Three things to know about Clam Outdoors pro staffer Robby Rhembrandt:
1. When he steps onto the ice he’s ready to fish. His tip-ups, rods and reels and tackle are in tip-top shape. The line on tip-ups and reels has been replaced in the fall, the gear organized so he can get his lines in the water with minimum delay.
2. He drills a lots of holes.
3. He will have his Vexilar sonar unit with him.
Rhembrandt, who has shared his ice-fishing knowledge with customers at Cabela’s stores, explains how and where he sets up his tip-ups on a typical day.
He determines strategy by what he sees on his Vexilar FLX-28 flasher unit, but generally, “I will start out early in the morning and put a tip-up shallow, say, in 5 feet of water and then set a tip-up every 10 to 15 feet,” he said. “I stagger them straight away from shore, maybe off a point, so I have the first one shallow and the next one deeper, the next one deeper and deeper and so on.”
He’s scouting for fish. If he gets bites, he adjusts accordingly.
“If I’m catching them, say, in 15 feet of water, then I move all my tip-ups out and actually change the plane to follow that 15 foot contour,” he said.
“So, to start, my tip-ups are moving away from shore, but when I start catching them and change planes, the tip-ups are going to follow the edge of the shore along that contour line of the lake,” he explained.
In those scouting holes, in deeper and deeper water, he lowers his bait deeper and deeper as he goes out from shore. For example, if the first hole is at 5 feet of water, he might suspend the bait three feet off the bottom, “so it is practically right under the ice,” he said.
Then, in the second hole in, again for example, in 10 feet of water, he may suspend the bait at eight feet, and on and on and deeper and deeper as he works out into deeper water.
Before abandoning his holes, he will sometimes adjust the depth of the bait, higher or lower.
“You just have to play with those contours and figure out where the fish are,” he said. “Of course, if I start marking fish on the bottom (His Vexilar coming into play again.), then I put all my baits on the bottom. If I’m seeing fish suspended, then I have my baits off the bottom.”
Legal disclaimer: Check your local regulations for the number of tip-ups you can use. In Nebraska, where Rhembrandt lives, ice-anglers can have five lines in the water. “So if you’re jigging with one rod, you can have only four tip-ups,” he said.
Rhembrandt uses both live and dead bait on his tip-ups.
“I would say 50-50 live bait-dead bait,” he said. “A lot of times I transition from one hole to the next; dead bait in one hole, live bait in the next, one shallow, one deeper, the next deeper. Then after an hour or two I will switch them to whatever I’m catching the most on.”
His favorite dead bait: smelt; live bait: sucker minnows.
Rhembrandt doesn’t shy away from drilling a lot of eight-inch holes in the ice.
“I rarely sit,” he said. “I probably average drilling 50 holes a day and I’ve drilled upward of 120.”
It’s a common mistake he sees, anglers drilling just four or five holes, setting their tip-ups and not moving from that location.
“You need to be moving your tip-ups just as much as you’d move scouting for fish with your jigging rod and your Vexilar,” he said.
Typically, he totes two ice augers, a Clam Outdoors Conversion Kit with a K-Drill and a Jiffy Pro 4 Propane Auger.
Another mistake some anglers make is to plunk their tip-ups down without knowing what’s below them.
“In my opinion, electronics are underused with tip-ups,” Rhembrandt said. “People think you need a Vexilar just for jigging, but it’s just as important with tip-ups.
“It’s as important to have your bait hanging in that strike zone just as much as it is to be jigging in front of a fish. I know since I’ve been carrying my Vexilar and setting those tip-ups strategically and knowing where each one is, I have caught twice as many fish.”
The key of using a Vexilar unit, he said, is “there’s no guesswork.” You can see how deep the water is, you can see if there are fish in the water column under you and you can see your bait working at the same depth as the fish, right in the strike zone.
“Another thing it does for you, as you let your bait down, maybe you attract a fish that was suspended in that zone where the live bait is hanging, so maybe instead of going all the way to the bottom, it may give you an indication your bait needs to be, say, 10 feet off the bottom,” he said. “As you’re letting your bait down, you can attract fish. They see the bait as it’s spooling or spinning out of control. I’ve noticed sometimes watching my Vexilar as I let the bait down here comes a mark out of nowhere, maybe 10 feet off the bottom, so I’d stop right there and let it hang versus going all the way to the bottom.”
He stresses the importance of electronics.
“If I forget my Vexilar at home, I wouldn’t fish,” he said. “It’s like the million-dollar money bag.”
He knows it might seem irrational, but “I can’t do it without it. I have to know where my bait is,” he said. “I have to know where my hooks are. It’s like my baby when I’m ice-fishing, and I use it in early spring for jigging out of my boat. I love it.”
Any other electronics? Yes.
“A GPS,” he said. “Just to make sure if I catch fish I can go back to that same spot.”