I’m Watching You - Fishing Tactics

Keith Kavajecz with PikeAs a tournament angler, I pay attention to details. I pay attention not just to how I am fishing or what lure modifications I am incorporating – but what my competitors are doing that is making them successful. Of course, I don’t copy them or move in on their spot during a tournament, but I make either mental notes or take the time to write things down on paper so I can add to or change my tactics next time I run into a similar fishing situation. That’s the cool part of fishing – seems there is always something new to learn.

In March 2012, I became a new member of Ice Team, a group of anglers that is known for ice fishing prowess and skill. It’s a group of guys that fishes all over North America (wherever there is ice) using a wide variety of tactics for a wide variety of fish. To me, this was the perfect situation to see firsthand new tactics and tackle to make me more successful on the ice.

Let me start out by stating that I have ice fished for a long time. Nearly 40 years ago, my dad used to take me out on small lakes in Northern Wisconsin, hand auger and bucket in hand. We’d drill a few holes, set a few tip ups and then wait and wait and wait, hoping for the fish to take our offerings. A limit or cold feet, whichever came first, would get us trudging back to shore.

Since then, I obviously have refined my techniques and equipment. One of the best moves I made was to learn how to use electronics on the ice – first a flasher but now an LCD-type unit. It added a dimension to fishing that I rarely could analyze when fishing soft water: I could see how fish reacted to my baits. I could experiment with the type and color and action of my offering each time a fish would appear on my screen. Jiggling, holding still, ripping, popping, dropping, raising, pounding – all variables in putting together the equation of making a fish, especially a reluctant one, strike.

So now that I have been on Ice Team for a while, I’ve got to analyze some really good ice anglers that I had never fished with before – Dave Genz, Jim Hudson, Jason Mitchell, Scott Seibert, Rick Johnson and Jeff Andersen. And believe me, they have all added to my arsenal of knowledge.

Dave Genz
Let’s take a look at each, starting with the master – Genz. I have fished with Dave for both walleyes and bluegill, and what stood out most was how often he moved. I’m not talking big moves – I’m talking sliding the sled 20 feet, drilling a hole, working it for 15 minutes and then moving 20 feet again. Dave is, of course, credited for many of the innovations that have made ice anglers more mobile, including flip-over shelters, and I can see why the guy loves to move, albeit micro-moves!

Jim Hudson
I’ve known Hudson for a while – even before Ice Team – but had never got to go on the ice with Jim before just a couple of years ago. What I’ve learned from Jim is that more often than not, if I want to know the top of the line tackle or equipment – he is typically running it. Whether it is the shelter he uses, the snowmobile, the auger rack or whatever, Jim has nice stuff!

But more importantly, Jim has gear that makes him more efficient on the ice. I’ve come to learn that being efficient is important because you are more willing to search out new spots or even new sections of a lake if your equipment is set up to be mobile and durable enough to endure long runs. The other part of efficiency is that Jim can carry a lot of equipment. How he rigs his sled and shelter allow him to carry lots of rods and lures, making him very versatile and ready to take advantage of patterns as they develop.

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell is a lot like me – he likes to analyze things. But the good thing is that he doesn’t give the fish too much credit for being smart. So what he analyzes is things like food sources, fish migrations and water/weather conditions. He then takes that data and puts the odds in his favor so when he drills holes there is a good chance that one of them will produce. And if they don’t produce quickly, he is on to the next theory, probably in a whole different part of the lake and different depth.

On one trip we took out to Devils Lake, the fish were in transition from mid-winter haunts, moving toward spring spawning areas. Trying to figure out where they were, we fished 14 feet on a road bed, then 50 feet in a basin area, then 20 feet at the edge of rocky structure, and then we finally found the fish in 9 to 12 feet on a rock- and weed-covered shallow reef. The shallow reef was close to a migration route for the walleyes, and they were up shallow and aggressively eating. One other thing – man, does Jason like to work a jigging spoon aggressively: pop, slack, pop, slack,  pop, slack, pop – bouncing the spoon up and down only inches but putting the hook and bait into almost a seizure, almost like a wizard putting a spell on walleyes.

Scott Seibert
I didn’t fish that long with Scott Seibert, but here is a guy who is extremely confident in the lure he is using and the action he is putting on the lure. When ice fishing – like all types of fishing – there is a pretty good saying that goes, “If you are fishing with a lure that you don’t think will catch fish – you probably won’t. If you are fishing with a lure you think will catch fish – you probably will.” Kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Scott almost seemed to will the fish to bite because he was so confident in his lure selection and jigging cadence. What I learned here is that whatever Scott puts on his line, pay attention because it is probably a good choice for the situation.

From our trip, a little hint: If you are fishing for bluegills, you might try a Lindy Fat Boy in glow red (I already bought some for my next gill outing) and work that jig in a way to make the jig pop in place while getting your maggots to dance like crazy out on your hook.

Rick Johnson
Rick Johnson is one of those guys who enjoys experimenting with lures. One minute he’ll have on a jig with three maggots, then moments later a flying-style lure with five maggots or maybe a Genz worm and whole gob of maggots. He changes color often and sometimes flashes the glow lures with light – sometimes not. He is one of those anglers that has a sixth sense about what the fish could bite – and he experiments until the fish bite and tell him he’s right.

The other thing I noticed is that Rick loves light line – even on lakes that aren’t real clear, he finesses the heck out of the fish. As a side note, Rick probably cost me the most in lure purchases ... thanks, Rick.

Jeff Andersen
Then we come to Jeff Andersen. Pay attention to what auger Jeff uses because he likes to punch more holes around a piece of structure than anyone I’ve fished with, so I’m sure he has a good drill. For Jeff, lots of holes normally paid big dividends not only for himself but for the whole crew. Drill, drill, drill – then work hole after hole, giving each only a few minutes to produce or else on to the next one.

One trick I learned from Jeff was up at Lake of the Woods. He took a GPS unit with a good mapping chip and drove slowly around the whole structure so that the ATV’s tire tracks outlined the edge of the reef in the snow. I use my GPS like this all the time with my boat in summer to graph out a reef, but never thought of doing it on ice – a simple idea that makes figuring out where to drill on the structure quicker.

So now when I go ice fishing, in addition to the things I already knew how to do, I am going to be micro mobile (à la Genz), have the equipment to efficiently cover water (à la Hudson), move to logical places like the wizard (Mitchell), have a variety of lures in a variety of colors and sizes so I always can always be confidently experimenting (à la Seibert and Johnson) and bring along lots of young people to drill plenty of holes so I can check out my ATV-mapped structure quickly (à la Andersen).

Lucky for me, there are a lot more Ice Team members I can analyze and learn more tricks from. Luckily for all ice anglers, you can follow these guys on www.iceteam.com. In fact, two of the trips I was on (bluegills with Genz, Seibert, Johnson; walleyes with Andersen, Mitchell and Pete Maina for good measure) will be covered in detail on the new Ice Team TV episodes on our website.

So, just remember – if I’m fishing with you – I’m watching you!

by Keith Kavajecz