An Underwater Camera You Say?
By: Kyle Sorensen
With the temperatures dropping and the white stuff starting to fall, my blood gets pumping as I know the ice is sure to follow. We as anglers, go into anticipation mode. Getting the gear ready, checking the local bays and ponds for the first glimpse of ice, getting the gear ready, maybe making a new purchase (because it was on sale of course), getting the gear ready… getting my hint?
The icefishing industry has been overloaded with a smorgasbord of various tools, gadgets and toys. Is this bad? Absolutely not, as long as you don’t overdo yourself and you know when, and how, to use your equipment. We could look into various pieces of equipment but with early ice season upon us, I want to cover some basic pros and cons of the ever talked about: underwater camera.
Do I Need One?
I am not going to tell you that you do but I am not going to tell you that you don’t. The choice is yours. After all, you are the one spending your hard earned money. The fact of the matter is, however, that any piece of equipment that helps you catch more fish than before is valuable, period. When I look into the positives of utilizing a camera, three main areas come to mind.
You might be already using a flasher/sonar unit. If you are, great! We have been there when you mark a fish but just can’t get a bite. You wonder what it is but you cannot say for sure. Yes, if experienced, you can make a very educated guess but I still come to find myself surprised once in a while. One incident of my error can be seen in the picture on the LEFT. I had a large mark show up on my flasher that appeared and disappeared, sometimes, very quickly. You might guess a curious ‘eye taking a pull or two at my lure; I did. To my surprise my walleye had turned into a northern pike.
This is a prime example of what a camera can be used for. What are those marks? Drop the camera down and find out for sure. Curious if the weed bed you are fishing holds gills? Look at the color intensity of the weeds and identify them. You can tell if they are emitting the oxygen which in turn can hold active fish. The options are endless.
If you have a flasher/sonar unit and are still learning it or you want to learn more about it, I would highly recommend you spend the extra time and utilize a camera and a flasher/sonar at the same time. You will begin to gather valuable knowledge of how different species act and react to your lure and what it looks like from the flasher/sonar standpoint. This is how I learned my flasher. Since doing so, I built the confidence up to “go it alone” and to keep the camera dry.
A huge benefit of a camera system lies within this category. I use a term called presentation refining. The best mental picture I can give you would surround pan fishing. We have all seen how quickly a bay can fill with anglers on early ice. The obvious assumption can be this. When the fishing pressure hits, one can conclude that the vast majority of anglers are using a similar type of lure and bait. Does a teardrop with a waxie or spike sound familiar? This means that besides your location, the presentation you offer must be the one that works!
When I first made the leap and purchased my first underwater camera, I took it out as soon as the conditions allowed. I quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. I started by trying out various jigging presentations from hard erratic motions to barely “buzzing” the bait. I found some techniques to be unattractive and some techniques that offered almost a sure-fire hookup (notice on how I said almost). These principles can be transferred over to your lure selection. It is all trial and error but just make sure to learn by the successes and fails. You will indeed pick up pointers no matter which species you are targeting.
Let’s face it. We live in a society in which a lot of us have a low attention span. With this being said, I am one to be thrown into the vast majority. However, I have caught myself endlessly staring into the little screen of my camera unit. There is something about being able to actually see the fish on the screen and ultimately being able to pull it through that little hole in the ice. If a camera can keep my attention, just imagine how engaged a child would be? This will usually help with the “Daddy, I’m bored” moments and you would be surprised how many less “Daddy, I’m cold” statements you will hear.
This sounds great but?
I will tell you one thing; it’s hard to steer away from a camera once you have used one. Do I have one (a few) still? Of course I do and I use them when I need to. Two major areas of setbacks I have encountered are summed up in the following categories.
Mobility and the Hassle
Give me a good layer of ice and I’m out searching for walleyes on the vast waters of Lake Winnebago. I pack light (the bare essentials) and become very mobile. My shelter is pulled by my snowmobile and I move on a routine basis usually putting many miles on a day or until I find action. Moving as much as I do, frankly, means work. I like to minimize my travel time which involves less setup and takedown. Let’s face it, setting up a camera can take a little bit of time (especially when the camera head does not want to face that right spot it needs to). In retrospect, packing up the camera can sometimes burn too much time as well.
The Camera Appeal
Anyone who has a camera knows what I speak of when I say, “You can depend on the camera too much.” Whether you are waiting for the fish to get the hook perfectly in its mouth before setting the hook, or you tend to see yourself not presenting the correct presentation of your lure because it will be off the screen, you will know you are relying on the camera too much. Some have said that using a camera can scare fish away. This is probably one of the most talked about subjects when it comes to underwater camera usage. Does it? Maybe, but I know I have caught a variety of species while the camera is a foot from their bodies. I will say for sure, based upon my personal experiences on the Lake Winnebago System, my walleye catches seem to diminish while only using a camera. Maybe it could be that walleyes somehow feel uneasy with the 15ft cord and camera head hanging next to their meal? If I had to take a guess, I would say the following. Walleyes on this system, frequently, comethrough at a wide range of depths, so if your camera is close to the bottom, you are losing out on the rest of the water column. As I previously stated, I am very mobile. I think the more time I am burning by setting up, adjusting and taking down the camera means I am losing valuable time icing fish. Whether this holds true or whether the fish are just plain scared of the camera, I do not know for sure. I go by my statistics and they tell me no dependent camera usage while I am in search of walleyes.
Let me put this all together.
In all simplicity I will say this. I now mainly only utilize a flasher. However, due to a new advancement in underwater viewing systems I now carry a complete camera unit in my pocket. The mobility is unmatched for those questionable moments when you are unsure of weeds, structure, or species. If I am fishing gills in shallow water, I love utilizing a camera. If I am on the hunt for ‘ol marble eyes, I am flasher fixed. The question of whether or not you need a camera or to utilize your camera all depends on factors surrounding your style of fishing. The great thing about this industry is that we have a lot of choices in products from a variety of manufactures. Do your research, test a store model and see for yourself if an underwater camera is right for you.
Tight lines, Stay Dry.