Soft Baits Rule Under The Ice


John Paulson demonstrates how crazy the weather's been up here. T-shirts and jeans are not normal ice-fishing attire for the Ides of March, but we were plenty comfortable without coats or bibs. Or shelters, for that matter.

Looking out the window right now, the thermometer in the shade of my porch reads 70°F. Tornadoes touched down in Michigan this week. Crazy stuff.


But not unheard of. I remember walking on the ice of Lake of The Woods in Canada with no shirt on more than 10 years ago, when temperatures climbed above 60°F. Dramatic warm spells in the 1970s had us out on the ice in t-shirts sometimes. When it happens, panfish go crazy. As mentioned in earlier posts, those warm-water bands near the bottom climb up through the water column, expanding areas where panfish feel comfortable — sometimes propelling them into shallow water 5-feet deep or less. And they're chewing on anything that fits in their mouth.


Why waste time with bait in that situation? After every bite you're spending time opening containers, applying bait, closing containers, putting them away, etc. Look at the post prior to this one and you'll see the TC Tackle Grindle Bug (406/683-5485). I tied on a brown version with brown rubber legs the other day because Paulson here said the water was very clear. To that I attached an ISG Leechette, one of the thin, tapering, worm-like plastics less than 2-inches long I mentioned in the previous post. After catching dozens of bluegills and crappies, I was still fishing with the same glow Leechette at the end of the day.

I dumped an array on the table for a quick photo that includes examples from ISG, Maki Plastics, and Custom Jigs & Spins. Available in even more shapes (some you may find hard to imagine), every color of the rainbow, and ranging from 1/2-inch to just under 2 inches in length, these versions match best with hooks up to a size #10.

Those little paddle tails and mini-jumpers are great for bluegills all winter long. They bite those infinitely-tapering worms, too, but perch and crappies adore them because they imitate tiny minnow fry in profile and swimming action. Mini ring worms are universal attractors. Using that little Leechette (the bright green and pale pink plastics shown here), I managed to ice four species of fish the other day — crappies, bluegills, bass and pike. Presentation is a snap because the less you do the better. The tail won't stop quivering and attracting when you pause. The only thing I needed to do this week was slowly raise the jig.

Some days you add a little quiver to the rod tip, but certainly raise it over their heads and let it fall a few times for reluctant biters. Watch closely in the hole near your feet and you'll see that all of these tiny plastics swim and vibrate on the drop. That vibration is probably the same trigger you get from the motion of livebait when it's sitting still.

The one advantage livebait has would seem to be scent, but add-ons and other soft baits, like Berkley Gulp! have closed that gap. Gulp comes in the shape of tiny maggots, bitsy worms,   waxies, and minnow fry. My favorite is the Fish Fry — reminiscent of the Custom Jigs & Spins Ratso and the Northland Tackle Bro's Slug Bug. Northland has added the scent-impregnated Impulse-series plastics, with scary-real mayflies and bloodworms that I've used to catch trout under the ice with great success.

With non-impregnated plastics, I add Blue Fox Dr Juice Panfish scent or Gulp! spray, just in case. Most days, people using similar but unscented baits do just as well, but I like to cover all the bases. Seems to make a difference, but when the tornado seasons and ice seasons coincide — it probably doesn't matter. Panfish are going crazy down there. Why waste time?

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