How to Use Conventional Lures for Ice Fishing

by Braxton Taylor

There are obviously a lot of differences between lures for open-water fishing and ice fishing. On open water, you can cast as far as you want and seek fish out by splashing down flashy lures and covering a lot of different types of water. With ice fishing through, you’re generally isolated to one or two small sections of a lake, pond, or river at a time, with all the action being centered around an 18-inch hole. This limits you to using vertical, jigging presentations and small lures that will trigger fishing into striking despite their cold and sluggish states.

These differences in style mean that anglers usually have two fully loaded tackle boxes—one for summer and one for winter. Yet, many don’t realize that there is some crossover where conventional lures designed to be cast and retrieved out on the open sea (or a lake or pond) can be used for ice fishing. In fact, many lures designed for open-water fishing can and will put fish on the ice when nothing else will.

Spoons and Spinners

Spoons are, of course, a common ice fishing lure. However, most ice fishing spoons are long, thin, and flat and designed to simply bob up and down in the water like a metallic stick. Casting spoons on the other hand are curved and often textured and designed to flutter and dance as they are retrieved.

When these spoons like the Phoebe and the Little Cleo are dropped down an ice hole, they add a whole new dimension of flicker and flash to jigging, making them perfect for attracting more aggressive cold water species like trout, pickerel, and even white perch. Additionally, using larger casting spoons like the Daredevle and the Big Daddy for jigging can be just the thing to trigger large but reluctant predators like pike, bass, or even monster walleye into striking. This is especially true on cold days when the fishing is slow or on heavily pressured lakes during the late season when they’ve become more wary of baits suspended under tip-ups.

Spinners like the Blue Fox and the X-Tra Deep were originally designed to be ripped through fast currents and large open flats for fish like trout, smallmouth, and muskie to chase down and attack. However, when ice fishing, spinners can be one of your best lures for targeting fish like burbot and lake trout that are hiding in deeper water. Generally, these fish are targeted by ice anglers by dropping dead baits down to the bottom and then waiting for a fish to come along. Often, even when a big laker or a burbot finds the bait, it can take forever for them to decide to eat it. However, if you attach your bait to a spinner and are armed with some handy electronics that allow you to see a fish approaching, you can trigger them into striking much more quickly.

As soon as the fish comes near the bait, start reeling rapidly towards the surface. The flash and vibration of the spinner on a rapid retrieve will usually trigger a predatory reaction. Thinking that their meal is getting away, they’ll usually give chase and hopefully crush the spinner as it makes its way to the surface.

Tubes, Jigs, and Soft Plastics

Tube baits were designed to be flipped under boat docks and around the edges of weed beds and brush piles where they can tempt fish like bass and crappie hiding close to cover. Yet, tubes also may be one of the most effective ice fishing lures ever put on the market, especially when you’re targeting trophy-sized fish through the ice. A tube bait like the Tender Tube or the Doob Tube rigged with a heavy ¼ oz jig head or even a pre-rigged setup like the Northland Predator Jig can be the perfect bait for big fish like lake trout, pike, or muskie, especially when the fish are cruising and feeding in shallow water.

Jigs are standard lures in ice fishing, but tiny ones like the Slider and Forage Minnow that anglers use for perch and panfish may not always cut the mustard when hunting bigger fish or other species like walleye. This is especially true during mid-winter when fish are suspended and less hesitant to move and feed on smaller meals. During these times, use large jigs like the Moon Tail and the Whistler which were designed to fish from boats for suspended fish. These can create some fantastic action below the ice. For a little bit of extra luck, you can also tip these jigs with live bait like nightcrawlers, leeches, or small live minnows, which may just help you find that monster you’re after.

Soft plastics have dozens of different uses on the open water, from tempting sluggish trout in the early season to calling in big muskie from their deep water haunts during summer. Ice anglers can take advantage of this versatility as well. Soft plastics like the Slug-Go and the Mr. Crappie can be tipped on the end of small jigs to add a bit of action, and they also make a great substitute for minnows when fishing in places where live bait is illegal.

During cold weather or when targeting high-pressured fish, a Finesse Worm or a Gulp Leech rigged on a small bait hook and lightly jigged is a great way to catch a mess of finicky walleye, crappie, or perch. However, if you’re more of a big game hunter, then jigging large plastic baits like the Bull Dawg and the Hogey in shallow water along the edges of weedy flats or along a dropoff is a great way to trigger big pike and even lake trout into striking.

Rattlebaits

Rattle lures were invented and designed to take the world of bass tournaments by storm, and they did exactly as intended. These lip-less crankbaits filled with metal bee-bees or small plastic rattle chambers, emit a ton of sound and flash and are absolutely crushed by predatory fish thinking that they’re a wounded baitfish. Yet the rattlebait’s ingenious design extends far beyond just casting and ripping them through open water. They can be used to the same effect beneath the ice.

Lures like the Rat-L-Trap and the Tantrum are fantastic lures for ice fishing because they trigger large predatory fish like pike, walleye, and especially muskie into reacting. When they’re dropped down an ice hole and jigged aggressively, these lures can draw in fish from afar and are fantastic producers for anglers seeking roving or suspended fish, especially when fishing without electronics. Not only will fish smash these lures but since they create such a commotion beneath the surface, they can also be used to bring fish into your tip-up spreads during slower days on the ice.

Thinking Outside the Tackle Box

One of the best things about fishing is that it’s a sport with no set rules. In fact, it’s usually the anglers who can break away from what’s typical and accepted that have the most luck and often even change angling for the better.

So, whether you’re on the open water or out drilling holes on the ice, don’t be afraid to get creative or to try something unconventional, especially when the fishing is slow. No matter how much we think we understand the laws of fish and fishing, the truth is that until we drop it in the water, we really never know what’s going to work.

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