What it takes to make fish strike when ice fishing


February 01, 2016

Attention! Attention! May I have your attention, please!

When you hear the above blaring through the air, even when in a loud, crowded place, you can’t help but pause whatever it is you are doing and take note.

There are a lot of things that will make you stop, look and listen: A brash noise; a flicker of light; even the glint of bright color.

The idea of taking note of something out of the ordinary is nothing new for any creature. It’s bred into us all. It’s how we survive… Are we being attacked? Is there another danger lurking that’s about to take us out? Is that something struggling we can eat?

With the latter in mind let’s talk what it takes to get a fish to strike when ice fishing; even if they may not be hungry.

Getting their attention is our first goal. This is why we use lures to, well, lure in fish, or use only the liveliest of live bait on a bare hook for the utmost action. We want the fish’s focus on our offering. And then, if all goes as planned, they will attack it. And we will catch them

This pike nailed a jig that was being pounded on the bottom by the author, Mark Martin

As you can imagine, not all lures are created equally when it comes to getting noticed. The shape, weight and size of a bait will determine its action. And then there’s all the different paint jobs that can be applied to dazzle the eye.

In general, if I want to get a fish’s attention from afar in shallow water, lures that really waggle wildly and reflect a lot of light are a great choice. And if fish are in deep water, I use large, heavy lures that fall fast that can be thumped on the lake’s floor to get noticed.

Shallow Thoughts

So what’s reasoning for using lighter, wide-wobbling lures in shallow water? Because I’m fishing as close to structure as possible, and there’s a lot to get in the way between a passing fish and my bait. The more flash a lure has, the better chance it will be seen through weeds and over wood or rock.

But first, as soon as I get to an area, I’ll bore my swath of holes with my StrikeMaster power auger so as to make all my commotion right off the bat. Once drilled, I’ll check the depth with my Lowrance Hook-5 Ice Machine, and then lower the lens of my MarCum VS825SD underwater camera to see not only fish, but where any structure is and what type. Then I figure out which hole is closest to it and will start fishing that one.

I tend to start with thin spoons when fishing skinny water. Northland’s new Buck-Shot Flutter Spoon is a great example. It’s made from lead-free “Z-Alloy,” and has an S-curve shape to employ maximum action. It’s also adorned with a glass rattle chamber to create even more chaos. Wild flutter, lots of flash and extra clatter. Talk about an attention-getter…

I like to use a medium-action Fenwick ice rod and matching ABU Garcia spinning reel when jigging spoons. And 10-pound-test Berkley FireLine Micro Ice is thin enough to allow the spoon its natural action. I use a foot-long piece of Berkley Trilene 100% Fluoro Leader Material between the FireLine and lure. To keep line twist at bay, I use a small Berkley ball-bearing swivel between the two lines, and then clip the bait on with a tiny Berkley Cross-Lok snap.

The jigging action I give is a quick lift of the rod tip 10 to 12 inches, then a quicker drop of it to allow the lure to freefall and flutter. Once I see there’s a fish in the area via my sonar, normally, I’ll relax the lift and fall to a mere inch or two.

Deep Thoughts

More often than not, when I’m fishing deep water, I use heavy lures like Rapala Jigging Raps. Obviously, this allows me to get my bait down to where I see fish are via my sonar. But it also allows me to employ an action to get fish to strike when they are being unresponsive: to pound the bottom with the bait.

Beating the lure over and over on bottom creates a lot of sound, as well stirs up the silt; both being attentions getters to the max. I’ve seen fish on my Marcum camera that turned tail and swam off, only to spin back around and attack my lure when it starts hopping on bottom.

The rod and rig I mentioned before is the same I use in deep water, as well. One thing I do differently is I add either a small minnow or small Berkley Gulp! Minnow for scent. I’m not a fan of tipping lightweight spoons with anything as it will often impede the action of the lure. In that case, I’ll spray the lure down with Berkley Gulp! Alive Attractant. (Yes, I am a firm believer in using scent. It’s often an important factor in getting fish to hit when they are being very finicky.)

Change Is Good

Whether I am fishing shallow water or deep, I will change lure styles or color schemes often if the bite’s bad.

But even with that said, I will give each style a try for at least a half hour, watching both my sonar and underwater camera for any change in how fish are reacting to my offering. One can change lures too often, however, which means your lure is out of the water more than it’s in. Thus decreasing your odds of getting bit that much more.

Your Attention, Please!

Most everyone likes being in the limelight. Well, unless you’re a fish that was just duped into biting a flashy or loud lure, that is.

Next time you’re ice fishing, use lighter lures with lots of flash when jigging in shallow water, and heavier ones that will fall to the lake’s floor fast when fishing deep. And don’t be afraid to change things up every 30 minutes or so until your offering gets noticed.

Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament pro during the open-water season, and an instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools offered throughout the Midwest in winter. For more information on Mark’s career, as well links to webpages for the items appearing in this article, check out his site at markmartins.net. For more information on the Ice-Fishing Vacation/School, go to fishingvacationschool.com.