Mike Frisch: Jig them up!
My favorite part of ice fishing is sitting on top of fish and trying to trick them into biting! Here are some things I have learned from many winter days spent trying to trick fish.
First things first. Winter anglers use baits, regardless of the fish species sought, that they lift, drop, quiver, etc. in an effort to attract fish and get them to bite. The process of moving the jig to attract fish and entice them to bite is referred to as jigging.
So, this article revolves around keys, as I see them, for jigging up winter fish!
Ice anglers usually use a sonar unit or "flasher" allowing them to see bottom, their bait (jig), and any fish nearby.
Simply put, if we can't see the fish and the jig we don't know where the bait is in relationship to the fish. We also don't know how they react to the jigging motions. Sonar provides the eyes beneath the ice we need to be more successful.
The original Vexilar FL-8 sonar revolutionized the ice fishing world years ago, with anglers using it to see fish and manipulate, at least some, into biting! Today it's called the FL-8SE and though it now has several "big brothers," it's still one of the best flashers around.
With sonar showing lake bottom and the bait, the next step is getting nearby fish interested.
I start with aggressive motions, quickly "ripping" the bait up and allowing it to crash down. I call this the "hey fish, here I am" phase!
Big Stone Lake (MN) ice guide, Tanner Arndt, accentuates and shows the importance of this attraction phase by using a "call in" bait on Big Stone's roaming perch. Arndt rips a bright colored Rippin' Shad featuring a tight wiggle and rattle chamber. He rips aggressively to attract fish and aggressive perch may hit.
More often, however, Arndt quickly reels up and drops a tungsten jig to less aggressive perch that appear on sonar.
Not every angler goes to the extreme of switching baits, but it is important to create commotion by aggressively lifting/dropping to alert nearby fish to the bait's presence.
Aggressive fish may come in and eat the bait, usually on the fall. Most days, however, attracted fish come and stare at the bait. Again, seeing fish on sonar tells us this is happening.
Now the cat-and-mouse game begins — the trigger phase. I often start by shaking my wrist, in an effort to "quiver" the bait, often leading to a bite.
Some days, however, the game continues without a bite. My next action is steadily lifting the bait, "fleeing the scene" trying to tempt the bite.
If that doesn't work, well, then all bets are off!
Sometimes I'll quiver again, or if the fish starts to leave, I might crash the bait to bottom. Now may be the time to also consider a bait change. Some days, maybe the fish win.
Experimenting to find what trips their triggers is part of the fun.
At least a few fish can usually be tempted into biting. Now, however, another challenge presents itself, fighting and landing that fish. One mistake winter anglers make is pulling too hard in an excited attempt to get that fish topside!
The short rod and short amount of line to a hooked winter fish supply less shock absorption than a longer summer rod and line give. For that reason, being patient and allowing a hooked fish to wear itself out before attempting to get it headed up the hole is wise.
Also, investing in a small, but quality spinning reel for your ice jigging rod is important in protecting light line and maximizing your chances for fish landing success. The Lew's Lazer Lite LLS75 reels I use have smooth, reliable drags, handle the rigors of cold weather and are affordable, too.
Armed with a good reel and a good bit of patience, even big predators can be landed through an ice hole. If that's your goal, give some of the tips provided a try this winter and you just might jig up a good catch!
As always, good luck on the ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch is the host of Fishing the Midwest TV. Visit fishingthemidwest.com or follow Fishing the Midwest on FACEBOOK for more "fishy" information!