Using electronics to ice more fish

Pete with a mixed bag of perch, pumpkinseed, and lake trout caught jigging. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Stephen George)

Unlike the last two years, the weather is cooperating and making good ice this year. This week’s temperatures and locking up the big lakes just fine.

Smaller lakes like Caroga, Mayfield, West are already being fished.

Keep in mind safety first and that you need at least four inches of ice to support a person. Keep in mind that the ice will be thin where there is current like where streams feed into lakes. Always test the ice thickness by drilling holes or using a spud. When in doubt, stay off it.

When I started ice fishing as a kid, we were equipped with the most basic of gear that included wooden tip ups, a plastic sled to carry our gear, a bucket for bait, and a hand auger. To “dial in” the location we relied on our knowledge from summer outings. Determining the depth of bottom was done with a sinker on the line and dropping it ’til it hit bottom. Oh, how times have changed.

The technology and equipment we use today to ice fish allows fisherman to be out in any weather and stay comfortable. The biggest thing that I feel has revolutionized the sport is the development of portable sonar units/fish finders.

Capt. Stephen with lake trout caught using the Vexilar flasher to find the strike zone. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Stephen George)

Our everyday lives have become dependent upon gadgets and gizmos. My first ice fishing sonar unit was the “Fishin’ Buddy” by Hummingbird. The fish finder allowed us to quickly check the overall depth of the water and it provided a glimpse of what was there; rocks, mud, weeds and most importantly, were there fish?

The first outing with my son on Schroon Lake for lake trout proved that the investment was worth every penny. We set up in 100-feet of water and we marked fish cruising at 40-feet amongst clouds of smelt, so we stripped out the line and set bait from 30 to 50 feet. Within minutes, we had seven lakers on the ice before he and I could get our 10 tip ups set.

Technology has grown in the ice fishing industry and we now are using flashier units that can show tiny jigs, flies, bottom structure, and fish of all sizes in 30- to 100-feet of water. By interpreting the flashes and colors on the screen, the size, abundance, as well as, the attitude/reaction of fish with regard to jigging action can be figured out. How the fish are reacting to jigs and baits is essential to keying in on what they like.

With the new electronics, the behavior of the fish to a certain jigging action and lure selection can immediately be determined and if changes in the jigging cadence, or lure size, lure color are required, changes can be made with real time information.

No other fish can be more finicky than perch. Locally, we are blessed with a variety of fantastic lakes for perch such as Lake George, Schroon Lake, Lake Champlain, and Lake Pleasant. I prefer to set up over weed beds in 15- to 30-feet of water and utilize tear drop Tungsten jigs tipped with a live grub. Often to “match the hatch” I will tie on my own custom nymphs tied with pheasant tail or peacock hurl 6- to 9-inches above the heavier jig.

A nice haul of panfish by using electronics to locate schools of fish. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Stephen George)s

Size 10 to 14 hooks tipped with a Maki Plastic soft bait have also proven to be very effective. In deep water, I will utilize a Hali or micro-spoon to get the rig to the bottom fast.

My standard perch rig is an ultra-light rod with 4-pound test mono with a fluorocarbon leader. Like bass fisherman, I keep three or four rods rigged up so if changes are needed, I can quickly switch and out what they like. In clear water, it may be necessary to go with 2-pound test clear mono or fluorocarbon and mico-jigs.

Perch fishing is a game of inches and one must be constantly on the move to keep up with the roaming schools of fish. Expect to drill more than 50 holes to find fish.

The Navionics App downloaded on my smart phone allows me to see lake contours and structure as I move around on the ice. Using the Navionics App along with my Vexilar Fl-18, it is easy to locate potential structure and determine if fish are there.

Through the use of electronics, structure and fish can be found and once you are proficient with the interpretation of what the electronics reveal, it will certainly help put more fish on the ice. The one thing all this technology won’t do, is make the fish bite …. and that’s fishing!

Keep in touch with local bait shops such as Jim’s Bait in Mayfield, Fish307 in Lake George or through IceShanty.com to find out where the hot action is. Always think safety when venturing out on the ice and good luck to everyone this season.