Rattle baits on ice

Over the past several years, the explosion of the winter walleye fishery on Lake Winnipeg has led to the development of new techniques for catching these big, aggressive fish.
At the forefront of this “revolution” is using lipless rattle baits for catching walleye under the ice.
While Lake Winnipeg certainly can’t compare to our lakes here in Sunset Country when it comes to all of the scenic beauty we have, it does have a mega population of large “greenback” walleye.
Because the lake is so big, these fish are left alone for much of the open-water season but are accessible in the winter months.
Lipless rattle baits are better known for their prowess at catching bass, which is what they were designed to do. Perhaps the most common of this style of lure is the original Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, but nearly every lure manufacturer today has its own version of this bait.
These types of lures are unique because of the wild sound they make. In fact, no other lure even comes close to kicking out the sound these produce.
They are weighted in the nose, then have a rattle chamber in the centre that makes all of the racket when the lure moves and vibrates through the water.
On Lake Winnipeg, where the water clarity is not great, the added noise these lures create has the ability to call fish in so they can find it easily. The fact the lake is relatively shallow helps, as well, because the water column is not as big, which also aids in getting a fish’s attention.
As various media reported on the hot new lure style catching big walleye on Lake Winnipeg, word quickly got out and anglers across the ice belt started to experiment with these lures on the waters they fish.
Across Northwestern Ontario, where I spend all of my time on the ice, I have seen these lures produce lake trout, pike, whitefish, and walleye on Lake of the Woods and several inland lakes.
Any time you get around these predator fish, and are selecting for larger specimens that are feeding on baitfish, these lures can excel.
However, they are not the best option if you’re just out to catch a fish or two to eat because, as I said, they definitely are a lure that’s going to select for bigger fish.
Under tough conditions, like after a cold front or on highly-pressured waters, they may not be the best option, either.
Rattle baits are my favourite option to drop down my hole first when I start fishing a new spot because my feeling is that this loud lure is going to call in any aggressive fish that may be cruising around looking for an easy meal.
The results have been good on many outings. I’ve caught lake trout up to 20 pounds, some nice pike, a few whitefish, and a bunch of nice walleye on them.
The ones I’ve been using the past couple of years are the high-end Jackall TN60 and TN70 rattle baits, which are the same bait in different sizes. The smaller TN60 model is better for smaller walleye and whitefish while the larger model is better for lake trout and pike.
I like to fish these lures on 15- or 20-pound braided line, like Power Pro, and then use a two-foot leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon line. The heavier leader is stiffer and helps to prevent the lure’s hooks from swinging around and getting caught on the line.
Finally, I like to drop the bait to the bottom and work my way up in the water column. While walleye usually are found near the bottom, lake trout, pike, and whitefish are known to suspend, so they can be found anywhere in the water column.
Jig the bait in one-foot lifts where you can feel the lure vibrate and rattle. If there is an active predator fish nearby, there’s a good chance it will come in for a closer look.
A reminder to be careful if you venture out on the ice as the sudden rise in temperature this week is going to start eating up the ice pretty quick, especially once the snow disappears.
Meanwhile, I’m back on the road this weekend—headed to South Carolina for the second stop on the FLW Tour at Lake Hartwell.
Look for my pre-fishing report in next week’s column.