One of my favorite methods of ice fishing is shallow water. Most of my ice fishing occurs on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. When most people think of fishing on Lake Superior, they think of fishing really deep water. They find it hard to believe that I will spend most of my time sitting on five feet of water jigging for whitefish. Yes, I said whitefish, another species that people feel the need to head to deep water for. I have had some of my best days of fishing for them in five to eight feet of water.
Places people don’t usually think to look for these “beasts” are the river and stream mouths coming into the body of water. Rivers and streams provide a lot of aquatic activity and plenty of forage for both large and small fish. Quite a few rivers and streams are still sending a fair amount of sediments into the lake even through the cold winter months create “mud lines.” A lot of anglers fish the mud lines in the summer time. Well, the same applies for the winter time. The only difference is that mud lines are a little harder to find and see in the winter time. It helps to really know the area you are going to be fishing. These high current areas will make variable ice conditions, especially as you get later in the year.
Even though it may be middle of winter and there appears to be a couple feet of ice on the lake, it is still a good idea to send out a “well-equipped” point man to check the ice conditions before taking the group out with all the gear. Ice conditions can be variable so it is very important to be aware of your surrounding conditions. Once the ice conditions are assessed, start drilling holes. Since there could potentially be several feet of ice, your spud bar might take you a while. HT offers several good options in power augers. I personally prefer the Polar Fire Pro Xt 43cc with a 10” head because it is light and easy to use. I am not a fan of large, heavy power augers that can be difficult to handle. Anytime fishing Lake Superior I prefer a 10” auger head because you never know what size fish you could end up having to pull through that hole.
Once the holes are drilled, take a walk around and see how they look. Did you find the mud line? Are some holes clear as a bell and others you can’t even see five feet? For example, one is full of weeds and muck while the other is clear water. If that is the case you are set up perfect. What are your depths at most of these holes? At river and creek mouths the terrain can change pretty sporadically and can be different from year to year. I usually like to start jigging in one of the deeper holes and then bounce around from there. Being mobile in shallow water can really add to your success.
Rod and line selection is an important part of any type of fishing. This can also be overwhelming for a beginner angler. Where you’re fishing and what are you’re fishing for are the two most important questions for rod and line selection. Typically, for fishing whitefish on Lake Superior we used 25 to 30 inch medium/light to medium action rods. Last winter we had great success with the 27 inch Polar Fire Blue Ice Medium-Light Rod Combo”. We also used braided line and a swivel that we paired with an eight pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. This combination is what works best for where we fish and the occasional brown trout and steelhead we also catch on these adventures.
Well what to use for a jig? One of my personal favorites for whitefish is a Gold Orange Jig-A-Whopper Lazer Rocker Minnow with a treble hook chain rig with not one…not two… but three wax worms. We call this the “Medusa” and it is a deadly set up for whitefish. Another good set up is the Mirage Spoon by HT tipped with wax worms or a minnow tail. Once my wax worms are set, I drop the bait to the bottom, which doesn’t take long in shallow water! Now, you can probably see down your hole, see bottom, and see your jig in the wide open and start thinking, “What am I doing here?” Well now it’s time to put on a show. I like to stir up the sediment at the bottom with my bait and move it around fairly fast and sporadically. With this movement the jig is making noise, the sediment is stirring around, and the white wax worm medusa is sticking out beautifully in the semi cloudy water making a beautiful presentation for any fish that may be in the area.
When fishing shallow water and the water is not cloudy, it important to have a shack you can sit in to make it really dark. A lot of light penetrating through the holes when the water is clear could potentially spook the fish. For hole hopping, Polar Fire has one man (or woman) flip over ice shelters which are great for creating the darkness needed and still makes it easy to stay mobile. Also, it is winter time, so they help keep you warmer and out of the winter elements. Another thing to remember is that you are sitting right on top of the fish. The quieter you are the better. If you are in a group keep, your voices down. As teachers tell their classrooms, “Use your indoor voices.” That also applies to moving your shelters around, etc. It is also good to have all of your holes you need drilled right off that bat so you don’t have to make a bunch of auger noise later in the day.
One of my favorite parts about fishing shallow water is actually seeing the fish come up and take the bait. Sometimes they hit it so fast you just see a flash. Other times they will just approach slowly and stare at it and test it out a little. This can provide great opportunities to work on your techniques and learn what the fish want and maybe don’t want.
Also, your drag is very important when fishing shallow water. For starters, you don’t know what you are going to get. We are fishing for whitefish but the potential is also there to catch some trophy brown trout and steelhead (lake-run rainbow trout). You need your drag set tight enough for a good hook set but then once you have that hook set you have to be able to loosen it almost immediately! If you do have a trophy and are not “on the ball” with the drag, it can snap your line fairly quick (this has happened to me more than once while fishing steelhead!). With whitefish this usually isn’t a problem. A couple of times last winter I went to set the hook and pulled the fish right out of the hole. I even managed to do that with 26.5 inch 6+ lbs whitefish last season. Which I will admit, I would much rather get the opportunity to fight them but it was neat pulling out a trophy like that right onto my lap.
Most of the time it doesn’t work out that easy and it is nice to have a partner help pull the fish out of the hole. If no one is available, a gaff or ice scoop can also aid in landing a fish. The best part of landing whitefish is dinner later that night. Nothing beats a fresh dinner of whitefish. There are many different ways to cook it for example, I smoke my whitefish. Especially the bigger fish we catch they taste great smoked. I hope I was able to give you some valuable pointers and that you can enjoy some tasty meals of whitefish this winter. If you are interested in coming up to Northern Wisconsin to Chequamegon Bay for some great whitefish action check out our website at www.fishhuntuto.com or check us out on Facebook.