Riege: “Night Shift” Ice Fishing

Published 6:40pm Wednesday, January 23, 2013

By Bob & Ginny Riege

Summer anglers are accustomed to dashing home from work, hooking up the boat and rushing to their home lakes for a few hours of fishing before dark. That is just not possible in the winter. Fishing during the cold months after a day at the office or the factory means huddling in an ice shanty under the stars.

Popular targets are walleyes and crappies with a bonus catfish or two. Perch and bluegill tend to lack the night vision to feed after the sun goes down. Night methods must be modified from daylight tactics to insure success. Here’s how.

Location is key

Known as “Mr. Ice Fishing,” Lindy Little Joe Fishing Team member Dave Genz recalls many nights on the ice with his dad. They used candles rather than lanterns to reduce light penetration down into the hole. His father worried a bright glare below might spook finicky walleyes. Today, Genz is America’s foremost ice fishing expert. He’s responsible for developing much of the best hard-water equipment and tackle on the market.

Genz, a member of the Ice Team’s “Power Sticks” fishing team, is Mr. Mobile when the sun is up. He uses a small one-man Fish Trap he designed to move quickly from spot to spot to find fish. But, he slows down at night when it’s the fish that are on the move. He can afford the luxury of staking out a likely location and waiting in the comfort of a roomy 6 by 8 foot Clam 6800. Fire up a portable heater, and he’s set.

Bottom structure that holds baitfish is best for walleyes. Focus on drop-offs near points, on humps or channel edges. Crappies often suspend over the deepest water in small lakes. In larger lakes, they can be found suspended over the deepest areas of bays. They may also be found in places with current that carries the microscope plankton that minnows love. Search funnel areas created where the tips of two points come close to each other or where a sunken island is located just off a point. Fish on the edges of old weedlines, not in the weeds where panfish seek shelter during the day.

Shunning crowds is a good idea during the day. Fishing pressure tends to push fish off structure. This is often not the case at night. Setting up near others may be the ticket. But, spend some time in the shanty with a lake map looking for other spots with similar features that might not be so busy. Try them the next time you go out.

Whether you’re ice fishing or fishing in the open water, an underwater fishing camera will help you become a better fisherman. For years I relied on my Vexilar flasher to see underwater for me when ice fishing. And yes a flasher will help you catch more fish. But a flasher can’t tell you what species of fish is below you, or separate fish from tree branches nearly as well as an underwater camera can. After using an underwater fishing camera both ice fishing and in the open water I have witnessed first hand just how valuable of a tool an underwater fishing camera is. Now Vexilar has combined the underwater camera with the flasher unit and have named it Double Vision. “The Fish Scout Double Vision system starts with a great 16:9 wide-screen color monitor, 80 foot of cable, a color/black and white camera system that automatically shifts from color to black and white mode in low light conditions. Your Fish Scout Double Vision system has its own carrying case with two options for over- hole suspension arms and even a battery status indicator. This system comes with a 9-amp hour, 12-volt battery and a 1-amp hour battery charger. The FL20 Tri-Beam Ice-Ducer system is the ultimate sonar system. It has two zoom zones for deep water fishing, a night mode option and special low power mode for shallow water fishing.” According to www.vexilar.com.

Genz designed a series of ice-fishing rods in Berkley’s Lightning Rod Series because too often ice fishermen resort to whimpy “sticks.” Made with plenty of backbone and fast tips, his rods vary in length from 24 to 30 inches. Choose the one that “balances” with the size of jig and the weight of line you plan to use, from 2 lb. monofilament to 10. The jig should be heavy enough to keep kinks from the line, and you should feel the jig bounce through the rod when everything is right.

You’ll hand-hold one rod, so use no float on it. But, choose the right-sized Thill float for other rods. Lindy Little Joe makes the process simple by offering Mini-Shy Bites or Mini-Stealth floats paired with Genz-designed jigs, the Pounder, the Fat Boy and the Genz Worm. The jigs come in glow colors. Genz activates them using an inexpensive camera flash unit.

Use jigs with #10-sized hooks for eurolarvae, also known as “spikes.” The Fat Boy XL and the Genz Worm XL are designed for minnows. The XL stands for extra large, short shanked hooks. Keep your bait fresh.

Set the depth of the floats so the jig rides just above the marks on the screen or the flasher. If multiple rods are allowed, set one high in the water column just below the ice. Genz has seen times that walleyes have been been holding 3 feet beneath the hole in 12 feet of water and more. Fish that shallow won’t show up on the screen of your electronics very often.

In addition, there are several hot, glow colors of jigs on the market today. They glow in different colors, which are quite a bit more brilliant than the “old” glow. Lindy’s new Techni-Glo line up of jigs that “glow in living color” come in blue, green, yellow and red. Try a small, compact “Tazer” flashlight by Lindy to ignite the jigs.

With your hand-held rod, lower the bait into hole just below the water. Jig it and notice how it behaves. If it spins, adjust it until it stops by adjusting your knot. When ready, lower the bait into the water and start fishing it slowly down to the “fish zone.” That makes it appear more alive than merely lowering it down fast. The jigging motion Genz uses is to “pound” it, almost shaking it violently. If the jig stops moving, set the hook. If you don’t get a bite, try slowing down your jigging motion to a slight quiver.

Here’s another tip. Watch the screen or the flasher. If most of the crappies are concentrated at one depth and you see a fish come into the sonar’s cone at another depth, raise or lower your jig quickly to intercept it. Most likely it’s a bigger crappie than those in the main school.

The Rattl’r by Lindy is a jigging spoon that combines both sound and flash. It’s perfect to attract fish in low-light conditions, and it comes in sizes for both walleyes and panfish. The Rattl’r's action is more violent than small jigs. Genz “casts” it down the hole by feeding line out fast to let the spoon free-fall down with no resistance from above. The result is the Rattl’r darts and dives and covers up to a 10-foot radius depending on the water depth. He then pops it, letting it fall again. Take up slack in the line and pop it again. This will draw it ever closer to the spot right below the hole. Once there, jig it back to the surface and repeat.

Walleyes and crappies tend to be most active in the low-light times within two hours of sunset and sunrise. Most anglers just fish one or the other. But, Genz has noticed that just like big walleyes are often caught in tournaments near noon, big walleyes are also taken in the hours just before and after midnight.

“You have to be a night owl,” Genz said. “But, the benefits are great for those who fish the red eye.”

For more tips and information on upcoming ice tournaments and seminars, get the free Ice Team Annual or visit www.iceteam.com, www.onicetour.com or www.lindylittlejoe.com .

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