the chartreuse and green FireEye Minnow.
I tip the treble hook on the FireEye with a fathead minnow and drop it down right into the cloud of baitfish. I can watch the lure descend because I have tuned the sensitivity on the sonar to allow that. Since the cloud of forage is near the bottom I have also set the split screen and the zoom. I can watch the lure as it dances with the minnows.
At first I give the FireEye some sharp pops and heavy-handed twitches. I'm trying to ring the dinner bell for any walleyes nearby. I only use the erratic action for about 20 seconds, then I go into a quivering/resting motion to provide a target for the fish that have come over to see which one of the poor little guys was dying.
You can see when a bigger fish comes around. Many times the cloud of baitfish on the sonar disappears as a bigger fish moves up to inspect the lure. This is the moment of truth. Will the fish hit, or won't it? Try a little bit of action. Maybe just a quiver. Let the lure rest. Don't shake it hard or jig it. You want the walleye to inhale what it thinks is an easy meal.
After you catch the fish get the lure down the hole again fast. It's always a possibility there's more fish in the area and that big school of baitfish is still nearby. Use another 20 second burst of jiggling to attract more walleyes and keep working that hole hard until you have exhausted all the possibilities there.
You still have a few more open holes to inspect and with some luck, and skill, and the help of that graph, you might find those baitfish again, a new cloud of forage, or you may spot some big fish hanging just out of range of your earlier presentation and you can target them.
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