A Guide To Scouting Ice Fishing Hot Spots
If you’re fishing a lake that is new to you, it pays to do your homework before heading out onto the ice. Want to know how to find perch ice fishing? Doing some scouting before your trip is even more important if you don’t have the luxury of an ice fishing flasher to put you on the fish. That shouldn’t stop you from trying to find new fishing hot spots.
It is also important to do some research on whatever species you are targeting to hone in on where to look. Whether you’re fishing for bluegill, perch, crappie, northern pike, or catfish, each species has known tendencies and migration patterns depending on the time of year, the water temperature, and other factors.
By doing this, you can effectively shrink the size of the lake and zero in on a much smaller potential area of water that will likely be holding fish. Even if you do have an ice fishing fish finder, this can save you hours and hours of time wandering around drilling holes aimlessly. Certainly, you could hire a guide, but I’m going to give you a tip to show you how to start doing this on your own for free.
How can you find these high yield ice fishing hot spots?
The answer is the Navionics webapp. I’ll preface this by saying that I am in no way affiliated with Navionics, nor am I receiving any sort of payment or incentive from Navionics to write this. I just honestly think it’s a great tool. If you haven’t discovered or used this awesome free resource already, you’re going to love it. Even if you already think you know the lake you fish inside and out, I bet you’ll still be able to learn something.
Why is it so great? Because you can view highly detailed bathymetry maps with 1-foot contours. Being able to “read” these contours is a little bit of an art, but with a little practice, you’ll be able to clue into the fishing hot spots.
Before I show you how to use the Navionics webapp, a quick primer on fishing “structure” for the uninitiated.
In general, fish like to hang around “structure.” The concept is often attributed to the legendary Buck Perry. This could refer to physical objects like a submerged tree or log, a pier, a weed bed, a big group of rocks underwater…but it also refers to certain changes in the bottom of the lake bed. This is what contour maps is able to show us. Contour maps allow us to visualize steep drop offs, gradually sloping areas to deep water, underwater humps, etc.
I won’t go into this in depth, but here are a few types of structure to look for:
- Breakline: a region of the lake bottom created by a sudden increase or decrease in depth.
- Hump: basically an underwater hill or mound, where a more shallow area is surrounded by deeper lake bottom.
- Bar (or Point): think of these as underwater peninsulas; a region where shallower bottom juts out into deeper water.
On a contour map, quite simply, each line represents a certain depth. The closer two lines are together, the steeper the depth change. In other words, if a bunch of lines are very close together, that would indicate that the depth is changing very quickly. Now, we have to look at the actual depth numbers that are labeled to figure out whether that means the lake is getting deeper or more shallow, but that’s the general principle.
OK, now onto the good stuff – using the Navionics Webapp
1. Open the Navionics Webapp at webbapp.navionics.com
2. Locate your geographic region and use the zoom button at the top right of the screen to find new lakes or hone in on a particular lake you plan on fishing. Also, at the bottom of the screen, click on Menu and then Map Options. Select the overlay you would like. Personally, I like to use Terrain, but Satellite can also be useful.
3. While still in map options, set the “Safety Depth” slider to the depth you intend to fish at. This isn’t necessary, but it makes it easier to visualize these spots on the lake map. Click “Close” when finished.
4. Next, click the blue icon in the bottom left of the map. Toggle over to the SonarChart view. This is a really nice feature which shows you 1-foot contours for any lake, and this is the kind of detail that is going to help reveal all kinds of underwater structure.
5. Survey the lake to find ideal structure as discussed above. There is plenty written about this on the internet if you need additional resources. Find the structure and you find the fishing hot spots.
6. Lastly, there is one more great feature to take advantage of. Review the community edits. These are the small icons on the map that contain information that people have contributed for everyone to use. Take a look around and when you find one, click your mouse once over any icon on the map (ie. green circle with white cross, red fish logo, etc). Once the cross-hairs shows up, click on the blue question mark. This will reveal potential fishing hot spots or fish marked by other fishermen on the lake.
There you have it – an easy way to figure out where those deep perch might be holding, or find that breakline that a monster pike may be suspending off of.
If you find the webapp useful, I would also recommend considering downloading their mobile app. You can either download the free Boating HD version or else there are paid versions that provide additional features. Either way, this lets you take what you learned on the webapp to the ice and use the GPS function to drill your hole over the exact spot you’re looking for.
Be sure to check out some of our ice fishing gear reviews as well to make the most of your time on the ice.