Look as Sharp as your hooks
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By Chip Leer
Too often, anglers believe that winter is its own disadvantage. Near freezing water temperatures slows fish metabolism, resulting in diminished dining. Lessened appetites demand that we concentrate on peak feeding periods; present smaller baits with more realism; offer more meat than metal, and so on. Surely, these are truths, but we angle anyway. At times, matters worsen. Catalytic fronts interrupt regular feeding and oppressive high pressure can really lock jaws. Then, as if we haven’t been challenged enough, arrives the hated ‘dead of winter’, an interval when oxygen gets scarcer beneath suffocating snow and fish seemingly fast.
Keep your chins up, because there are ways to overcome these obstacles.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when fish refuse to cooperate, improvise, and swing momentum in your favor. Here are a few species-specific tactics used by ON ICE TOUR to conquer tough bites.
Walleyes & Perch
Ah yes, the most regal of winter fishes, and their striped cousins. We love ‘em. But despite the walleye’s lurking capabilities and predacious ways, and the perch’s propensity to taste everything, they too sometimes get in a funk. To the angler, staring down a hole, a “fish-funk” manifests as a walleye or perch approaching, nosing the bait, doing the pectoral backpedal, and swimming away.
Downsizing is the first solution. Switch from a two-inch long spoon to shorter, lighter lures. Occasionally, though, a dramatic upsize also spurs a reaction – experiment with both alternatives.
Depart from popular ice fishing colors like chartreuse, lime green and florescent orange, in exchange for earthier hues. Try something in blue, brown, black, or possibly a crayfish pattern.
Sometimes, traditional and often forgotten minnow-looking metallics get the job done.
On the attraction side, downgrade from shiner and fathead minnows to crappie minnows – it works. Or execute a dramatic enlargement and place a sucker minnow under a balanced float. Same goes for minnows used to tip jigs and spoons, downsize, or scrap the whole minnow strategy and thread on just a head.
Try pumping a horizontal lure instead of a conventional, vertical jigging
spoon. Sometimes it’s a change in action, not look, which triggers
strikes. Lindy’s Flyer is a winged, lead headed jig that glides in
smooth, circular motions, and on many occasions it catches fish when others
cannot. The same goes for Northland’s Mini Airplane jig. On
each, affix a lip hooked minnow. But if walleyes and perch only strip
bait, thread the minnow on, running the hook point deep down the minnow’s
throat and out through its back. As a last resort, add a Northland
Sting’r Hook or Lindy Stinger – the supplementary treble hooks will surely
find a hunk of jaw.
Maybe it’s the added scent and flavor? Squirt some liquid attractant on for good measure. We’ve also done well with a Power Grub thread onto the single hook of a vertical spoon – you might first have to replace the factory treble with a long shank single hook.
Glow has been a popular and effective ingredient in the pursuit of walleyes, as well as perch. Everybody’s using it. Could it be that in some instances, fish have become conditioned to fear it, gotten used to seeing it? Well, the next generation of phosphorescent colors – Northland’s Super-Glo and Lindy’s Techni-Glo – might reopen the window to luminescence. Extended glow blues, greens, reds, violets, and bright yellows are available to test this winter.
Snapping panfish – crappies and bluegills – also experience periods of melancholy, when the world seems bleak and eating is of little importance. Cheer ‘em up a bit. Do something to make those petite mouths chew again…
The first order of business is to make a wholesale change from minnows to maggots (Eurolarvae), or possibly wax worms. Many of ice fishing’s leading experts, like Brian “Bro” Brosdahl and Noel Vick, start and finish the day with maggots. Not minnows, but maggots. They contest that crappies of all appetites and sizes willingly snatch maggots, and when the bite’s off, and minnow’s aren’t working at all, maggots are particularly effective.
Another recourse is implementing Maggot Math. Begin by covering the hook with three or four grubs. Drop down to two, then one. Occasionally, panfish that won’t touch a wad of maggots will embrace a solitary one. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If locally available, present nitpickers a freshwater shrimp or mayfly larva (silver wiggler).
As with sluggish walleyes, sometimes, excessive stimulation provokes a strike. Tie on a small jigging spoon and load it with maggots. Jig it hard, creating a trail of maggot bits and pieces. The cloud of debris and flashing bait can motivate lethargic fish. And when confronted with a large school of fish, the mayhem hails aggressors, which frequently are the biggest members of the pack.
Test both vertical and horizontal presentations. Traditionally, bluegills are associated with horizontal lures, such as the Lindy Fat Boy and Genz Worm, and crappies vertical ones, like the Northland Forage Minnow Spoon and Creep Worm. Transpose common thinking. Show bluegills an up-and-down motion and crappies something that sashays from side to side.
In utter destitution we’ve sent down a plain Aberdeen hook with one
maybe two helpless maggots or waxies aboard. Let’s see ‘em ignore
The spoon provides attraction and weight for rapid descents, while the smaller snack does the dirty work of getting eaten.
Lessening overall line visibility is yet another bullet. Drop from six pound test to four, and four to three or two. Occasionally, in overly clear and pressured water, panfish become “line shy”, avoiding all things foreign to their environment. Again, paying consideration to the fact that fish can become conditioned, recognizing danger and shunning it. The relatively new ensemble of fluorocarbon lines, like Berkley Vanish, aim to exterminate line-shyness through relative invisibility.
Put a blob of liquid attractant on your panfish lures. Scrap the live bait and replace it with a soft Micro Power Grub. Or, slip a couple of Berkley Crappie Nibbles on the hook.
And a final suggestion, regardless of the species you’re hunting, is to work a stationary line into the fold. At times, coldwater fish prefer unpretentious edibles offered on a plain hook and positioned away from angler disturbances. Consider using tip-ups or Finicky’s Fish Factories on panfish, perch, and walleyes. Incredibly, some of the biggest perch and panfish we’ve iced came on setlines.
This winter, come firing with both barrels until something gives. Don’t surrender. Rarely, possibly never, are all fish completely locked up. Modern ice anglers have countless new and proven tools at their disposal, not to mention an ever increasing stockpile of information and innovation. The tables are turned in your favor.
Editor’s note: ON ICE TOUR – cofounded by Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis
– is an intensive effort aimed at expanding the sport of ice fishing through
instructional articles, seminars, in-store and ice fishing contest appearances,
and one on one exchanges with the public. Learn more about ON ICE
TOUR and the greatest of winter sports at
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