In today’s age of new-wave ice fishing tactics, sometimes going old school is the best way to fill a bucket. This is true on the Great Lakes fisheries of southeastern Michigan—St. Clair and Saginaw Bay—where a popular technique has been used for more then 50 years, without changing. It remains one of the finest ways to catch yellow perch.
This type of spoon jigging is called “fishing hard beads,” because the bent spoon is tipped with a small plastic bead for the fish to focus on when they attack—no bait. The spoon has a tremendous amount of action when it’s jigged aggressively, which is the first step—call fish in.
These shallow-water perch factories produce huge numbers of small fish, and half a dozen dinks often need to be iced to cull one keeper. That’s possible because the heavy spoon drives perch into frenzied feeding, which often results in a fish being iced every few seconds. Anglers quickly catch a fish and drop down to catch another and another. Old-timers hand-over-handed fish onto the ice, a method commonly referred to as “windmilling perch.”
That’s still the idea. As the school ignites and gains in size and aggression, anglers fish higher and higher in the water column, drawing the fish right up under the ice. This makes it easier to catch the fish, reduces down time, and excites the school even more, as they believe shiners are heading topside, as they do in the wild, to be pinned beneath the frozen surface. At times, however, the jumbos hold near the bottom, looking for scraps.
The origination of the technique seems to date to the 1940s in the Saginaw Bay area, where locals created jigging rods out of red-willow branches and crafted their own lures out of soldered spinner blades. Today’s top lures include the popular Ken’s Spoon, Gusters, and others. Top colors are chrome with a red bead or a glow bead.
Techno-modern enters the scene, though, as it’s a big advantage to be able to see fish in relation to your lure when fishing water deeper than about 3 feet. It’s all about playing keep-away with the larger school as you pluck the high-riders.
Jigging technique varies from day to day, but usually it’s a steady jigging motion—snap-fall, snap-fall—that makes the spoon dart and wobble back. As the season progresses toward last ice, jigging strokes can be even more frantic.
Does the technique have application elsewhere? Indeed, the spoons have long enjoyed pockets of popularity across the Ice Belt—not just for perch but for whitefish and bass and pike. Aggressive jigging with a flashy, high-vibration spoon is always potentially in high fashion for aggressive predatory fish.
Joe Balog is a guide and promotional angler from Harrison Township, Michigan.