Intelligent ice anglers are having success combining traditional live bait tactics with the use of realistic artificial lures

Jeff Gustafson and Mandy with a lake trout they caught ice fishing.

Jeff Gustafson and Mandy

Times are a-changin’. Used to be when we went ice fishing, our presentation always included a jig tipped with some type of minnow or hunk of meat, no matter what species of fish we were targeting. As the fishing tackle industry has grown, companies have found ways to make better baits that work in all seasons for all species of fish.

Today, ice anglers can use a blended approach, combining live bait tactics with artificial applications. Maybe work a soft plastic swimming lure in one hole while monitoring a live minnow and bobber in another. And all this while a nearby tip-up deploys yet another minnow, likely something larger. The options are endless.

The following are a few jigging and rigging techniques using artificial lures that have proved effective used in conjunction with a live bait program.

Dropper Rigging Stocked Trout
Brookies, rainbows, splake, and the like are all suckers for aggressive presentations during the ice months. These fish are very inquisitive and can be called in from long distances. The thing is, they can be picky about what they eat so give them a 1-2 punch by using a dropper rig. The rig consists of a spoon with the treble hook removed and in its place, a short 3-5 inch section of monofilament is attached leading to a small ice fly, like the feathered Spider Ant or new Scud Bug from Bro’s Bug Collection. When jigged aggressively, the spoon will dance, while the small jig pulsates and beckons these stocked beauties to bite. This rig is especially effective early in the season when these fish are in their most aggressive state.

Brian 'Bro' Brosdahl with a yellow perch he caught ice fishing.

Brian “Bro” Brosdahl

Bug Up Perch
Our lakes are alive in winter with bottom-hugging larvae, bloodworms, and crustaceans. All species of fish exploit these tasty offerings but none take advantage of the potential feeding frenzy as perch do. Much of this action takes place in the mud-bottomed basins on the lakes we fish and this is the best place to find massive schools of perch. Ice fishing guru, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl has designed a series of specialty jigs and soft plastic tails for Northland Fishing Tackle that are effective on all panfish, perch included. I used some of these jigs last season for perch and lit them up using a technique that Bro taught me. “Bro’s Mud Bug” is a new jig that has a “fat-head” that anglers can shake and bounce in the mud to imitate hatches coming out of the bottom. Tip this jig with one of the new plastic tails – like the Bloodworm, Slug-Bug, or Scud-Bug – and you have an offering that perch flip over.


Metallic Walleyes
Spoons are available in all shapes and sizes from various manufacturers and they catch walleyes throughout the winter. In fact, I fish spoons almost exclusively for walleyes during the winter months. Spoons are good because they have superb attracting abilities and can call fish in from a long-range. They can also be shaken lightly to entice “lookers” that are in close range to bite. I just about always fish a Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon and use a “jerk, jerk, shake” cadence. I’ll jig the spoon more furiously if the flasher screen is bare and then begin jigging softer sequences when fish appear. One last “triggering” trick to make lookers turn into biters is to slowly jig your bait and lift your rod at the same time, making the bait rise in the water column. Walleyes are more likely to commit to if they get teased up off the bottom a bit.


Swimbait Lakers
Everybody knows that lake trout are suckers for plastic, minnow imitating baits like tubes and jerk shads. They catch fish on a consistent basis and have for years. A trend for winter trout fishing is working baits that trigger bass during the open water season. One of the hottest new styles of baits in this category is swimbaits. Gaining popularity for largemouth bass in California, they are now being used by bass anglers all over North America. If you haven’t used them for lake trout, you’re missing out. The Slurpies Swim Shiner is a great example, Silver Shiner and Emerald Shiner being a couple of the hottest colors. The key is to keep it moving. I will jig these baits in 3-5 foot lifts and cover the entire water column. You will call in big fish while showing them something they probably haven’t seen before.

The key with artificial baits is to use them to call fish into your presentation. If you can do this, there is always a high percentage of fish, no matter what species you are targeting, that will bite. Spend some time this winter using artificial baits in tandem with typical live bait techniques and you will see your catches improve. Every time you do something different than the norm, you learn something and in the end, this will make you a much better all-around angler.

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