It’s tourney time again, and many ice anglers have visions of prize money, fame and fortune.

Most of us, however, are content looking for another shot at the big one that got away, or perhaps the catch of a lifetime that can hang on a wall or at least provide bragging rights among friends.

We may never catch that jaw-dropping lunker, but there certainly are things we can do to increase the chances of catching bigger fish.

“One thing you would want to do is identify areas that aren’t heavily fished,” says Francis Brautigam, a fisheries biologist in southern Maine for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “In tournament or heavily fished waters, large fish tend to be handled a lot or kept, which decreases the chances of you catching a large fish.”

Anglers also need to be aware of habitat and target fish accordingly. In southern Maine, anglers looking for a hefty fish would have the most luck targeting a warm-water species such as bass. Since bass will seek out warmer water even in winter, you are going to find them in deeper pockets and holes of ponds and lakes.

“Bass are also highly structure-oriented, so anglers should look for deeper areas adjacent to some type of structure,” says Brautigam.

Structure is important not only for bass but their forage. Bait fish will reside near structure as well, giving bass warmer water and ample food.

How can you locate this type of deep water and structure? Many anglers will scout ice fishing locations during the open-water season. A depth finder along with a handheld GPS unit is ideal for marking structure in deeper water and saving it for a later date.

You can also use depth maps or Google Earth in conjunction with the Maine Fishing Guide (www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/fishingGuide.html) to pinpoint likely areas. Look for deepwater areas located off points, peninsulas and islands. A handheld depth finder that measures depth through the ice can also help.

We’ve all heard that bigger bait means bigger fish, but is it true?

“Not 100 percent true. When you get into really large fish, they feed at a lower rate, but when they do feed, there is a significant expenditure of energy to feed, so they do go after larger fish instead of many small ones. However, you can catch some nice fish on smaller bait,” says Brautigam.

As to what to use for bait, it’s as simple as matching what they are likely to be feeding on.

“For most fish, in a certain time of year there’s a general size and form of fish that dominates their forage. Match that and you will have more success,” says Brautigam. “Sometimes when forage isn’t as abundant, they become predatory.”

In southern Maine, large-mouth bass are common in ponds with weedy environment.

Golden shiners are also common in these ponds, and a large golden shiner is an ideal bait.

As to when to fish, it depends. In years such as this when there is little snow pack and thinner than usual ice, bait fish are moving more during low-light periods, such as early morning and dusk. When winter snow and ice depths are more normal, it is not as important.

And just don’t stand there, do something. Jigging your bait can mimic a fish in distress or injured. Use lively bait and check your traps often. Baited minnows will often act in a distressed fashion, which can release pheromones that attract fish.

You can also gain an edge by using store-bought scents and attractants. If the fish aren’t biting where you are, move a few traps and try to locate them. Bass will group together in areas that provide food, cover and oxygen.

Late February and March is an excellent time to fish for bass, which feed more in anticipation of the spring spawn. Hopefully these tips will help you catch larger fish more often.


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