Cover All The Bases…


I used to tell my kids, “The secret to fishing is to keep your line in the water.” The tip stated the obvious, but the intent was to convince them that they had a much better chance of catching a fish if they let their bobber sit instead of picking it up and casting it every other minute.

Likewise, it’s a proven fact that the more lines you have in the water, the more chances you have of catching a fish. Each state has limits on the number of lines you can use at one time. Three lines are allowed in Michigan, which can up your odds when ice fishing.

Different techniques also appeal to fish differently depending on if the fish is aggressive or passive. On a recent ice fishing trip, I caught walleyes on a dead stick, a tip-up, and while jigging. If I had not had all the bases covered and had the maximum number of lines out that I was permitted, I wouldn’t have caught as many fish because some were aggressive, and some weren’t.

Combining a dead stick with jigging makes good sense. Jigging is a great way to attract fish. The fluttering action of a jigging spoon or bait can attract fish from a distance, especially when under the ice. Jigging the lure a good distance off the bottom can enhance the attraction of lures. Fish can see a lure from farther away when it’s higher off the bottom. Once a fish shows up on the electronics, then you can use more refined techniques to entice the fish to bite. This includes jiggling, quivering, lifting, dropping, and swimming the lure and crashing bottom.

Spoons are a go-to lure for jigging and come in an endless array of sizes, weights and colors. Spoons come in two forms- stamped and poured. Stamped spoons are lightweight and are designed to create an enticing flutter when jigged. Flutter spoons work exceedingly well in clear water when fish can see the lure. Adding a minnow head or plastic tail can greatly enhance their attraction. By free-spooling the spoon on the drop, it will plane away from the hole. Working it back slowly allows you to cover more area than what’s directly below the hole.

Light flutter–type spoons are great for attracting walleye from a distance. Spoons can be fished clean or sweetened with a minnow head or plastic. Author photos

Poured spoons are heavier than stamped spoons and often contain rattles that make them good choices in stained, dingy water or low light situations. Aggressively jigging a spoon with rattles can call fish from a distance. You don‘t always need bait on jigging spoons. Sometimes the action of the lure is enough. You can enhance their effectiveness by adding feathered treble hooks or flicker blades to the treble. Instead of hooking plastics on one of the treble’s hooks, remove the treble and thread the plastic directly on the hook’s shank for more action. Adding a split ring to extend the hooks away from the spoon’s body can up your hookup percentage.

Fish attracted by your jigging spoon that don’t bite might like the bait on your dead stick. A dead stick offers the direct opposite appeal of your jigging spoon. One is aggressive; the other is passive. A fish that zones in on your jigging spoon and then refuses to bite may not be able to help itself when it sees a hapless minnow struggling in front of it.

Many ice-anglers will use a rod designed strictly for dead sticks. It’s longer, has a light-action tip section so the fish can bend the rod down without much resistance, but has a beefy butt section to set the hook. I prefer to use a slip bobber, so I don’t have to constantly watch my dead stick, and I can use any rod I like.

The dead stick set up is simple. I tie a 1/2 to 3/4-ounce bell sinker on the bottom. I then use two Bear Claw Connectors to place #10 trebles on 4 or 5-inch 12-pound fluorocarbon leaders 6 inches and 18 inches above the sinker. Add a bobber stop and an Ice Buster bobber. Pin a lively gray or blue shiner to each treble. I occasionally lift the rig and bounce the bell sinker on the bottom to stir up some sediment and entice the minnows to swim. I check the minnows often to make sure they are lively and swimming.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times a fish has appeared interested on the graph but wouldn’t commit to my spoon presentation, and then my slip bobber just started to sink below the hole. If you don’t catch or miss the fish on the jigging spoon, it’s common to see your bobber pop, shutter, and then just slowly move away under the ice.

With two rods in the shanty, you can still have another line outside. Tip-ups are a no-frills way of getting another line in the water. Tip-ups are a passive technique that often catches fish. I figure any fish I catch on a tip-up is a bonus. One difference in my tip-up set up is that I don’t use heavy line and don’t use large treble hooks. Six- to 8-pound test line and a number 10 or 12 treble hook can land any fish in the lake if they’re hooked properly, and you don’t rush landing them.

I was just about ready to make a move on my last ice fishing trip when I noticed the flag was up on my tip-up. I gingerly walked over to the tip-up. The spool wasn’t moving. I lifted the tip-up out of the water, grabbed the line, and felt some weight. I slowly pulled the line hand over hand until I saw the head of a 20-inch walleye at the hole.

It pays to cover all the bases.