I have a few cardinal rules when it comes to ice fishing. One of them is that the first drop of a bait down a fresh ice hole has to be flawless. Botch it and can be an uphill battle to get a bite. Active fish can be persuaded, but inactive ones might not give you a second chance. Let's look at this concept a little closer.
Fiddling with gear is a common culprit that interferes with a decent first drop. When you arrive at a fresh hole, prep things before you start fishing. Set-up and tune the sonar, clean out slush and knock down the snow cone, and do anything else you need to before you open the bail. This way you're completely focused on fishing once the lure gets wet.
I've seen anglers follow the steps above but get lazy when it comes to tipping with bait. There are lots of lures that don't need the addition of minnow meat or maggots to catch fish — darters and jigging minnows come to mind — but you're best to bait-up for the first drop. Don't get lax and wait, as doing so runs the risk of turning-off or giving fish a bad first impression by initially serving up a substandard offering. Active fish can often be won-over later, but neutral to fussy ones are rarely as forgiving.
Being alert to the first drop applies to set-line tactics as much as jigging. Always be ready to set the hook when rigging up tip-ups and dead-stick rods as active fish often pounce on slow-falling minnows. Using a portable sonar can give advanced warning of an impending strike, while helping position the bait at a perfect depth.
There are plenty of challenges when it comes to winter angling. Control what you can by making the first drop down a fresh hole flawless. Do it right and I guarantee it will help you catch more fish.