Back Country Ice Fishing with Gussy!


On the Ice in Northwestern Ontario

Growing up ice fishing, my Dad always had us put two lines down the hole.  We always fished for walleye or lake trout and it was always the same routine for either species with different baits.  We would jig with one rod and the other would be a stationary bait.  Over the years I definitely caught more fish on the jigging rods but I’ll never forget some of the big fish that were caught on the still lines.  For some species, like pike, dead baits rigged beneath a tip-up are by far the best option to catch a big fish.  In most places using two lines is a legal practice so it pays to be rigged up with a few options when you hit the ice this winter.

Big Lake vs. Back Lake Walleye

On Lake of the Woods, jigging will outproduce set lines every day in my experience.  It seems like the clear water allows walleyes to see baits from farther away so it’s my opinion that fish see the bait, then head over and bite.  Set lines sometimes catch walleyes on the big lake but I feel like because of the clear water walleyes get the opportunity to inspect set lines to much and they might know that something is up.

My top jigging bait over the past decade has definitely been the Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon with a minnow head on one of the trebles.  I have caught hundreds and hundreds of walleyes on this bait, using a ¼ oz spoon in water less than 30 feet and a 3/8 oz spoon for water deeper than 30 or if I’m targeting larger fish.  Regular jigs tipped with minnows and swimming jigs like the Puppet Minnow consistently catch fish as well.


Plenty to Explore

Across the Sunset Country Region of Northwest Ontario there are hundreds of smaller back lakes and many of them are loaded with walleyes.  Most of these lakes feature the classic tea-stained water colour that is synonymous with walleye fishing.
Usually these lakes really heat up in March, during the late ice period and I have seen many days on these lakes when walleyes will bite set lines 4-1 over jigged lines.  Hooking a minnow through the tail on a small jig is usually the best technique.  Maybe the darker water colour helps to hide our presentation and makes the walleye feel more comfortable about our baits?  All I know is that set lines work well on these shallower, darker coloured waters.  Northland has a new jig for the 2019 season designed exactly for this kind of presentation called the Glo-Shot Jig, which has a little glow capsule in the middle of it that adds some attraction in the darker water.  Try these jigs for set line fishing this winter, trust me!

A Combination for Crappie

With crappies, jigging is often important in drawing fish in for a closer look at your bait.  I will seldom drop a bait down a hole unless I see fish on my Humminbird flasher first but after catching a fish or two out of a hole there may not be any more crappies visible within the transducer cone.

I will always drop my bait, usually a Northland Eye-Dropper Spoon tipped with a couple of small plastic Impulse Waxies, back down the hole and jig for about a minute before jumping to another hole.  Often there are more fish nearby because of the schooling nature of crappies and jigging with the spoon will call them in.
Some days crappies will annihilate the small spoon or whatever bait you’re jigging with but more often than not, especially with pressured fish, you need to give them some element of finesse to trigger bites.

Favourite Soft Plastics

When you call crappies in closer but they won’t bite, I like to drop a small, finesse plastic bait down and simply hang it in their face.  Usually I’ll actually put my spinning reel in the snow and let the rod sit stationary above the hole while I watch the rod tip for a subtle bite.  Some days, simply holding the rod in your hand imparts more action than they want.  An Impulse Bloodworm or Water Bug are my favourite soft plastics and I like to rig them on a 1/32 oz Mud Bug Jig.  Fish these on 4 pound test mono for the most natural action.

Try this two rod system this winter and don’t be afraid to put your rod in the snow when crappies are hard to get to bite.

Jigging vs. Quick-Strikes for Pike

A few years ago I was writing a story about tip-up fishing for pike and I sent Aaron Wiebe a message looking for a few quotes and hot tips for the story.  One of his quotes was really good and I still haven’t forgotten it to this day.  “Tip-ups with a large dead bait rigged on a quick-strike rig work so well for ice fishing for big pike that I wouldn’t sacrifice even one for a jigging rod no matter how many lines I was allowed to put in the water”.  Strong words that I couldn’t agree more with.

The use of quick-strike rigs with dead ciscos or sucker minnows attached to them, fished beneath a tip-up has been well-documented for years.  Of the top ten biggest pike I have ever had my hands on – both on the ice and in open water – probably eight have been caught on a quick-strike rig.

Thermal Tip Ups Are Key

If you have never used a tip-up while ice fishing, you’re missing out, big time.  The system includes a tip-up like the Frabill Round Thermal model (which I like because they fit perfectly into a bucket for storage), a quick-strike rig like the Northland Predator Rig and a large dead bait.  Don’t ask why, but dead baits always work better than live baits for pike under the ice, just trust me.  My friends and I have tried it all over the years.

Jigging will catch pike as well, especially for somebody like me or most of my bass fishing buddies who don’t have as much patience as the average angler might, but I do question your shot at catching a true giant.  You can get some good action for sure!

Noisy Baits For Big pike

Jigging with large, aggressive, noisy baits can call in trophy pike from a wide range and trigger them to strike, especially during that late ice period when they predictable stage in front of the shallow bays where they will spawn shortly after ice-out.  It’s at this time that pike are most aggressive under the ice.  I like to fish eight to 15 feet of water in most situations, on that first drop coming out of the shallow back bays.

Rattle baits like the Jackall TN70 work well.  This bait is also a walleye killer and you’ll run into plenty of them in the same locations late in the ice season.  You can also fish large soft plastic fluke-style baits on a jig, large bucktail jigs or even large flutter spoons.  Baits that will create some noise or flash are always the best.  At the end of the day, tip-ups are always going to be the best producers for trophy pike but if you can’t sit still you can certainly catch fish jigging as well.


About Author

Jeff Gustafson, known in the fishing world as "Gussy", grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. He took out his first guide trip at age 14 on Lake of the Woods and has made his living in the fishing/outdoor industry ever since. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Gussy has always been self-employed as a fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer as well as fishing promoter. Today his fishes the Bassmaster Elite Pro bass circuit and as many local bass tournaments as he can find the time to enter. You can find him online through his website at

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