Times are a changin’.
Used to be when we went ice fishing, our presentation always included a jig tipped with some type of minnow or hunk of meat, no matter what species of fish we were targeting. As the fishing tackle industry has grown, companies have found ways to make better artificial bait that works in all seasons for all species of fish.
The days more anglers are finding ways to use artificial bait to catch fish. The advantages are evident; less time wasted caring for live bait, less time re-baiting because a fish “stole” your minnow and there is definitely more pride in catching fish on artificial presentations.
Spoons are available in all shapes and sizes from various manufacturers and they catch walleyes throughout the winter. I find myself seldom using any other type of bait for “eyes” anymore and my success has been spectacular. Spoons are good because they have superb attracting abilities and can call fish in from long range. They can also be shaken lightly to entice “on looking” fish that are in close range to bite. I just about always use a Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon and use a jerk, jerk, shake sequence most of the time. I’ll jig my spoon more furiously if no fish are on the flasher screen and begin jigging softer sequences when fish appear. One last “triggering” trick to make lookers turn into biters is to slowly jig your bait and lift your rod at the same time, making the bait rise in the water column. Walleyes you see are more likely to commit to your offering if they get lifted up off the bottom a little bit.
Blade Baits for Whities
Like trout, whitefish are active throughout the winter months and more catchable than any other time of the year. When I head out for whities, I like to use baits that make a lot of noise and vibration. A bait that many anglers may over look are blade baits like a Cicada or a Sonar. Various “knock-offs” of these bait have been made and most of them work. These bait are easy to use, just let them free-spool to the bottom and begin a moderate retrieve back to within ten feet of the surface. Keep doing this until fish appear on your electronics, I use a flasher and can see whitefish coming from long distances. Since whitefish are usually found over vast flats, the vibrations these baits kick out attract fish from long distances. I’ve watched them come over 30 feet to attack my bait.
Bug up Perch
Our lakes are alive in winter with bottom hugging larvae, bloodworms and crustaceans. All species of fish exploit these tasty offering but none take advantage of the potential feeding frenzy like perch do. Much of this action takes place in the mud-bottomed basins on the lakes we fish and this is the best place to find massive schools of perch. Ice fishing guru, Brian Brosdahl has designed a series of specialty jigs and soft plastic tails for Northland Fishing Tackle that ice anglers can use for perch and panfish. I use these jigs for perch and lit them up by using a technique that Brosdahl taught me. “Bro’s Mud Bug” is a jig that has a “fat-head” that anglers can shake and bounce in the mud to imitate hatches coming out of the bottom. Tip this jig with one of the new plastic tails and you have an offering that perch will eat up.
Everybody knows that lake trout are suckers for plastic minnow imitating baits like tubes and jerk shads. They catch fish on a consistent basis and have for years. A trend for trout is baits that work for bass during the open water season are HOT on lakers during the ice season. One of the hottest new styles of baits that bass anglers are using is swimbaits. Gaining popularity for largemouth bass in California, they are now being used by bass anglers all over North America. If you haven’t used them for lake trout, you’re missing out. I’m using 4-8 inch swimbaits for trout, the Storm Wildeye Swim Shad has been a good one for me and I always use natural, pearl editions. They are really good for active fish and big fish. The key is to keep it moving; I will jig these baits in 3-5 foot lifts and cover the entire water column. You will call in big fish with these baits and show them something they probably haven’t seen before.
The key with artificial bait is to use them to call fish in to your presentation. If you can do this, there is always a high percentage of fish, no matter what species you are targeting, that will bite. Spend some time this winter using artificial baits on the ice and you will see your catches improve and you’ll have fun catching fish on new presentations. Every time you do something different than the norm, you learn something and in the end this will make you a much better all-round angler.