Winter is coming! Some of us dread it and some of us live to get out on the ice and do some hardwater angling. We are very fortunate to live in a part of the world that holds so many different lakes and rivers, when it comes to fishing the opportunities are endless.
For me, ice fishing is a welcome change to open-water because I enjoy targeting different species that I normally do not have time for during tournament season and hunting season. My boyfriend Logan and I venture out almost every weekend on snowmobile, from Lake Winnipeg to Lake of the Woods and many lakes in between. We target Crappie, Walleye, Northern Pike, Lake Trout and Whitefish mostly.
Each year there is a distinct pattern…my tackle boxes start very organized and by the middle of the ice fishing season they are completely in disarray. One day we may fish for Crappie and the next day go for Pike in the morning and Walleye in the evening and then switch to Whitefish the next weekend, so I am constantly shuffling my tackle around which creates a huge mess. I am slightly obsessive with being organized so last year I had enough and decided to downsize and create one tackle box with all the essentials to be successful at multispecies hardwater angling, anytime, anywhere. I keep one tackle box filled with a handful of my favorite lures for each species that we fish for and another handful of lures that can work on many different species.
Small rattling crankbaits, jigging spoons and small Rapala Jiggin’ raps are great lures. They work especially well when you find an active school of fish that are aggressive and feeding. I always carry a handful of tungsten Crappie jigs and pair them up with soft plastics 1” or smaller such as the Flap Tail Grub, Water Bug or just a small scented glow plastic ball. The jig will always work on days when the Crappies are not as active. Even if they are tight to bottom try to present your bait a foot or two up so they have to come and get it. I’ve always had better success this way and it’s a fun way to fish especially if you are using a flasher and you can watch them come off bottom to get it.
There are different ways to trick Whitefish into biting but my favorite has to be using a 2” or 3” soft plastic minnow on a light jig. Realistic colors are my favorite; the closer it looks to a real minnow, the better. White tubes and twister tails also work great and you should never leave home without a few Williams spoons, the Whitefish in our waters love them. Spoons are a very versatile lure and depending what depth you are fishing you can catch Walleye, Pike and Lake Trout on them as well.
Lake Trout are constantly roaming, looking for their next meal. They can be found in deep water on bottom or right underneath the ice, really anywhere in the water column. The first lure I usually try is a rattling crankbait. They not only attract the predators in they catch them too. A 1/4oz or 5/16oz jig paired with a 4”-5” minnow-type plastic and big spoons also work for Trout. My absolute favorite presentation, hands down, is a big plain white tube with a long twister tail attached to the hook as a trailer. My Grandpa and my Dad always said; “big baits catch big fish.” I still remember my first time hooking up with a Lake Trout while ice fishing. It was a very special day with many great friends out on the ice and it was extra special to me because not only was it my first Lake Trout through the ice, it was and still is the largest Trout I have ever caught.
Walleye can be tricky, there are so many different presentations and lures and color combinations; to try to fit them all in one box isn’t really going to work. Lake depths and forage and structure available can be so different when you fish many different lakes so I try to include a few different combinations that I know will catch fish no matter which lake we decided to try. For example, on Lake Winnipeg the Greenbacks really love big vibrant spoons but if I am fishing on Lake of the Woods that wouldn’t be my first choice I would probably use a smaller rattle spoon. One thing that will work on any body of water is a jig. Minnow-type plastics, salted frozen minnows and live minnows (if permitted) and a handful of jigs should always be present when targeting Walleye. I have great success on all lakes I fish when I use the Rapala Jiggin’ Shad Rap. It has a great action that triggers fish to bite, and for ice fishing it seems to work very well for us. Last but not least is again, rattling crankbaits. I’ve used all different sizes and colors and had great success over the past few years.
Every lure I mentioned above for Whitefish, Walleye and Lake Trout all work on Northern Pike as well. They pretty much eat any and everything. One thing I would like to add to the list is a Tip-up with a Predator Rig. I actually just started using them recently and it’s a great way to catch big Pike. When the flag shoots up and I run towards it I am usually good for a few wipeout’s on my way over so not only is it a fun way to fish, the people I’m with stay entertained too.
I try to fill my tackle box with the basic necessities needed to have a successful day out fishing, no matter what body of water we decide to stop at and drop a line. In addition to the one tackle box I also bring along a small bag with a few different packages of assorted soft plastics. Having a small tackle box and bag doesn’t take up much room; it usually fits into a backpack easily, so it allows us to be very mobile when we are out on snowmobile. I would like to wish everybody a great, safe holiday season and hope to see you out on the ice! n