Use caution: Safety is the first consideration, and then pre-baiting can lead you to the fish you're looking for.
ICE FISHING will soon start up in most of the state and continue to progress in the northern areas that have had good ice for some time.
We remember in years past when it was not legal to fish for trout (brook, brown, rainbows or the fish that had mixed species such as tiger trout). But thankfully that has been changed and there are plenty of waters in this state that you can legally fish and some very special techniques have been developed.
One of these is to pre-bait your drilled holes in shallow water with salmon eggs or artificial power baits. The power baits will usually float so you'll have to experiment with how much weight to use to keep them on the bottom. The salmon eggs, unless they are old and have started to break down, will sink to bottom.
The next move is to move. Yup, you've got to stealthily approach each hole you've baited and check to see if any of the baits are gone. Most of the people who have mastered this routine put the same amount of bait in each hole, probably three to six eggs. So when you do this it's so much easier to determine if you've had a fish dining on your baits.
A big mistake for many newcomers to this often-deadly method is to not realize that feeding trout will move into very shallow water, sometimes with only a foot or so clearance under the ice. That's one reason you have to be very stealthy not to spook your target fish!
The second and probably most damaging thing is to use gear that is too large to be effective. The smallest pound test flouro or mono line, as light as two-pound test, will work best. With that light line you have to be very careful to play the fish with some finesse and try to keep the line away from the ice edge. As much as the very light line can help, using a hook that is too big and too heavy will also impact your success. Some of the tiny gold salmon egg hooks will fit the bill, and also there are some very small but strong hooks (Black Cat Brand) that will easily land big fish if you use caution.
So when you find a hole that has shown some missing baits, using the lightest spinning or casting gear you have, sneak up on the hole and gently drop your baited hook into the hole and if you're lucky a fish will take it before it hits the bottom. If not, just be patient and wait for a hit. If this doesn't happen in about 10 minutes, it usually isn't going to happen and you've probably scared that fish away. You could drill another hole far enough away not to spook fish from your other baited holes, or just abandon that one.
Some anglers will set up a tip-up on a hole that hasn't been producing. If you do this it may be a good idea to use a small live shiner or smelt. A dead smelt or shiner set on the bottom will also occasionally do the trick.
Trout in heavily fished waters will become quite sensitized to this kind of fishing, believe it or not. They will often set up just off the hole and sweep some water toward the salmon eggs with their tails and will grab any baits that are lifted off the bottom or move with the light current, and will not take an egg or other bait that won't move. Tell me that fish can't think! That's why using the light line and tiny hooks is key to making this routine work.
If you're a catch-and-release person, don't lift the fish out of the hole but just snip off the hook as close as you can to the fish's mouth. And if the fish is hooked deeply, that's the one you want to take home and enjoy a great meal, as fish with those those deeply buried hooks, unless the hook is barbless, will die with a normal hook removal routine. If you are plagued with rough fish such as chubs, suckers or small perch ruining your success, often the best thing to do is to move to another pond or lake, or move into shallower water. We've found that when this happens you usually should flee rather than fight!
Get out there and have a blast but please use the utmost of caution on the early ice, or for that matter any ice that could be suspect, such as over moving water or near any of those bubblers that keep the ice from forming around docks.
We realize that in some states the pre-baiting or chumming for freshwater fish is not allowed but we've failed to find any New Hampshire waters that prohibit this with the exception of the special regulation ponds such as fly fishing-only waters.
Drop us an email at DoDuckInn@aol.com and a photo, or even better, swing by and drop off a couple of choice trout for the Misses and the Dickster.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.