Team Ice Fishing

News & Tips: Team Ice Fishing

Anglers often employ the "team fishing" concept while fishing open water.  For example, musky partners vary lure types as well as speed and retrieval styles to increase their chances of landing a trophy. Bass anglers often toss a bait toward their partners hooked fish, attempting to catch any followers. The spirit of cooperation, communication and strategy should not disappear after you winterize your boat and move out on the ice.  Let's look at what it means to ice fish as a team by discussing the concept, developing a strategy, and studying a successful example of ice fishing as a team.

Mark potential ice fishing spots on a map during your fall fishing trips.

The goal of fishing as a team is to use the number of anglers and lines allowed to the team's advantage to increase the overall catch. Anglers should share information, strategies and ideas to find the fish and share what pattern or presentation technique is working to catch them. Team ice fishing is exciting because you are not confined to a specific fishing space like you are when fishing from a boat. The concept itself is not complex, but it does require that anglers to be aware that they are fishing as a unit. 

Ice fishing should not be a simple act of wandering out onto the ice, drilling a hole, and dropping down a line. You should do some homework first. Study the water you intend to fish in the winter during your fall fishing trips, marking potential spots on a map or entering them into a GPS unit. Look for cover such as the last location of a healthy weedbed or a section of shoreline that has fallen-tree cover. Cover also includes the ice itself. Early in the season, look for snow-covered ice next to exposed ice as fish will be drawn to the contrast of shade and light. 

Structure is also important. Review hydrographic maps before stepping onto the ice. Try and locate breaklines, reefs, points and saddles.  Finding these structures through the ice can be difficult, but a hand-held digital sonar or a Vexilar flasher will make it easier.

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Gas-powered augers quickly cut through ice and are critical to staying mobile.

Let's look at an example from an evening ice fishing trek that happened to me last season.  It illustrates how to fish structure as a team to increase the overall catch.  The team consisted of four anglers, with regulations allowing two lines each.  We were fishing for walleye along a point just before dusk.  The structure was quickly located based on fall fishing observations.

To fish this structure we drilled a series of eight zigzagging holes in five- to 15-feet of water, approximately 20-feet apart down the point.  Next we drilled two sets of two holes off each side of the point, one in eight and the other in 10 feet of water.  In these holes, we set our tip-ups with minnows.  On each side of the point, one minnow was slightly off bottom and the other at one-and-a-half-feet off bottom.  Each angler worked the remaining eight zigzagged holes. The extra holes allowed us to move to another depth without having to drill more holes during the bite. 

The four of us then fished the holes as follows. One angler fished a swimming lure in 15-feet of water.  The next angler fished a minnow on an octopus hook with a small split shot about eight inches from the bait on the bottom in ten feet of water.  Another used a 1/16-ounce jig tipped with a worm in 10 and eight-feet of water.  The final angler fished a minnow tipped jig in six-feet of water working the bait in through the last two-and-a-half-feet from bottom. We agreed to work these baits for an hour-switching colors and lures often-and to reassess our location if we had not hooked fish after the allotted hour.  

As dusk approached, the angler in eight feet of water caught a walleye on a minnow jigged right off the bottom. He was working the bait with light jiggles and resting it on bottom. The other anglers switched to single hooks, and the two anglers furthest away moved closer and presented their baits directly on bottom in a similar manner. The tip-ups were also adjusted to position minnows directly off bottom.  The result was four other walleye caught in the next half hour. 

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Communicate the details of a producing pattern once it's been identified.

The above example illustrates how ice fishing as a team involves determining a strategy to fish structure and cover, using your numbers to determine what pattern and presentation style will catch fish. Given that we had a short period of time at dusk, we began by using minnows and jigs because these had worked in the past. Once a successful pattern was found, the rest of us switched to the same bait and technique before darkness set in and the bite stopped. 

Team fishing is as important when ice fishing as it is during open water angling. Failing to co-operate and communicate what's working will limit your success. Using your numbers to your advantage and varying presentation methods and lures increases your likelihood of determining what method will catch fish.  Once a successful method is discovered, anglers should switch methods. 

The following items will also help make your team ice-fishing endeavors more successful:

  • Two-way radios allow you to break off in various teams to cover large areas of ice while maintaining verbal communication

  • Gas-powered augers quickly cut through the ice and are critical to staying mobile 

  • Plenty of bait and different provide fish plenty of options, helping you find a pattern. Once you've isolated a system that's working, an ample bait supply will allow everyone in your team to fish hard without worrying about running out. 

  • Electronics such as Vexilar flashers, hand-held GPS units, and underwater cameras will make a big difference when finding good spots and refining your presentation

This season, consider ways in which you can ice fish as a team.  Develop a strategy to fish specific areas; experiment with different baits, colors, and presentations; and communicate the details of a producing pattern once it's been identified.  Pay more attention to these three items and your team's success on the hard water will increase this season.