A hard front has come crashing through and the fish have gotten tight lipped. Don’t throw in the towel. Instead, adapt your ice fishing strategies.
Joe Scegura doesn’t like cold fronts, and he won’t try to profess some magical means for making a front your finest friend and finding the hottest action of the winter. The truth is that fish don’t tend to bite as well under high skies and after a sharp drop in the temperature, and sometimes it takes few days for the bite to recover.
That said, if you abandon the lake for a few days every time a cold front pushes through, you’ll miss a lot of fishing opportunities – and Scegura likes fishing way too much to do that. So instead he adapts – considering the most likely mood of the fish and doing everything he can to tilt the odds in his favor.
“I look at it as an extra challenge – not like it’s totally impossible,” said Scegura, a consumed fisherman who has owned his own boat since he was 13 years old and who now guides on several Central Minnesota waterways, including Alexandria-area lakes and Mille Lacs. Scegura is a walleye angler first, but he enjoys catching everything that swims.
Whether you’re talking about open water or ice, the most elementary change that typically takes place once a hard front has pushed through is that the fish become less inclined to eat. “You might have been catching them one after another just before the front passed through, and then the next day the same fish just won’t bite. You might even be looking at them with your camera, but they won’t bite,” Scegura said.
Seek Prime Opportunities
Given cold front conditions, Scegura seeks to optimize opportunities by choosing his times carefully. If a hard front has just hit and he expects a tough walleye bite, he’ll plan a morning and an evening outing, getting out plenty early so that he doesn’t miss any morning action and being prepared to stay out until dark when he fishes in the evening. He’ll often step off the ice for a while through the middle of the day if the walleyes shut down once the sun gets high.
“Instead of calling it a wash and not fishing, concentrate your efforts on the peak times,” he said.
Of course Scegura usually gives the fish a chance to feed by day, and occasionally they surprise him. One recent day, it was -11degrees, just after a front pushed through, and the fish bit all day long as if it was a cloudy and mild pre-front day.
Scegura also becomes more mobile than ever after cold fronts push through. He’s always a pretty active ice fisherman, believing the extra work pays dividends in the form of the most fish found. However, he believes that becomes extra important during cold-front conditions because the fish tend to hold tight, wherever they are, and they are unlikely to find you if you stay in one place.
“Even during the hardest cold front, some fish will be less affected than others. You’re looking for the exceptions – those 10 percent of the fish that might be willing to bite – and that might mean drilling a lot of holes,” Scegura explained.
While the fish may be in the some of the same locations as they were prior to the front, they often will move closer to the bottom and tighter to any type of structure that is nearby. Scegura will look for fish closer to weed edges, bottom breaks and other structure or cover.
Cold Front Presentations
Under “normal” conditions, Scegura relies heavily on ¼- and 3/16-ounce Frostee Jigging Spoons or Rattl’N Flyer Spoons. When a front pushes though, he’ll drop down to 1/8-ounce versions if he fishes with spoons at all. Often, he will abandon his spoons, instead turning to size 6 or 8 regular Frostee, tipped with a chub or a plain minnow.
In addition to going smaller with his offerings, Scegura dramatically reduces the amount of motion he adds to his presentations. He’ll jig his offerings far less frequently, and instead of moving the bait 6 inches or a foot, he might only move it an inch at a time.
“Sometime you don’t want to move it at all. Just let it sit there and wait for them to come suck it up,” he said. In fact, Scegura sometimes will actually suspend his Frostee under a float, which provides the double benefit of keeping the bait still and allowing him to move back from the hole.
Scegura also suggested doubling up on the fish by rigging an aggressive bait like a large Lindy Darter on one rod and something very subtle, like a Frostee and a minnow under a float, on another. “The Darter will draw the fish with its loud rattles and large profile. Once the fish is drawn near to investigate, it will more often than not hit the more subtle offering. This is a perfect one-two punch for icing cold front fish.
A final good option for making the most of tough conditions is to change the target species. Walleyes are usually Scegura’s first pick for ice fishing, but when a hard front pushes through and they prove themselves to be extra picky, he’s apt to downscale his gear dramatically and target bluegills or other panfish instead.
Although the panfish tend to be affected by fronts in the same ways as walleyes and other sport fish, there are so many more of them in most lakes and they are so much more aggressive than walleyes that the chances of success remain good even when they turn pickier than normal.
All the same principles apply, according to Scegura. Consider your normal panfish ice tackle and think even smaller. Also slow your presentations and look for the fish to be tighter to the bottom or to any available cover.
To learn more about fishing with Joe Scegura, visit Joe Scegura’s Guide Service at www.jsguideservice.com or contact Scegura at (320) 260-9056, firstname.lastname@example.org. Scegura also provides regular reports on Lindy’s National Audio Fishing Reports.