Sometimes very large gamefish are surprisingly high in the water column
This ice-fishing trick doesn’t work all the time, but it works often enough that you simply can’t let the opportunity pass by. I’m talking about the many times a day you’ll see a school of ciscoes, shiners, smelt or young-of-the-year yellow perch pass beneath your hole. When you see those baitfish, reel up quickly—or drop down just as fast—and jig your lure in and around the prey.
I was fishing for bottom-hugging walleyes the other day, looking for dinner in about 28 feet of water, when I spotted a school of lake shiners swimming about eight feet under the ice. They showed up like a disco ball on the screen of my Helix 9 screen, as they wandered by. I reeled up quickly and jigged my spoon in the heart of the activity. But as so often happens, the silvery flickers faded out of the picture and vanished. Oh, well—nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I tapped the free-spool lever on my 13 Fishing Black Betty Ghost and let the lure start tumbling back down to the bottom. That’s when, out of nowhere, a red streak crossed the screen, chased the bait and smacked the living daylights out of it. A couple of minutes later, as you can see in the video below, I landed a gorgeous mid-teen northern pike. It could just as easily have been a lake trout, splake, whitefish or walleye.
As a matter of fact, in many years, the biggest winter walleye I’ve landed over the course of the ice-fishing season (on the Shield-type lakes that I fish) has been an isolated high-flying big-eyed hunter that streaked out of a school of suspended bait fish.
Ditto with northern pike. I’ve caught enough of the big toothy critters this way over the years that I am certain they relate to the underside of the ice—as though it is the lake bottom turned upside down—the very same way that lake trout do. I call it “bottoms up,” and no matter how many times it happens (like the pike in that video) those big pike preds still surprise me, because you don’t think of them being sky-high up in the water column in winter.
I should mention, too, that reeling up to every ball of bait that you see on your sonar screen can be very frustrating, because—as I mentioned earlier—most of the time you won’t be rewarded. Many days, in fact, I’ve reeled up quickly five, 10, 15 or more times and not attracted a single trailing trout, pike, walleye or whitefish.But, then, just about the time I’ve had enough, and think I’m not going to waste my effort, I reel up and smack a giant.