Smack it and the fish will come
For anglers, the term “bottom-bouncing” is typically associated with an open-water tactic of pulling crawler harnesses or live bait very near bottom. But the term can most definitely be used for ice fishing as well, no matter what species you’re after.
This is because, besides how a fish’s lateral line picks up the tiny vibrations sent out from objects through water displacement, fish also use their otoliths (ears) to zone in on forage; especially those next meals that are floundering on bottom.
Overall, when ice fishing, you are extremely limited in the areas you’re able to fish within a waterway – only the very spots directly below the holes you drill, to be exact. To get the attention of a fish that may be swimming nearby, your lure has to make a lot of racket. And whacking bottom and stirring up a little sediment really works wonders.
I’m sure you realize there are lures of many makes and models hanging on the pegged walls of your favorite bait-and-tackle shop; some manufactured with noise-making devices built within them, while others are boisterous in shape alone; some even share a little of both.
But sometimes it takes more than just a lure’s systematic wiggle and jiggle to get a fish to notice them. And that’s when you have to hit rock bottom… literally.
Early on in the day, before getting loud with my lures, I’m careful to be the opposite of noisy. Instead, I try to be as stealthy as can be.
Before the crack of dawn, I crank up my new, ultra-quiet StrikeMaster Lithium 40v Auger and drill as many holes as I can muster. This insures me I’ll have at least one hole punched over structure before the bite starts.
The Lithium 40v Auger with an 8-inch cut only weighs 24 pounds, and the 10-inch cut model only weighs 27 pounds, yet has a lot of torque. The 8-incher will bore up to 100 holes on a single charge, while the 10-incher will slice 70. Couple its lightness and power with the ultra-sharpness and shape of StrikeMaster’s blades and I’m able to drill holes quickly, efficiently and quietly; essential in allowing time for the environment to settle down under me well before the sun rises up over the horizon.
To increase the efficiency of walking on ice, as well my own safety, I use ice cleats on the soles of my boots; all the while keeping my footsteps as quiet as can be. Although the traction on the sole of most boots is excellent, the added grip of spikes of any easy-on/easy-off traction aid allows me to be the most proficient I can be. Especially on a smooth, slick icy surface. And cleats with short spikes are much quieter than the large fang-like spears found on some ice walking aids.
Now, Rather Than Later
As quickly as possible, I’ll walk hole to hole and check for depth and to see if there are any fish below me with my Lowrance HOOK² Ice Machine – a portable sonar and GPS made with the avid ice angler in mind.
What I am looking for besides fish (obviously) is where hard and soft bottoms meet, especially adjacent to a drop off or a hump, as these borders are what fish will most often use to swim along.
These areas are easy to find as hard bottom shows up as a thin, brightly-colored line on the color readout, whereas soft is thicker and muted. And, of course, I can figure out which way the bottom falls off by paying attention to the depth of each hole. But with an SD card filled with Navionics mapping in the unit’s card reader, that process is a no-brainer.
Once the bottom transition areas are found on my sonar, I can confirm what, exactly, it’s made up of via my Quest HD Underwater Viewing System – with a 1080p camera paired with 7-inch waterproof high-resolution color screen.
With the MarCum, I can see firsthand the composition of the lake’s bottom. What I’m often looking for, especially in dingy water, or, when the bite’s been off and the fish are known to be lethargic, is rocks, be it gravel or large boulders.
The reason? Simple, really. I’m looking to get as close to structure as I can.
Lured by Lures and Line
Overall, when jigging, I use line with very little or no stretch. And that’s one of many reasons I use 12-pound-test Berkley FireLine, which I use as my main line. To that, I’ll connect a 1-foot leader of Berkley 10-pound-test Fluorocarbon line, and I join the two via a small Berkley Ball-Bearing Swivel. And when ice fishing, I always connect my lure to the fluorocarbon by a Berkley Cross-Loc Snap, rather than a snap swivel, as the latter adds too much hardware and bulk to the rig.
Banging on bottom works well with all my favorite lures, whether they are metal jigging spoons or hard-bodied baits.
One of the many spoons I like is Northland’s UV Macho Minnow – Kickin, which comes painted in six different ultra-violet hues, including glow-in-the-dark. It’s a heavy lure and raps well against bottom. And speaking of rapping, Rapala’s Jigging Shad Raps and Jigging Raps work wonders for creating chaos on hard bottoms, as well. And I’ve caught a lot of fish of all species on Rapala’s newer Slab Rap, which gives off a lot of vibration in the water.
So, when’s the right time for whacking bottom with your bait?
I like to thump bottom every few minutes until a fish is either spotted on my Lowrance or on the MarCum, and then fish it as I normally would off bottom. But tapping hard bottom works well when a hole’s gone dry and the fish have seemingly left the area, or when I get a strike but the fish missed the lure.
In the case of a missed strike, I’ll drop the lure immediately and rap it on bottom quite a few times, then lift it up and let it set for a few seconds; most of the time, fish will either hit it as the lure flounders and is kicking up silt, or, as it sits motionless afterwards.
Drawing attention to your lure is often as easy as bouncing bottom with it. But remember to be stealthy in your approach, and then let your lure be the loud device.
Drill lots of holes right away, check for depth and bottom composite, then fish. If the fish leave or you get a strike but miss, drop your lure to bottom and let it bounce around. The strike that occurs next might just rock your world.
Mark Martin is a professional walleye tournament angler and instructor with the Ice-Fishing Fishing Vacation/Schools (fishingvacationschool.com), who lives in the southwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.