To be successful during the ice fishing season is to be prepared. Space is limited when I am on my snowmobile so I pack a handful of my favorite go-to lures for each species and keep them all in one tackle box that fits right in my backpack. Usually when we head out for the day we have a target species in mind but if that species isn’t co-operating I know have the option to switch gears and try for another. Somewhere in the lake there will be fish willing to bite and the goal is to find them.
These tasty little guys are not only great to eat they are really fun to catch ice fishing. There are a few smaller lakes we try at the beginning of every ice season because they usually freeze up faster and provide safer ice much sooner in comparison to the large lakes in our area like Lake of the Woods. Once you locate a large group of Crappie remember to try and keep moving out and away in all directions. Find the edge of the structure you are on, a steep drop-off or rise, or a change in the bottom; you may find an additional school of Crappie there and you get to learn the layout of the structure better as well. If you are heading out for the first time and not sure where to start, try a deep hole close to a bay or section of the lake that you know is home to a population of crappies.
Jigging with small spoons is a great presentation to use for Crappie. They will often suspend slightly off bottom so presenting your lure 1-3 feet off bottom is really important to increase your success. Colour of choice for me is usually anything pink or white and if it glows, even better! There will be days where they will absolutely attack the spoon but if the bite is tough I would switch to a small jig with a soft plastic grub, tube, or twister tail. Experiment with different colours until you find one that works best, the fish will let you know what they prefer.
Whitefish can be found in various depths throughout the lake. They can spread out over mud-bottom flats, deep humps, and also suspended off large structures and points. They can be found anywhere in the water column and using your electronics will give you a huge advantage. If you notice a mark on your flasher, position your lure just above the mark and start jigging it a little bit. There have been many times where I’ve reeled up to a suspended fish and caught it, and this is especially true while targeting Whitefish. Sometimes if you keep reeling past them slowly they will start to chase the lure and you can watch as they rocket up to hit it. It’s a really fun way to fish!
Although there are many different tackle options for ice fishing, I tend to lean towards using the same presentations each year. The first would be a small jig paired up with a two or three inch soft plastic minnow in a realistic color. The second option is a flashy, silver spoon tipped with a small piece of frozen minnow. There are many other baits that work well for Whitefish, these just happen to be my favorite.
We often try for a few of these big toothy critters later in the ice season but you can catch them all year long. They will be close to groups of other fish like Walleye or Crappie and in areas that are home to a good population of baitfish. If you can find their food I can guarantee they won’t be far away. It’s really hard to narrow down only a few of my favorite lures for Pike. They aren’t too picky when it comes to their food and that leaves us many options to choose from. Lipless crankbaits, spoons, tubes, soft plastics, they all work well. Although those are all great choices, setting up a tip-up with a quick-strike rig is hard to beat.
Another thing that’s hard to beat is landing a big, healthy Lake Trout through the ice. Holding onto my rod knowing at any moment a giant could come in for a hit is exciting, and that feeling keeps me coming back year after year. Lake Trout are on the move, always searching for their next meal and they can be found roaming literally anywhere in the lake. I’ll usually start by jigging a few feet down, fairly close to the ice. After a few minutes I drop it down a few more feet and keep repeating until I am near the bottom, then I will work my way back up. Similar to the Whitefish they can be found anywhere within the water column.
Again, lipless crankbaits work great to attract them to the area and I’ll usually start out with either the Rapala Rippin’Rap or the Clackin’ Rap. A larger jig with a five or six inch soft plastic minnow is also a great presentation to use. Big baits will trigger big fish to bite so don’t be afraid to up size your lure. Last but not least is my absolute favorite and that’s the plain white tube.
I still remember the first time my Dad tied one up for me while ice fishing. I was hesitant and would have much rather used a minnow or something that actually resembled a fish. Well lucky for me I gave it a try and within a half hour I would be hooked up with my fish of a lifetime. I was using a 7’6” rod and it still took several minutes to wrestle the fish up to the bottom of the hole. When my Dad lifted it out I was in awe of how big and beautiful the fish was. We guessed it would weigh a little over twenty pounds, we snapped one quick picture, and I released it back to fight another day.