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Finding Fish

By Bob Jensen - March 1, 2003
I just returned from an ice-fishing trip to northern Minnesota. The action was awesome. Lots of perch, and many were jumbos. Also caught a good number of crappies and some bluegills. It was on this recent trip that I was reminded how important it is to, first, find the fish and second, give them the bait the way they want it. I was also reminded how important it is to pay attention to your sonar unit, also commonly called a depth finder.

On this trip we noticed that it was critical to keep the bait about a foot above the fish. We could see the perch just off the bottom on the sonar screen. We started off lowering the bait right to the same level as the fish. Sometimes they would take the bait, but often they ignored it or moved away from the bait.

After seeing this happen just a couple of times, we started stopping the bait about a foot above the fish. It was amazing! They would rise up and take the bait almost immediately. By keeping the bait a short distance above the fish, the catching was much better.

Also, if a fish didn't show up on the screen after just a few minutes, it was better to move. There were lots of hungry, aggressive fish: It didn't do any good to fish down a hole when there were no fish there.

The same thing holds true in open water. An angler needs to believe what the sonar is revealing. If you're working a deep-water structure, and you're not seeing fish, or at least baitfish, you should probably try another location.

Shallow water is a little different. Sometimes sonar doesn't do a real good job or revealing fish when

"... if a fish didn't show up on the screen after just a few minutes, it was better to move ..."
they are shallow. Usually the boat will spook the fish before they get in sonar range. Other times the coverage area of the sonar is so limited that the odds of a fish being in the coverage area is small. A rule of thumb is that in deep water, if you're not seeing fish on the sonar, try a different area. In shallow water, there could be fish on a structure even if they aren't appearing on the sonar. The Humminbird Legend sonar units are becoming very popular with anglers as they do a great job of revealing fish, and they are very simple to operate.

Another rule of thumb for finding fish: Early in the year look for them to be near the shore. That's where many gamefish spawn in the spring, so that's where you can frequently expect to find them. Later in the year, after they have spawned and summer has set in, the fish will be near their food. If the food is shallow, that's where the fish will be. If the food is deep, or in the weeds, or suspended, that's where you can expect to find the fish. Find their food and you will find the gamefish.

It's a simple concept that if you want to catch fish, first you have to find them. Use your sonar to find the fish, then put the bait where they want it. If you do this, you will catch more fish more often.

Author Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen is the host of the Fishing the Midwest television series, a series of television fishing shows that highlight fishing locations and techniques throughout the Midwest. He also writes a syndicated fishing column and does fishing seminars throughout the Midwest. He is a former fishing guide and tournament angler. Visit Bob's web site at
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