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An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

 

I am an avid ice fisher and I’ll chase everything that swims through the hard stuff. I’ve caught browns, rainbows, brookies, lakers, walleye, whitefish, pike, perch, burbot, and even arctic grayling. I’ve found a lot of things work, but one of the least utilized; yet more effective presentations is the setline. That lonely rod, tip up or a spool of line left to its own devices is an extremely effective way to catch fish. Oftentimes it’s the best way to catch fish.

What exactly is a setline? It’s a line that you place somewhere, anywhere, that’s pretty much left unattended while you either jig at another hole or fish out of an ice fishing tent. The setline is usually, but not always baited and beyond that, there’s not a lot to say. It’s the ultimate in simplicity.

Now I live in Alberta and according to the provincial sportfishing regulations, anglers are entitled to use up to two lines while ice fishing. That’s the reasoning behind using a setline. It allows you to fish at another location using possibly a different bait, depth or technique. And the setline could even be targeted for a different fish entirely.

For example, look to my favorite winter fishing combination, the pike and whitefish. Where you find one, you usually find the other. The whites like to hang over shallow to mid depth weedbeds in the lakes I fish near Edmonton, while the pike like to hang on the deeper edges of those same weedbeds, picking off whitefish. I’ll be cozy in my ice fishing tent or lying on a mat with a small wireworm or fly catching lake whitefish. By utilizing the setline I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to catch pike while fishing for lake whites.

Meanwhile, I’ll put a setline down on the deep edge of a weedbed, close to bottom and use a big smelt or herring as bait. As the pike move through, they can’t help but take advantage of an easy meal and suck it up. Topside I’ll usually have a bell on to alert me to the take and I’ll get on my horse for the hook set.

The setline does it thing, but it does it effectively because we put the right bait down in a location where fish are likely to travel. The other advantage of using a setline, which is often overlooked, is that noise factor. Once placed, you walk away, leaving the area quiet.

I do the same thing for trout. I’ll fish with one line, while I’ll place a setline with a lively dew worm or trout worm a little ways away. There are days and plenty of them where I find myself continually running to the setline to pull in another fish. The quiet factor playing a major role in getting fish to bite. If it gets too obvious and the setline is the preferred method, I’ll switch up and convert the second line to a setline. Then it’s a matter of pulling up a chair, grabbing some hot chocolate and waiting for the bite.

Always the experimenter, I’ve taken to pushing the fly fishing envelope into the winter months and I’ve moved it right up to using setlines. A bead head prince nymph, pheasant tail nymph or a non-weighted full back nymph all in the smaller sizes left to suspend a foot or two under the ice in shallow water, say less than five or six feet has caught way more trout and whitefish than I’ve openly admitted. My trick: tie on a two or three foot piece of 5X tippet material (it’s really thin five pound test) and then tie the nymph on and twist the knot towards the point of the hook so that it suspends horizontally. It’s a natural, lifelike looking presentation that gets a lot of fish to bite.

A cautionary note about using setlines: if you’re using rods, be sure to have the drag set loose. That way if a big fish hits, it will be able to pull line as it runs, giving you time to hustle over for the bite. There have been a couple occasions where my drag was set too tight and the fish took the works, the rod and reel down the hole with them. That will break your heart, but it’s all part of the never ending learning process that goes on when you’re outside.

Setlines are effective. Put in the right locations using either bait or flies, they will help you find and catch more fish.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) In The Walleye Zone

(2) Zoo Trout

(3) Fly Selection for Beginners

(4) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(5) New Waters

(6) Big Bad Burbot

(7) Looking Back

(8) Out of Africa

(9) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(10) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(11) The Browns of Autumn

(12) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(13) Walleye Town

(14) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(15) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(16) Going With The Flow

(17) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(18) Swinging The Fences

(19) A View From The Aerie

(20) Dixieland Delight

(21) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(22) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(23) Montana's Cool Missouri

(24) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(25) Toothy Critters

(26) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(27) Top Ten Flies

(28) Northern Exposure

(29) Home Water Lessons

(30) Chicken Of The Sea

(31) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(32) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(33) Keep It Up!

(34) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(35) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(36) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(37) Hawg Holes

(38) Saltwater Salmon

(39) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(40) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(41) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(42) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(43) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(44) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(45) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(46) Fall Walleye

(47) Wet Flies

(48) Versatility the Key to Success

(49) Grayling of the Boreal

(50) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(51) Size Matters

(52) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(53) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(54) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(55) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(56) The Point Of It All

(57) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(58) Fall Fly Fishing

(59) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(60) Big River, Big Fish

(61) Bottom Bonanza

(62) Fishing Small Flies

(63) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(64) Four Seasons of the Bow

(65) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(66) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(67) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(68) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(69) Edge Walleye

(70) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(71) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(72) Four Corners – Four Waters

(73) Chasing Pothole Trout

(74) Springtime Stoneflies

(75) The Torrents of Spring

(76) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(77) Bust Them With Bait

(78) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(79) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(80) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(81) Terrestrials

(82) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(83) Rocky Mountain High

(84) Reading the clues

(85) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(86) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(87) Fly Fishing 101

(88) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(89) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(90) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(91) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(92) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(93) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(94) Trust Your Electronics

(95) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(96) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(97) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(98) Walleye can be Humbling

(99) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(100) Winter Flyfishing

(101) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(102) Hot Fall Pike Action

(103) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(104) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(105) Frequently Asked Questions

(106) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(107) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(108) Deep Water Perch

(109) Post Spawn Brookies

(110) A Fisher's Life

(111) The River's Last Stand

(112) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(113) Coho on the Coast

(114) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(115) Summer in the Mountains

(116) Peak Walleye Season

(117) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(118) Last Ice Rainbows

(119) The Burbot Event

(120) Tackle Matching

(121) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(122) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(123) The Lure of Brook Trout

(124) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(125) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(126) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(127) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(128) The Vesatile Plug

(129) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(130) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(131) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(132) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(133) Daily Fish Migrations

(134) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(135) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(136) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(137) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(138) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(139) The Fun in Ultra Light

(140) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(141) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(142) Never Stop Learning

(143) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(144) Jigging through the Ice

(145) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(146) Rainbows on Ice

(147) The Season of Ice Begins

(148) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(149) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(150) Facts On Cats

(151) West Coast Adventure

(152) June Walleye Frenzy

(153) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(154) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(155) "Northern Exposure"

(156) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(157) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(158) Man Overboard