Zach Merchant is part of a group of Garden State fishermen who spend two or three months each winter trekking out with sleds full of equipment and supplies across frozen bodies of water to take advantage of the chance to go ice fishing.
Full article at nj.com Special thanks to reporter Michael Warren for reaching out to us to get this interview and article done!
The serious, dedicated angler believes that fishing season doesn’t end when lakes and ponds freeze over. For guys like 25 year old Zach Merchant, it’s just beginning. Merchant and some friends spend a a day on Round Valley Reservoir and Furnace Lake catching bass, pickerel and perch. (Video by Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Fished the Round Valley swimming area yesterday with Nick Honachefsky. We started our day off with a bang, getting our first flag within 15 minutes of getting set up, and I landed what ended up being my new personal best Pickerel! I will be writing up a short fishing report from my last few ice fishing trips either later tonight or tomorrow, so stay tuned! – Zach Merchant
What in the world is this thing? Looks like a fish finder from WWII… you’re not far off.
Introduced in 1989, the above Vexilar FL-8 is a compact and lightweight depth sounder. Besides indicating depth, the unit also shows changes in bottom content and conditions. It can also discriminate between large underwater targets, such as fish, and smaller targets such as bait fish and plankton. The unit is a SONAR. It transmits bursts of high frequency pulses, which are converted from electrical to mechanical energy by the transducer. These “sound” pulses radiate from the transducer downward and are reflected back up to the transducer where the energy is converted back to electrical signals. The FL-8 then processes these signals and displays them. The circular display is accomplished by attaching an LED (Light Emitting Diode) to a wheel, which is then spun at a high speed in the clockwise direction. This allows for an extremely high speed update. The bottom, as well as other targets, can be displayed as red, orange, or green to indicate strong, medium and weak signals respectively. The FL-8 also has an alarm, which can alert you to fish or shallow water. The user controls this alarm so that anything that appears above a specific depth will sound the alarm.
Fun Fact: Sonar is an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging.
Since some of you have asked, here is a list of Ice Fishing gear to get you started.
Ice Fishing Gear
Ice Fishing Auger
6 inch hand auger is plenty fine for NJ ice.
Gas powered augers make quick work when punching lots of holes, just make sure it starts!
Propane augers are even nicer as they almost always start right up.
Tip Ups, typically spooled with 30lb Dacron and tied to a leader. I use 8lb fluorocarbon or 6lb monofilament for most ice fishing.
In NJ you can fish 5 tip ups at once.
Jig with a small ice fishing rod if you want, just beware that you’ll only be able to fish 4 tip ups + 1 rod or any combination thereof as long as it equals 5. “All devices not hand-held must bear the name and address of the user and can’t be left unattended” – more nj rules here
Ice ladle to scoop ice out of your drilled holes once in a while
some size 6 or 8 hooks, I prefer circle hooks but bait-holder hooks work fine too, you might gut hook a fish through.
some 3/8oz to keep your bait down
speaking of bait, live shiners work well. Hook them through the dorsal fin so they can swim around nice.
long needle-nose pliers to help get the hook out of Chain Pickerel, they have sharp teeth and will cut you.
Clothing and Comfort
It’s not uncommon for there to be an inch or more of slush on top of the ice.
Do yourself a favor and wear some insulated-waterproof duck boots or pack boots.
No waterproof boots handy? put on your socks, then slip your feet into a plastic bag before putting your shoes/boots on.
Dress in layers
fleece pants & jacket
wind/waterproof outer shell
sunglasses if it’s going to be sunny
Bring a bucket or chair to sit on.
These are the essentials. If you’re going to out all day, bring food and drinks too!
Sometimes finding fish through the ice just takes persistence. Don’t give up. This ice fishing technique article will help you improve your chances of catching fish by systematically finding them even if you don’t have a contour map, flasher or telepathy!
I’ve had good success fishing transitions, both along them and across them, so let’s take a closer look at what’s going on under the water in this animated gif.
Watch the animation as it reveals the contour lines, each line is a 5 foot increment, the closer the lines, the steeper the transition. The northwest corner and northeast corners look promising, I would set a line of tip ups right on top of of one of those green lines. The first tip up should be very shallow, in 5 to 7 feet of water with the live shiner suspended 1 to 2 feet off the bottom. Keep punching holes keep punching hoses every 10 feet. Again, drop all those shiners to the bottom, then pull up 1 to 2 feet so the shiner isn’t just laying hiding in the mud. Note* In New Jersey ice anglers may use no more than five devices, i.e. a combination of tip-ups and/or jigging rods. All devices not hand-held must bear the name and address of the user and can’t be left unattended.
This next part is VERY important. Once your holes are drilled and tip ups set…sit down and wait. Sure you can jig in another hole, but don’t check your bait, the tip ups will do their job. Just sit there for 30 minutes. If you get no flags or fish after 30 minutes, bring your bait up on all the tip ups a little, like 2 to 3 feet. Now go and sit for another 30 minutes and wait. Keep doing this, when you can’t bring up your bait any higher in the shallow hole, drill a new hole ~10 feet from the end of your furthest tip up, drop the bait to the bottom and keep repeating the process. Keep repeating until you catch a fish, which I can almost guarantee you will.
Why will this ice fishing technique work?
you are putting in the time, in 6 hours you will make 12 moves – note, if you have a terrible memory make a note of what move you are on
you are covering different zones within the lake, you’re in discovery mode, looking for structure.
you are covering different depths, still in discovery mode, looking for the thermocline the fish feel comfortable feeding in.
Once you catch a fish, smile, maybe take a quick pic. Then move some tip ups.
Move the two furthest ones. Punch 2 new holes perpendicular the one you caught your fish on, ~10 feet or along a contour if you know you’re on one. And set your bait at the same depth in which you caught your fish. Wait 30 minutes, etc… etc…
you get the idea. Keep doing this and you will have better luck finding actively feeding fish.
That’s it! Hope this helps & please leave a comment or subscribe to our eNewsletter to get all the latest tips and reports from Round Valley Fishing!