Five baits you need for ice

If you like to hunt, then you are probably finding ways to stay busy during this freeze up period. I think it’s safe to say that we’re done with the boats now and for the most part, we don’t quite have safe ice yet to get out and drill some holes. It’s a good time of year to get the ice fishing gear tuned up and ready for a new season.

When it comes to choosing lures to use on the ice, I like to keep things pretty simple for the most part. I do most of my fishing via snowmobile and try to pack relatively light and just carry what I think I’m going to use. Usually it’s a few different colours of proven baits, depending on what I’m fishing for. The following are five of the baits that never leave my arsenal. Each of these choices can be used for multiple species, you might just have to choose the size accordingly.

Of all the different lure types that anglers use for ice fishing, jigging spoons are the all-time GOAT. For the past couple of decades I have mostly relied on the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, made by Northland Fishing Tackle in Minnesota. I have caught thousands of walleyes through the ice on that spoon. It has a small profile with a rattle chamber, giving it the ability to call fish in from a wide area. While the Buck-Shot is my favourite, jigging spoons as a lure category are tough to beat for simply being able to catch every fish species under the ice. I’ll often go with a 3/8 ounce spoon for walleye but spoons of different sizes can be used to catch crappie, perch, lake trout, pike, whitefish and burbot. I always tip my spoon with a minnow head for a little bit of meat. A head is better than a whole minnow because the whole minnow will make the package to big and ruin the action of the spoon.  

The classic jig and minnow is another “all-species catcher”. A jig head tipped with a minnow and bounced around on the bottom is proven, I just don’t think they are quite as effective as a jigging spoon and not as fun to fish. That being said, you could take a handful of jigs out on the ice and you’ll never starve. Try orange or red colours in tannic coloured water and glow colours in clear water.

For pike, there is only one rig that I use if I’m trying to catch a big fish. A quick-strike rig with a dead cisco or sucker minnow attached to it and set about a foot off the bottom. I like to set my quick-strike rig beneath a tip-up and wait for the flag to reveal a bite. It is by far the best way there is to catch a big pike. It works all winter but March is prime time when big pike stage in front of shallow weed-filled bays where they will spawn shortly after ice-out. This rig will catch lake trout as well on waters that permit the use of fish or fish parts for bait.

Sean McAughey with a nice pike he caught last March on a quick-strike rig tipped with a large cisco for bait.

We have great crappie fishing across Sunset Country and a small jig tipped with a small panfish sized soft plastic is all you need to catch them. The key is using sonar to find crappies, which you’ll usually find suspended above the bottom. Drop the jig and plastic down and stop it just above the fish. A light shake is typically all you need to do to get crappies to swim up and bite.

Finally, the last bait is a smallmouth killer in open water and my favourite bait for lake trout under the ice. A Z-Man JerkShadZ rigged on a 3/8 ounce jig head. It’s a perfect imitator of a cisco or smelt – the preferred forage of lake trout, it’s scented and it catches fish. Choose a natural colour like smelt, rig it up nice and straight on the jig and you are legit on water where meat is not permitted, which is a regulation on many of the best lake trout waters. This soft plastic bait will catch walleye and pike as well.

If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas for somebody that enjoys fishing, you can’t go wrong with fishing tackle, especially for a stocking stuffer. If you go into the local tackle shop and you’re overwhelmed or not sure what to get, ask the employees and they will be able to lead you in the right direction for what’s hot this season.