What’s in Your Tacklebox: Ice Fishing Edition
by Mathew Koprash
Ever wonder what you should have in your tackle box? Well wonder no longer. This should be the only list you require for an ice fishing tackle box that covers all presentations and aspects related to the vertical presentation. Any species, any mood, any water clarity, and the only thing left to do is tie off to a spool of fishing line or your trusted ice rod!
The following bait selections included are some of my personal favourites but all brands make at least one version in each category. Don’t be scared to try new baits this season as they quickly can become a new favourite. Baits are separated by hard baits, spoons, jigs and plastics below, starting with:
Gliding baits are quite possibly the most productive ice fishing innovation to hit the hard water in recent years. Rapala set the standard high with their original jigging rap; its gliding erratic action got baits away from centre covering more water. The vertical presentation is limited to jerks and pauses in an upward direction allowing the bait to fall below. Rapala changed this as the gliding action can cover 2-3 feet on either direction of where it was dropped vertically. Your presentation should include jigging with 6-12” strokes while following your bait back down on a controlled slack line. Many manufacturers have created their own versions:
- Rapala Jigging Rap, Jigging Shad Rap, Snap Rap & Flat Jigs
- Johnson Johnny Darters
- Northland Puppet Minnow
- Moonshine Shiver Minnows
- Lunkerhunt Straight Up Jigs
Vibrating baits are excellent tools for getting fish on your screen in a hurry. These are ideal if the bite is slow and you’re looking to draw fish in. The ultimate at attracting bait through the ice, the loud vibrations and hard wobbles displace water and make a fishes lateral lines tingle. These principals are what make them great at catching a fish’s attention from a far. If the fish don’t charge in and pull the rod out of your hand you may have to go to a finesse bait to make them commit.
- Rapala Slab Rap
- Sebile Vibrato Blade Bait
- Lindy Darters
- Salmo Chubby Darters
- Sebile Vibrato
- Johnson Thinfisher Blade Baits
- Heddon Sonar Blade Baits
Spoons are likely one of the most used baits in the ice fishing industry and have an excellent track record. I still remember snooping around in my grandfather’s basement uncovering a gold mine of fishing tackle that was mainly spoons. Spoons can be broken up into two categories: flutter spoons and jigging Spoons. Both are a vertical presentation but have different properties and actions.
Flutter spoons are usually thinner, wider and concave shaped to entice a slow fall that flashes and flutters on its way down. These can be fished with varying cadences depending on the fish’s mood. I like to impart 4-6” jigging strokes on the bait with long pauses. For the larger flutter spoons I will generate a larger harder stroke to draw fish in from a far…this is a great technique for lake trout!
- Williams Ice Jig, Whitefish, Wabblers and Trophy II
- Bay de Noc Do-Jigger
- EGB Spoons
Jigging spoons are presented to fish in a very similar nature to the flutter spoons however they do not have the flash or wobble. The bait presents itself in a darting action and this varying presentation drives fish wild and usually elicits a bite. A constant shaking of the bait will get rattles shaking in the baits if applicable and also commit a fish to strike. And before I forget, always tip your spoons with a minnow head or the alternative Berkley Gulp! Alive Minnow Heads (read on below).
- Northland Buckshot Spoons
- Bay de Noc Swedish Pimples
- Acme Kastmasters
The standard jig is a staple in all tackle boxes throughout the year and is very effective. The jig can be used on a still line or an ice fishing rod. The diversity of a jig is all in the hands of the user and when tipped with a minnow or a soft plastic can be extremely efficient.
Another great option is the hair jig, which have regained their popularity over the last couple years and the fish catches prove that! The natural action and colour patterns make these baits look like the real deal. Some manufactures use a simple mix of buck tail and flash while other manufactures like Mighty Mitch and Jungle Joe Jigflies out of Marathon, who use only the highest grade of tying materials. These are great baits when utilizing a natural presentation. These can be snapped, shook, dead sticked – you name the presentation or scenario and they can work wonders. Toss a minnow trailer on the hook and you are in business.
Minnow style plastics are some of the most common out there for anglers. The likes of Berkley Gulp! Alive and Zoom Flukes have been staples on the market for years and rightfully so. These style baits mimic the real deal and come in a wide variety of fish catching colours. The swimbait market is taking the industry by storm over the past year or two and many different sizes, colours and actions are now available. Using a swimbait or fluke style bait on the back of a standard jig is an excellent presentation for all species. Everything that swims eats baitfish. Period.
Grubs are one of the best baits for panfish on the market. There are more to grubs than the staple curly tail that we have all used. Take a look at your tackle shop in the panfish isles and an endless variety of colours, shapes and sizes will await you. The selection shouldn’t scare you as a few key considerations should be taken prior to your purchase. If you are in dirty water or require attracting the fish to you go with a bigger bulkier profile in the brighter or darker colour ways. For clear finicky fish a natural colour is often the better choice with some appendages that move naturally under slack line. These are only recommendations as I have had great success on bright bulky baits in clear water conditions. Get yourself a wide variety, put it on your favourite jig head and don’t be scared to change ’em up!
The staple of all plastic baits for trout through the ice is the tube jig. This bait has been around since the beginning and is a great baitfish/crawfish imitation. Coming in a wide variety of sizes shapes and colours these baits can be used for all species and all year long. Open water anglers often use tube jigs for bass but many a walleye and pike will commit. Don’t limit yourself to using tube jigs for trout only as they are a universal bait!
Now you are probably wondering how one can choose between all these options. Some rules that I go by for different lakes is how water clarities relate to colours and cadences of the baits. For dirty stained waters focus on brighter colours with a louder, harder vibrating cadence. Clear water lakes are a whole different story as a fish can locate a lure from a ways away. Natural colours with bright flashes are usually my go to – silver, golds, whites and blues are all excellent choices.
I hope this list leads you to many successful days on the water this winter and many new found techniques and presentations. Share your BIG catches with us on Facebook using @neontario!