Veteran ice anglers invariably use jigging lures as their primary tool to catch winter species, but not all ice lures are interchangeable. Some perform better for different species and conditions. Knowing how and when to choose specific lures can go a long way to improving winter success.
One of my fishing partners used to say, “You can catch what you can’t see, but it’s a lot easier to hook fish when you know they’re under the hole.” New sonar models for ice fishing offer excellent screen resolution to indicate bottom depth, lure depth, movement, and proximity of fish. A number of different manufacturers offer portable flasher and liquid crystal units.
The screen allows anglers to watch how the lure moves using different jigging techniques. The presence of fish on the screen encourages anglers to use a variety of rhythms and lures to develop a “triggering index.”
Jigging spoons are one of the most popular ice fishing lures. There are two broad categories of jigging spoons: flash spoons and vertical diving spoons. Flash spoons include lures with actions like the Williams Whitefish and Ice Jig. After a lift of 1 to 2 feet, the spoon falls in a sideways fluttering, flashing motion. Aggressive fish, like lake trout and pike, will attack flash spoons without hesitation.
The Swedish Pimple, Cast Champ, Blue Fox Tingler,and the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon are popular vertical spoons. An erratic snapping lift followed by a free fall is a standard method of jigging. When a fish strikes, repeat the rhythm. Bouncing the spoon off bottom to stir up debris will also attract fish. Use vertical spoons from 1/8 to 1/2 ounces in a variety of colours. Silver and gold finishes are favourites, as are silver/blue, orange/gold, and chartreuse.
Ultra-violet (UV) finishes enhance sunlight reflection and are an excellent choice for cloudy days and lakes with snow cover. For low-light feeders, including walleye and crappie, glow finishes are best.
Swimming baits are connected to the line near the mid-point of the back of the lure. Most anglers snap the lure to create an erratic swimming motion. If a fish is seen on the screen the lure can be raised quickly to imitate a fleeing baitfish. A strike can also be induced by quivering the bait in a stationary position.
Popular options include the Sebile Vibrato, Salmo Chubby Darter, Airplane Jig and the Rapala Jigging Rap, Flat Jig and Clackin’ Rap. These lures are effective for all species of fish from first to last ice. Experiment with different natural colours if fish on the sonar show any reluctance.
The third class of jigs includes lures with a lead head and a single hook at the tail. Plastic tails or tubes can be attached to various styles of jig heads. Berkley Gulp Minnows and Power Bait Tubes, and Mr. Twister Tubes and Tails are popular. Hard-body jigs include Badd Boyz and the Lil Foxee.
Present these jigs in a finesse manner with less jigging momentum than spoons or swimming baits. Bouncing on or near the bottom or suspending in the water column will attract trout, walleye, whitefish and pike. Use smaller jigs referred to as bugs and weighted flies for perch, crappie, and bluegill. These lures range in size from 1/64 to 1/16 ounces. The Foxee Fly, Bro Bug, and Genz Worm are all excellent choices. Trembling these lures or using them as a one foot dropper under an attractor spoon is most effective.
Rods, reels, and line
Although many anglers use monofilament, line memory and coiling in cold weather can be a problem. A better choice is braided line made from Dyneema fibre which is stronger, thinner, and water resistant. A barrel swivel on the end and 2 to 3 feet of fluorocarbon leader completes the setup. Top line choices are Berkley Fireline, Suffix 832 Ice Braid, and Power Pro Ice Tech. Spinning rods average 24 to 32 inches and bait cast rods average 28 to 32 inches. Light-action spinning combos are best suited for 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs, and baitcast combos for 1/8 ounces and heavier. Many ice fishermen are switching to fly-fishing style straight-line ice reels to eliminate line twist at the lure. Under water cameras indicate fish shy away from jigs which twist or spin during presentation.
Using a variety of jigging lures in the cold winter months will definitely increase angling productivity.