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Lights, Action. . .Underwater Cameras

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Lights, Action. . .Underwater Cameras

An underwater camera lets you distinguish between a 9-inch perch and a 13-inch jumbo like this one that Liam Whetter caught in Lake of the Woods. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

How to Enhance Your Ice Fishing Experience this Winter



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If you're looking to enhance your Northern Ontario ice fishing experience this winter, I have something super special for you today. A way you can add so much extra excitement and knowledge to your already world class fishing adventure. It is using an underwater camera while you fish.

"My friend, John Whyte, from Time On The Water Canada and The Lake Simcoe Message Board was the person who got me started," says friend and Cabela's Canada pro staffer, JP Bushey. "Watching John's footage lit a fire under me and got me thinking, if a guy with this much experience, knowledge and fishing success can go to another level by using an inexpensive underwater camera -- a tool that most ice anglers already own but rarely use -- it was good enough for me.

"Truthfully, using the camera from a boat intrigued me as well. Going on underwater safaris, around some of my Georgian Bay muskie shoals, Lake Simcoe trout spots and Lake Nipissing walleye reefs helped me piece together the ingredients that go into making the very best cakes. Good fishing spots are always the sum of multiple, interconnected parts and an underwater camera will help you scope out new areas to see if they’ve got the right mixture. And you can see fish using them plain as day.

Good fishing locations are the sum of multiple interconnect parts and an underwater camera will let you see if a spot has the right mixture Good fishing locations are the sum of multiple interconnect parts and an underwater camera will let you see if a spot has the right mixture. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"Once I got my camera on the ice, however, the viewing got that much easier, clearer and more detailed. They’re dead-easy to use from a stationary hole, inside a portable ice fishing shelter."

According to Bushey, an underwater camera provides an incredible level of detail that a flasher or graph simply can't replicate. The most obvious leaps forward are identifying specific bottom features and determining the size of the fish that you’re marking on your sonar screen.

"A graph can’t tell you the difference between a nine-inch yellow perch and a thirteen-inch yellow perch," says Bushey. "To the angler, this is a huge differential.  A 13-incher is a real jumbo on Lake Simcoe, Lake Nipissing, Lac des Mille Lacs or Lake of the Woods, while a 9-incher isn't something most anglers would worry about. Big perch look dramatically different on the camera. They’re longer, thicker and move differently. We target the biggest fish in a school and go after them with our lures."

When he is evaluating bottom content, on the other hand, Bushey says that he is constantly noting the tiniest of details that keep showing up on his best spots. It might be an area of sand with pits, grooves or rises, or a specific size of rock, with or without, moss growing on it. Often it’s a lush field of green, crispy sand grass (chara) growing on the bottom with wide channels -- fish highways -- worming their way through. Your sonar unit simply can’t show you these things.

"In addition," says Bushey, "I have two young sons and I use the camera as both entertainment and a teaching tool. Most kids get driven down to the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto to look at fish, but I can take my kids to the lake and show them our local fish swimming around in their natural environment. They get a clear perspective of the food chain and how everything is so inextricably linked together. Gobies, shiner minnows, aquatic bugs, yellow perch, lake trout and whitefish. They see it all.

"The deeper and more personal the connection that you can forge between your child and a lake, the more likely that child is to grow up to appreciate and conserve it. I think an underwater camera critically impacts their enthusiasm."

When I asked Bushey what he has learned the most from watching his underwater camera that has benefited his ice fishing success, he chuckled and said he could write a book about the various things.

According to JP Bushey, seen here with a brace of beautiful Lake Simcoe perch, an underwater camera provides an incredible level of detail that a flasher or graph can’t replicate. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

According to JP Bushey, seen here with a brace of beautiful Lake Simcoe perch, an underwater camera provides an incredible level of detail that a flasher or graph can’t replicate.

"As I touched on earlier," he says, "your sonar unit can't tell you if the rocks on your favourite walleye spot have green algae growing on them. The unit can’t show you the open arms or fingers through weed cover growing only an inch or two off the bottom. You don't know if the bottom has fresh water clams, zebra mussels or something else on it. You can't distinguish the size of rocks that the fish are feeding around. In fact, you often don't even know if there are rocks down there. When you use an underwater camera, however, you can clearly see, in superior detail, all of the things that are attracting the fish.

"Being stationary on the ice, also lets you get dialed in to your lures as well.& I’ve used some baits for more than thirty years. But since I started watching them on the camera, I've re-tooled my perspective. Baits like the Cicada, Jigging Rap, Rotating Power Minnow, Rippin’ Rap and Live Target Shiner take a long, long time to finally come to rest after you jig them."

JP Bushey has watched so many fish hit his lures after they’ve come to a stop that he says the “pause is the boss” JP Bushey has watched so many fish hit his lures after they’ve come to a stop that he says the “pause is the boss”. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Having watched on the camera how his lures respond to movement, Bushey says that anglers would be well advised to stop jigging them so much. After popping them up, you need to let them shimmy back down, cruise out to the side and then slowly swim to a stand still. Sometimes this can take five or more seconds. And he has watched so many fish hit his lures only after they have finally come to a stop, that he says the golden rule most days is to give your bait enough time to exhaust all of its delicate, gliding moves before you touch it again.

The pause is the boss.

"I’m a huge soft plastics guy for panfish, whitefish and lake trout," Bushey continues, "and you’d be shocked if you saw how easy it is to over work baits like tube jigs and swimbaits. Even when you place your rod in a holder and dead-stick your bait, the wind is still blowing your line and subtle underwater current are keeping it constantly breathing. It is even more pronounced when you hold the rod in your hand. You may think you're sitting as still as a statue, but your body’s natural motion will have your lure dancing. No matter how steady you think your hands are, you’re always moving your lure."

Be sure to read Lights, Action. . .Underwater Cameras Part 2 when JP Bushey explains how he sets up his underwater camera and how subtle adjustments to your presentations will result in many more fish.

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