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Ontario Fishing Network
Volume 4,  Issue 1 -  Jan. 2004

Closing the Deal: Hooking Light Biters
by Tim Allard

At some point in everyone's angling experience we have been out-fished by someone. The reasons vary but one major factor for success is how well you can detect subtle strikes. This skill is particularly important when ice fishing. Perch, walleye, crappie and trout are all guilty, at times, of being light biters during the hard-water season. Here are some tips to help you hone your sensitivity to strikes.

Take Shelter and Remove the Distractions:
helters block wind and light, allowing you properly present small baits and sight fish in clear water.Paying attention is important to hooking light biting fish. A second can be all it takes for a crappie to inhale and spit out your bait. If you're daydreaming you'll miss the strike. Worse yet, if you're not focused, you won't be able to keep track of what presentation triggered the bite.

When ice fishing a shelter is a great tool to eliminate distractions and stay comfortable. Being uncomfortable negatively affects your success. If you're cold, that's distracting you and limiting your ability to focus on fishing - distraction equates to missed fish. Shelters also block the wind from blowing your line, which is critical to successfully working light baits as well as feeling faint strikes. A slight shift in line may be the only sign of a hit. To improve your ability to detect bites try carefully watching your line, placing your finger on the line for extra sensitivity, and keeping the hole ice-free. Some shelters are also designed to block out light when fully closed, allowing you to sight fish in clear water. This can help you determine what presentation style is effective by watching how fish react to the bait.

Tone Down Your Presentation:
Keep your finger on the line to detect light hits and monitor the movement in your bait.Light biting fish can still be enticed to bite and, in some cases, are often quite active. Yet, once a few fish get caught and the adrenaline flows, many anglers speed up their presentation to try and hook another one. It is important to continue to use the presentation style that resulted in the first catches. When fish are aggressively feeding this may not matter, but light biting fish can be finicky.

The following are some presentation methods for light biters. Swim the bait, moving the rod from one side of the hole to the next or slowly making a circle. Lightly jiggle the bait, keeping it in place and making it shake slightly. Lift and lower your bait with long pauses in between. Dead stick the bait, keeping it entirely motionless after the initial drop. Lastly, a small twitch or a jiggle after long pauses can often entice a fish to bite. Give these subtle presentations a try next time you encounter light biting fish and you'll likely hook more fish.

Scaling Down Tackle and Hook Positioning:
Reducing your bait size or changing the position of hooks can increase your success. Switching to smaller sized lures or reducing bait portions, like jigging a tail instead of a whole minnow can often produce results. Trying vertical and horizontal hook style lures or adding a stinger hook are changes you can try to better your hooking percentage. Also, experiment with how you position the hooks when using bait. For example, if unsuccessful with hooks sets when using a single hook through a minnow's nose, try changing to a small treble behind the dorsal fin or in front of the tail. Sometimes a small adjustment can make a difference when fish are lightly taking the bait. Finally, hooks should always be razor sharp.

Strike indicators, like a small slip-bobber pictured here, can help detect light biters and compensate for poor rod sensitivityAnother critical tool to detecting light biters is a slip bobber or strike indicator. I learned the importance of these when out fishing for trout with small jigs. It wasn't until I started using a slip bobber that I was able to see the slow, steady take of a trout, but once I did it was non-stop ice-out action. Use just enough float to allow you to monitor your lure as too much resistance can cause fish to drop the bait.

Ice fishing for light biters can be a test of one's attention. To maximize your time on the ice, use a shelter to block wind so you can properly fish and monitor your lure. Once set up, experiment with different presentation techniques and bait sizes to entice light biters. Finally, set the hook at the slightest twitch in your rod or line with a steady upward pull and reel in line to drive the hooks home, maintaining pressure throughout the fight. A light biting fish may only lightly move your rod, but once hooked they transition to lively fighters leading to pure ice fishing excitement.

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