Ice fishing lures: make a better bait

by Tim Allard | April 26, 2013

ice fishing lures - ice-lures

Modifying an ice fishing lure is about making it a better bait. Refining action, customizing colours, and replacing hooks are common lure-tweaking tactics. After some trial and error, doctored lures often become confidence baits, outperforming those fished straight out of the box. Here are some ways to get the best out of ice lures.

Shape changers
Spoons provide plenty of customizing opportunities. One tactic is altering their shape for added action. Don McCaw from Orangeville operates Iceguidez and regularly modifies lures. He bends thin jigging spoons for an erratic lift and a wide, swaying fall.

“I bend the bait below where you tie on to the lure,” he said. Using pliers, he pinches the spoon horizontally, bending it about 15 degrees inward. Bending spoons in the centre is also effective.

Custom crafted
Painting lets you create custom colours and salvage worn lures. Powders and liquids have different processes, so follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Paint the entire spoon or only one side to add colour, but keep the flash. Apply painter’s tape on the side you don’t want to paint. Trim excess tape with a knife before painting.

Flash point
Prism, holoform, and glow-in-the-dark tapes are paint alternatives. Plenty of reflective and colour patterns are available. Always clean a lure’s surface before applying tape. Next, cut a strip and test its dimensions on the lure. Once you’re satisfied with the shape, remove the backing and apply the tape. Steve Brunke of Real Pro’s, a tackle-component company near Owen Sound, suggests using scissors to cut tape (available at craft stores) in different patterns, like waves or zigzags. A hole punch is perfect to cut dots for baits. Adhesive eyes are also available.

Brunke recommends dipping spoons in clear lacquer or water-based clear-coat paint to hold tape to irregularly shaped spoons or layers of tape.

Tube a spoon
If you don’t want to permanently change a spoon’s colour, OOD contributor Jeff Gustafson, a guide from Kenora, has a good alternative: insert spoons into salted tube jigs.

“The soft body and salt give the spoon a soft feel, and fish will hold on better when they bite,” he said. Inserting a spoon in a tube slows the bait’s fall and changes its profile. Trim the skirt if it extends too far beyond the hook. Carry a colour assortment of tubes to experiment with until you find the best fish-hooking hue of the day.

Dress ’em up
Beyond changing a bait’s shape and colour, dressing hooks is another popular lure-tweaking tactic. Naked hooks don’t trigger hits or give fish as good a target as dressed ones.

Hair- or feather-dressed trebles work well on spoons and swimbaits. These natural materials wave and pulsate with the slightest shake of the bait, creating an effective trigger. Most tackle shops sell pre-tied hooks. An alternative is tying your own to customize colours and the amount of material on hooks. Beads are also effective for adding colour to trebles. Brunke recommends using an aluminum pin to secure beads. Insert the pin though the hole in a pearl or bead. Use a pin with a large head to hold the sphere in place. Next, lean the pin against the treble and use pliers to bend the point through the hook eye. Once through, bend the pin down the other side, inserting it back into the bead. Secure the modification by adding a strip of shrink tubing over the shank and pin. Heat it. Add a section of coloured latex tubing for colour.

If you don’t have a pin, tie a bead in place with a section of thin copper wire. After securing the bead, wrap plenty of wire around the hook shank to keep everything secure.

A jig hairdo
Leon Maloney of Hillsdale is a well-known lure tinkerer and ties the Bug ice bait. He likes tubes, but has found lake trout and whitefish sometimes prefer hair, so he makes a hybrid. He ties roughly 30 strands of bucktail to a jig-head shank, trimming them into a point. The hairs stick out an inch from the hook. He then cuts the skirt off a tube body and inserts the hair-tied jig head. “Hair ungulates differently than a tube’s skirt and really works,” he said.

Maloney also ties hair, feathers, or wool to jigs for panfish. “I tie 1-inch strips on each side (of the hook’s shank) to imitate a crayfish,” he said. “Perch love this bait.” Cut away material to downsize if fish are biting short.

Sneaky stingers
For light-biting walleye or trout, tying a stinger hook on jigs is an easy modification. McCaw uses the technique for walleye and favours No. 10 trebles for stingers. He uses 6-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, customizing stinger length to match baitfish size. Tie the stinger to the hook bend with a Palomar knot.

Dropper rigs
Replacing a spoon or a swimbait’s treble hook with a dropper rig coaxes bites from reluctant fish. The lure’s action attracts; the dropper line finesses bites. You can buy chain droppers or tie your own with fluorocarbon line. Add a beaded treble or a hook tipped with live bait. To avoid tangling, keep droppers only a few inches in length.

When doctoring lures, you’re only limited by your imagination. Try tinkering with ice-fishing baits this season. You will expand you’re selection of go-to baits and have an advantage over other anglers at the community hole.

Tool kit: Needle-nosed pliers, split-ring pliers, bobbin, vice, scissors, a candle or a small propane torch.

Basic tying step-by-step

  1. Secure the hook in a vice and thread the bobbin.
  2. Wind a layer of thread over the shank.
  3. Select your tying material, pinching it between your thumb and forefinger with the ends to be tied sticking out.
  4. Place the material over the hook shank, winding thread over it to hold it in place.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’re satisfied.
  6. Wind plenty of thread over the shank, adding liquid cement or clear nail polish for holding strength.

Painting points

  • Assemble tools and all materials before starting.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • If using powder paint, don’t overheat lures. Use a soot-free heat source, such as a propane torch or a paraffin-wax short-wick candle.
  • Bake powder-painted baits to increase their durability.
  • If using liquid paint, consider building a motorized drying rack to ensure even, smooth coats.

Focus on Hooks
Serious ice anglers replace factory hooks with high-end ultra-sharp ones to improve hook sets. If targeting big fish with small baits, upsizing hooks increases your hooking percentages.

Make sure hooks on spoons and swimbaits have eyes large enough to move freely on a split ring. This adds a triggering sway when quivering lures. Widen the hook gap on ice jigs 10 degrees to improve their ability to stick panfish. Replacing trebles with a single Siwash hook can also increase hook-ups, as single hooks penetrate deeper.

More lure ideas

  • Attach small spinner blades to a spoon’s bottom split ring for extra flash and sound.
  • Invert a spoon’s treble hook with the line tie; sometimes this creates an erratic action.
  • Replace standard hooks with glow or coloured hooks to boost a bait’s flare.
  • Glue rattles on spoons.


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