Upsizing baits for ice fishing

by Tim Allard | January 19, 2024

When ice fishing, there are many instances when an upsized bait gets the job done better than a smaller one. Here is a look at when going bigger can work to your advantage.

Upsized state of mind

Before getting to a few scenarios, it’s best to be clear. Upsized isn’t a synonym for super-sized. Certainly, there are times when an extra-large presentation is tough to beat, but the concept embodies much more.

Upsizing can be as simple as choosing the next model of your favourite lure. Going from a two-inch to a two-and-a-half-inch lipless crankbait might not seem like much, but this tweak can make walleye freak.

Adding bulk is another popular strategy. For instance, compare a one-and-a-half-inch wispy finesse plastic with a thicker-bodied jigging minnow of similar length. Each bait’s profile and action can elicit a feeding response from panfish. When big crappie and portly perch prefer a bulkier bait, however, you’ll be glad your tackle collection includes some jigging minnows.

Attracting fish from a distance

I’ve said it before — think of a lure like a highway advertisement; the big billboards get attention better from farther away than smaller signs.

Similarly, upsized spoons, Jigging Shad Raps, lipless crankbaits, and plastics are the best ways to call in fish from a distance. This strategy has saved my bacon when fishing from a permanent ice house as well as when hole-hopping outside for scattered fish roaming large flats.

The ideal scenario is when a fish is aggressive enough to attack the beefy presentation. If they don’t hit, though, attracting them close enough to register on your electronics is a win. Knowing they’re in the area, you can then troubleshoot how to get them to bite.

Big bait, big fish

It’s an angling cliché but it’s true: big lures catch big fish. You’ll find plenty of evidence in support of this dangling beneath tips-ups on Lake of the Woods and other trophy northern pike fisheries where savvy anglers use sizeable ciscoes and suckers as dead-bait on quick-strike rigs to catch pike through the ice every winter.

Matching the menu

Forage size is another factor to consider. On lakes where lake trout, walleye, and pike regularly eat sizeable prey, such as whitefish, cisco, perch, and suckers, it’s hard to argue with an upsized approach. At the very least, it is a reasonable strategy to start the day.

Just consider the effectiveness of large airplane jigs, tube jigs, and swimbaits for catching lake trout. In addition to the attraction and “big bait, big fish” elements discussed earlier, it’s likely a laker’s feeding response is influenced by an upsized presentation if sizeable prey form part of its diet. 

Size and sink rate

Listing airplane jigs, tube jigs, and swimbaits also raises another important detail — drop speed. My experience with upsized presentations is ones that fall at a slow to moderate pace often produce best. The way I see it, an unhurried fall portrays injury and vulnerability, and likely triggers fish to strike. This regularly unfolds using Jigging Shad Raps for jumbo perch, flutter spoons for crappie and whitefish, and chandelier-parachuted spoons for walleye, to name just a few scenarios.

Go bigger at prime times

A friend of mine once said, “the best time to experiment with new tactics is when you have a captive audience of fish that are feeding.” This piece advice has served me well over the years.

If you haven’t yet seen the potential of upsizing, do yourself a favour and tie on a big bait when fish are on the chew. The walleye devour hour is at dusk. Sunny breaks cause perch to pig out, and pre-front weather conditions stimulate pike and whitefish eating sprees. These are a few examples of feeding windows when upsizing will help you catch more fish.

Generally, too, fish tend to be more active during first and late ice compared to mid-winter. There are exceptions, but the bookends of the season offer opportunities for good results with larger lures.

The above are just a few samples of when upsizing has helped my friends and I catch fish over the years. If serving steaks doesn’t work, or its effectiveness peters out, you can always switch to snack-sized presentations.

Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2023 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine

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