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Multispecies Line Watching

Make sure you're simultaneously watching your rod tip, line, and sonar screen.

• Credit: Gord Pyzer

My 11-year old grandson Liam hit the holiday season running by landing several gorgeous walleyes, topped by a 24 1/2-inch kicker and more than enough husky 12- and 13-inch jumbo yellow perch to provide for a fabulous feast after we snowmobiled home in the sparkling moonlight.

We were ice fishing in Northwestern Ontario's spectacular Sunset Country, on Lake of the Woods to be exact, and in addition to the walleye and yellow perch, I also nabbed a huge smallmouth bass – where did he come from? – and several tullibees, also known as ciscoes or freshwater herring.

The reason I mention the variety is that it is a hallmark of so many Northern Ontario lakes and rivers, from Lake Temiskaming and Lake Nipissing in the east end to Eagle Lake and Rainy Lake in the west.

fishing-lineDon’t always expect to feel a fish take your bait when you’re ice fishing. Instead, watch your line carefully, especially the portion between your rod tip and your hole in the ice, and react to even the slightest movement. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The truth of the matter is most days you never know what species are coming up the hole next. As a matter of fact, in addition to the quartet that Liam and I landed, we could have just as easily added northern pike, whitefish, black crappies, sauger, and in one more week's time, lake trout to the mix.

When I related Liam's and my good fortune to some friends at a Christmas party, however, one of them said, "You know, I love ice fishing, but for the life of me, I have trouble feeling the fish hit."

They were surprised when I said that most ice anglers, myself included, have the same problem, which is why, when I'm ice fishing, I never expect to feel a fish strike (lake trout, pike and whitefish being the notable exceptions).

In fact, if Liam and I conservatively caught 20 fish the other day between noon and sunset, I'd reckon we only felt two or three of them actually strike our lures.

lake-of-the-woods-walleyeEleven-year-old Liam caught this gorgeous Lake of the Woods walleye by paying attention to his line and setting the hook as soon as he saw it twitch. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Now, I know what you're thinking: if you can't feel them hit, how in the world do you know when to set the hook? The answer is to always watch your line, especially the length between your rod tip and where it enters the water in your hole.

Indeed, when it comes to ice fishing for most species in Northern Ontario in the winter, it is as much a visual game as anything else.

It is also the reason I like to spool my reels with a brightly coloured braided line – florescent red Sufix Ice Fuse and lime green Fireline being two of my favourites. Of course, I don't tie the bright line directly to my bait or lure, using a two- or three-foot-long fluorocarbon leader for that purpose.

This way, I can enjoy the best of both worlds. A mainline that I don't have to strain my eyes to watch and that registers the lightest bite and an invisible leader that the fish can't see.

Here is another little secret. I always position my sonar unit right in front of me, not off to one side, so that when I look down my ice fishing rod – using it like the barrel of a rifle – I can easily see my rod tip and sonar unit.

Now, when I jig the lure and spot a fish coming in to inspect it, I can lift it up slowly, or jiggle it like a frightened minnow and then pause, while never taking my eyes off the screen or the spot where the line exits the rod tip. If the line straightens out or tightens up even the slightest amount, it's signalling that a walleye, crappie, or yellow perch has taken the bait and it's time to set the hook.

Black-crappiesBlack crappies, like this dandy Tom Gruenwald, caught while ice fishing in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country, often take your bait and slowly swim up, without you feeling a thing. But if you watch your line and react to any movement, you’ll catch them every time. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Trust me, it doesn't take a great deal of skill to become a good line watcher, but when you master the technique, you'll be rewarded with two, three, or even four or five times more fish.

And if you want to kick it up a notch even further, add a spring bobber to the end of your rod. Almost every major ice fishing company – HT Enterprises and Stringease Tackle being two of my favourites – makes one of these simple and inexpensive aids that only costs a dollar or two.

Spring bobbers are generally eight- to 12-inch long pieces of small-diameter, ultra-flexible, steel or titanium wire with a loop at the end through which you run your line. By the way, you can get portable spring bobbers that you can snap on and off the end of your rod tip, but I much prefer applying a thin layer of epoxy glue and permanently attaching them to the ends of my rods.

fishing-ontario You’ll catch much more fish this winter if you keep your sonar unit directly in front of you and look down your rod like it's the barrel of a rifle. This way you can simultaneously watch your rod tip, line, and sonar screen. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Because they're so incredibly sensitive, you can jig a tiny lure or minuscule ice fly for yellow perch, black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin seeds, or any other finicky "nibbler," and then hold your rod perfectly still while you watch the spring at the end of your rod tip. When a fish barely touches your bait, the tip twitches and dips, signalling the bite as though it was yanked down by a leviathan.

It is why spring bobbers are so incredibly effective.

As a matter of fact, I've seen occasions when an angler equipped with a spring bobber has out-fished his partners 20-1, simply because he could see the fish mouthing the bait.

Now, combine your brightly coloured braided mainline with a hypersensitive spring bobber and there is not a walleye, sauger, black crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, tullibee, or whitefish swimming anywhere in fish-filled Northern Ontario that can steal your bait this winter without you seeing it all happen.

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