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Seeing is Believing
By John Kolinski
Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of the Year, the 2003 Illinois River RCL winner and a 17-time championship qualifier. He is the only anger to fish the PWT and B.A.S.S. at the same time. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor publications and at several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance Electronics, Yo-Zuri fishing line, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Optima Batteries and Panther Marine.
"The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer." - Edward R. Murrow
"The question is not what you look at, but what you see." - Henry David Thoreau
"The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides never decides." - Henri-Frederic Amiel
"One cannot see where one is going unless one can see where one has been." - Anonymous

It's a dark, mysterious world out there under the ice.
Fortunately, we live in an age of enlightenment. Today's anglers may not have any better vision than those who have gone before them, but thanks to modern technology, they are seeing more clearly than ever before.
In fact, it's sometimes hard to believe the lengths to which we once went in pursuit of hard-water fish.
First, we had to set up on a tried and true spot.
That often meant triangulating Farmer Brown's silo with the giant willow tree in the city park and the old boat ramp at the south end of the lake. Then it was a matter of drilling holes (with a hand auger) and checking depths by clamping a lead weight to a fishing line and lowering it to the bottom.
Eventually, about the time we were in a full sweat, we'd find the spot on the spot, or we'd give up and settle for being close.
If we found a hot hole (usually because it was located over some type of specific structure or bottom content), we'd shove a stick into the snow or slush next to the hole so we could come back and fish it again a day later or a week later. Half the time, however, the stick would be gone when we'd return.
Thank goodness for global positioning systems.
The second-biggest challenge back in those days was finding creative ways to help us see what was happening beneath us. When water clarity and depth were conducive, a handful of egg shells dropped to the bottom provided a contrasting background that helped reveal the presence of fish.
Those days were the best, because we had a far better chance to figure out what techniques and presentations solicited the most aggressive behavior from our prey. Most of the time, we simply fished, hoped for the best and kept moving until we found active fish.
Thank goodness for today's highly detailed sonar units and underwater cameras.
If I had to pick one piece of equipment that has enhanced my ice fishing success more than any other, it would be sonar, beginning with my first Lowrance flasher and continuing with today's M68C Ice Machine.

Lowrance M68C Ice Machine Simply put, you can't catch what isn't there, and I became a better hard-water angler the first day I used a flasher. I can still come up with plenty of excuses for not catching fish, but I can never complain that I was unable to find them.
The Lowrance M68C Ice Machine is a marvel of modern technology. It's the first unit that combines portable sonar with GPS navigation in an ice fishing package. It's a color unit with 320x340 pixel resolution, making it one of the most highly detailed units for its size.
High quality sonar units are unlocking hard-water secrets.
Because we can now see them on the screen, we know that winter fish often suspend over deep water. That includes bluegills, which many of us formerly believed were always lurking near the bottom.
The M68C has made me a more efficient and precise angler, as well, by eliminating a lot of dead water.
The GPS feature allows me to enter waypoints from some of my summer fishing hotspots and also to store data from successful ice fishing outings for future use. I can mark humps, brushpiles, weedbeds and breaklines and go directly to those spots rather than trying to find them by using shore marks.

If it's blowing snow or simply dark and confusing, I can use the Ice Machine's GPS feature to help me find my way back to shore from anywhere on any size of lake.
I don't even have to drill a hole to check a new spot. When there is quality ice present, pour a little water on the surface and the transducer will usually give me a perfect reading.
Covering water is still important to ice fishing success. The mobile angler is typically the most consistently successful, and sonar comes into play there, as well.
Instead of going clumsily from hole to hole and dropping a line in each to find active fish, I now check each hole with the Ice Machine and only fish those where I can see activity.
Finding fish is only part of the puzzle. It's cold down there, and you never know how aggressive or responsive those fish will be. That's where a highly detailed sonar unit with a zoom feature, or an underwater camera, becomes invaluable.
The zoom feature is important because it magnifies the scene you are viewing. Even the tiniest jigs are easy to identify, and you can focus on the part of the water column where most of the fish are located. Split-screen features are even better because while you may want to concentrate on the bottom six feet, you can also see what's going on throughout the water column in case conditions change or new fish move in.
Sometimes, fish are tight to the bottom and uninterested in anything hovering above them. In many cases, you can coax them into action by dropping your lure to the bottom and then raising it slowly in small increments. You'll be able to see the fish follow the lure on the sonar unit and determine a jigging stroke that triggers bites.
Crappies are notorious for "lift bites" where they are actually rising slightly as they taste a minnow or a waxworm. Perch can be finicky fish, as well. In both cases, many bites would go undetected without a sonar unit where you can actually watch the fish and the lure come together. When that situation occurs, lift your rod tip slightly to see if there's any resistance. If you feel anything unusual, set the hook.
Underwater cameras take the hard-water theater to another level. There have been many times when I've seen an angler with a camera outfish an angler without one because he or she sees exactly how a fish is reacting to a bait and when that fish has the bait inside its mouth.
Both sonar and cameras serve another purpose. They're entertaining. Everybody likes to watch a good show, but kids in particular become much more interested in ice angling when they can see the drama develop and unfold.
These days, I can get by without a lot of equipment when I head out onto the ice. Give me a handful of Lindy Frostees, jigs, spoons and Munchies Tiny Tails. Throw in a few Thill floats and an assortment of terminal tackle. Include a dependable auger and a tent and heater for those unbearably cold days. Add an Optima battery for backup duty.
At the top of my list is my Lowrance M68C Ice Machine.
What you see is what you get, and when it comes to ice fishing, seeing is believing.

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