(Jan 17, 2017 - St Louis Park, MN)
Open water anglers have long recognized the importance of a two-pronged approach to mobility. First, we burn untold gallons of gasoline motoring around the lake in search of active fish. Then, once we find evidence of our quarry, we churn the water to a fine froth with both vertical and horizontal presentations.
For anglers across the Ice Belt, however, mobility must be redefined during the winter months. How does the intrepid ice angler remain mobile with respect to location and presentation?
Once ice thickness is sufficient to support travel by snow machine or vehicle, anglers can generally access the same range of locations they visited in the warm water months. Moreover, with access to a gas, propane or electric-powered auger, there is no limit to the number of holes that might be punched. Thus, aside from the thin-ice periods of early- and late-season ice fishing, mobility with respect to location does not differ significantly from the open-water period.
Lures that swim or tumble outside of the hole, like the Rotating Power Minnow from Custom Jigs and Spins, allow intrepid ice anglers to probe the water in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Photo by Bill Lindner
Let us turn our attention to eliciting strikes from our cold-blooded targets. At its heart, vertical presentations reign on the ice. Through one hole, we can target walleyes and perch close to the bottom, crappies and bluegills in intermediate depths, and marauding pike and late-season panfish mere inches beneath the ice. We make vertical adjustments by simply letting more line out, or reeling up a bit, often in response to the flicker of sonar signals.
But to break our presentations out of a vertical column requires more creativity than simply turning the reel handle.
Baits that tumble or swim well outside the column are particularly advantageous when targeting active, cold-water species like pike or trout, and for times when more sedentary targets, like walleyes and crappies, are experiencing a short-lived surge in feeding activity. Indeed, presentations that move within the horizontal plane are more visible to fish swimming nearby, and exhibit more vulnerable, realistic movements than the simple yo-yo of baits that are restricted to purely vertical motions.
Perhaps best known within this class are minnow-shaped jigging baits like the Rotating Power Minnow (RPM) from Custom Jigs and Spins and FISKAS Swimmer. Both swimming baits feature precisely-tuneds tails, which cause them to swim outside of the hole on the lift and dart erratically on the fall. Present both baits with a medium power rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28M, to aggressively work the bait through the water and drive hooks home upon a strike.
Fluttering spoons represent a broad class of baits that swim and roll outside of the hole. Their lightweight construction and variety of sizes makes such spoons a versatile option for targeting everything from bluegills and bass to walleye and trout. A classic example is the Pro Series Slender Spoon from Custom Jigs and Spins, which couples flash with a wide-wobble. Be sure to rig the Slender Spoon with the included snap to enhance its action.
A related fluttering spoon is the Demon Tongue from J & S Custom Jigs. This panfish-sized spoon features a precisely-machined hole in its body, adorned with a thin flicker blade that imparts incredible action as the bait comes to rest. The 1/16-oz Demon Tongue is best presented using a sensitive, ultralight rod, like the St. Croix Mojo Ice MIR28UL. If you enjoy spoon-feeding your icy quarry, Slender Spoons and Demon Tongues belong in your arsenal.
A horizontal swimmer that defies being categorized is the Fin-Wing from Keweenaw Tackle Company. This uniquely-shaped metal bait, with a patent-protected design and the versatility to be fished “as is” or dressed with a live or soft-plastic bait, is an emerging superstar on big fish waters like Lake Winnipeg and Lake Erie. The Fin-Wing swims outside of the hole on the lift, and then slowly descends toward the bottom with a unique, lifelike wobble on the fall. Sumo walleyes can’t resist the Fin-Wing’s unparalleled action in both the horizontal and vertical planes. When pursuing apex predators like walleye, pike or giant lake trout, choose a rod with power and resiliency like the St. Croix Mojo ICE MIR36MH for spinning reels or the MIRC34MH for casting gear.
Baits like the Rotating Power Minnow, Slender Spoon, Demon Tongue and Fin-Wing probe the water column in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions, allowing you to cover water more efficiently and present your baits to more fish on each trip. As the ice season continues, resolve to increase your mobility, both above the ice as well as beneath it, and watch your hardwater catch rates soar!
About the author: Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, a company dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more and bigger fish.