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Ice Fishing Lures
Virtually all ice fishing lures share one commonality: they are meant to be jigged. But jigs come in dozens of shapes, sizes and colors, and they are meant to be fished with different mechanics and methods. Here is a quick breakdown of some basic lure types.
Simple jigs. These lures are a basic hook attached to a small metal jig head. They can be made of tungsten or lead—tungsten lures are more expensive, but they sink faster and give anglers a better feel while fishing with lures the size of a thumb tack. Venom, Lindy, Kenders and Mormyshka are popular brands. White, pink, green and glow-in-the-dark color patterns are popular, and almost all ice anglers tip their jigs with some kind of bait. Simple jigs usually don’t cost more than a couple bucks apiece.
Ice spoons. These are similar to simple jigs, but they are typically larger and have an elongated, fish-shaped body. Popular models include the Swedish Pimple, the Lindy Glow Spoon, the Northland Forage Minnow and Hali jigs, which have a chainlike piece that hangs down from the spoon and makes noise as the angler jigs it. Again, these lures are usually tipped with bait—often a piece of cut bait to imitate a wounded baitfish. Ice spoons range from about $2 to $7.
Tube jigs. These will be familiar to open-water anglers, as they are a go-to presentation for panfish, bass and other species year-round. The setup involves two parts—a small weighted jig head and a plastic tube. Feed the hook through the plastic or stuff the jig head inside the tube and you are ready to roll. Small models in pink, white, red and yellow are popular for catching crappie and perch, while large tubes in white or silver are a popular choice for targeting large Mackinaw trout. Tube jigs are relatively inexpensive and can be found year-round at tackle shops in countless sizes and colors.
Swim jigs. These jigs often have multiple treble hooks and resemble a traditional crankbait. Popular models include the Salmo Chubby Darter, the Rapala Jigging Rap and Rattlin’ Rap and the Acme Hyper Glide. Each of these lures come in small models that target panfish and larger offerings that target trout, walleye and pike.
While tubes, spoons and simple jigs have straightforward actions that can only be manipulated by the angler, swim jigs are designed to make specific movements in the water. The Chubby Darter and Rattlin’ Rap are jigged in quick, vertical motions that cause them to rattle and randomly dart. The Jigging Rap slowly swims in a circle as it falls, which can be irresistible to hungry predators. And the Hyper Glide has retractable wings, which catch the water as it falls and send the bait swimming off in different directions.
Tipping these lures with bait is still common, though most anglers use just a small chunk of worm, mealworm or cut bait to avoid altering the lure’s intended motion in the water.
These lures are the most expensive of the bunch—small models start around $5 and larger versions can cost $10 or more.
Ice Fishing Baits
Bait is a vital part of ice fishing success. Anglers almost always tip their ice jigs with some kind of bait, and there are many options to choose from. Here are some of the best:
Worms. A stalwart bait for all kinds of fishing, worms work great though the ice. When fished on their own, worms should be rigged with a slip sinker and a marshmallow to help them float a few inches off the bottom. A small chunk of worm works great for tipping ice jigs, spoons and tubes. Trout, perch, walleye and bluegill especially love worms.
Mealworms. Mealies are a go-to bait for ice anglers. They stay on the hook well and make a great tipping bait for ice jigs and spoons. Trout and panfish are most commonly targeted using mealworms.
Wax worms. Waxies and other grubs are a staple of the ice fishing bait collection. Fish would rarely encounter these small white larvae in the wild, but that doesn’t stop them from gobbling grubs with gusto. Panfish are usually the target, but larger species will eat a grub, too.
Power Bait. The combination of color, scent and flotation makes Powerbait great for fishing on the end of a worm, or as added flavor on a lure. Trout are big fans of the larger Powerbait nuggets, while crappie and perch eagerly gobble the smaller nibbles.
Marshmallows. Similar to Power Bait, marshmallows can be used to add scent, color and flotation to a bait. Trout especially like them.
Minnows. Using small fish as bait is deadly through the ice. In states where live minnows are legal, they are absolutely lethal on walleye, pike, crappie and perch. If live bait isn’t permitted where you live, dead minnows will catch fish, too. You can trap and freeze your own or buy frozen or preserved minnows from the tackle shop.
Cut bait. Cut bait is great for ice fishing—it stays on the hook extremely well and gives your jigs realistic scent and flavor. One of the best ways to acquire cut bait is to save small, leftover pieces off your fillets when you clean a batch of fish. Perch meat works great for many species—especially perch! Suckers, shad and whitefish are other popular species to use as bait.
Salmon eggs. Eggs are a popular bait for trout and Kokanee salmon. Brook trout especially love them. Single eggs in red, yellow or white fished on a tiny jig or an egg hook are the ticket.
Bait fish. One of the best ways to catch large species like pike and muskie through the ice is with large bait fish like a shad, sucker or cisco on a tip-up rod. If live fish aren’t legal where you live, try a cut-plug style baitfish on a tip-up. Fishing deep water with this type of presentation can also tempt big Mackinaw trout.
Corn. This bait comes with some fine print. Corn is easy to chum with—which is usually illegal—and fish don’t digest it well, so dumping whole cans through the ice can actually harm the ecosystem. Used properly, though, with a kernel or two on each hook, corn can be a very productive bait for trout and Kokanee.
Ice Fishing Rigs
It’s important to maximize your chances while ice fishing. Most anglers fish with the maximum number of rods allowed (unless the fishing is so hot that you can only keep track of one or two). You can also try fishing multiple hooks on a line to present baits at different depths. This is recommended while using simple jigs or bait hooks.
Larger lures are more effective fished solo.
If you do fish with multiple hooks on a line, be sure to check them after you’ve had some bites, or if they go quiet for too long. Your line can become twisted on the way down, or when fish play with your bait. Putting a slightly heavier lure at the bottom of your rig can help keep your line straight, but it’s good to stay vigilant so you don’t waste time or miss a fish because of a tangle.