You can walk into any well stocked tackle shop to find a fine array of lures fit for beefing up your hardwater walleye ice fishing arsenal. Internet searches produce even more lures practically begging you to jig, swim, twitch, rip, nod, dart, and jiggle. But keeping track of it all, let alone deciding what to plug into your playbook, when, can be tough. So we set out to review a few hot and happening trends of interest to walleye fans, with tips from some of the Ice Beltâ€™s hot sticks.
Anyone who has been sunburned knows the power of ultraviolet radiation, yet the subject of â€śUV finishesâ€ť remains foreign to many ice anglers. It wonâ€™t stay that way for long, because some lure makers are factoring electromagnetic rays into the ice equation.
When you apply a reflective base coat, often white or chrome, then cap it with fluorescent paints and optical brighteners, itâ€™s possible to create a lure finish that absorbs energy from ultraviolet light and re-emits it in wavelengths from the visible spectrum. Done right, it enhances the vividness of a lureâ€™s colors, potentially making the bait easier for fish to see. And, because UV rays penetrate deeper than visible light, the effect is pronounced in deep water and during low-light periods. But weâ€™re not talking night bites.
Such slick paint jobs have gained favor in some fishing circles, notably among open-water trout and salmon seekers, but their applications for icewater â€™eyes remain largely untapped. â€śI think UV finishes are the next big thing,â€ť says Northwoods guide Tom Neustrom. â€śUV gives anglers something differentâ€”something besides glow. With UV you get much more color differentiation.â€ť
Having fished Rapala Shad Raps cloaked in the companyâ€™s UV Bright, and helped test new UV Jigging Rap finishes, Neustrom is a believer in their power to make â€™eyes take notice. â€śUV is especially beneficial in low-light and dark-water conditions,â€ť he says. Veteran guide, touring pro, and on-ice educator Mark Martin agrees. Like Neustrom, Martin has put Rapalaâ€™s UV finishes to the test on a variety of walleye waters, and has found situations where they increase his catch rates.
â€śUV shines in tannin-stained and dirty-water conditions,â€ť he says, explaining that in the relatively clear waters of Lower Michiganâ€™s famed Saginaw Bay, ultraviolet finishes get the nod when inflows from the Saginaw River and other tributaries lower water clarity. â€śSame thing happens on many otherwise clear natural lakes when heavy cloud cover rolls in during the day, and when the snow melts and water runs down the holes in late winter,â€ť he says. â€śEven in clear water, UV is beneficial in low-light conditions, from sunrise to about 9 in the morning and again from 3:30 or so until sunset in the evening. After dark, glow takes over.â€ť
Martin fishes UV lures the same as similar lures with glow and non-glow finishes. â€śSo far, Iâ€™ve had the most success with Rapalaâ€™s Jigging Shad Rap,â€ť he says. â€śProbably because itâ€™s profile matches the shad and bluegill forage in so many of the lakes I fish.â€ť A typical cadence calls for 25 to 30 seconds of jigging, followed by up to 35 seconds of settling time. Lures are fished tipped with a bit of Berkley Gulp! softbait or minnow head.
Clack And Dart
Back in 1991, when In-Fisherman wrote the book on ice fishing (literally, Ice Fishing Secrets), large-Âpredator jigging lures could be lumped into three categories: flash lures like the Acme Kastmaster and Swedish Pimple; swimming lures like the Jigging Rapala and Northland Air-Plane; and simple leadheads like Lindyâ€™s Fuzz-E-Grub. Iâ€™d argue itâ€™s still a valid system, though the three original groups have gained a multitude of members, not to mention numerous forks in their family trees.
In the second category, for example, two of the hottest trends of late include darter-style swimmers like Salmo Chubby Darter and Lindy Darter, along with lipless rattlebaitsâ€”fondly called clackers by some. Both excel in a number of situations, notably calling walleyes in from a distance. Ace ice guide and open-water walleye pro Kevin McQuoid explains the Lindy Darterâ€™s allure on large systems such as Minnesotaâ€™s mighty Mille Lacs Lake includes its ability to attract the attention of nearby â€™eyes with its rattles and flashy gyrations on the uptake, then close the deal with fine swimming moves and subtle twitches on the fall and pause phases.
Though clackers such as LiveTargetâ€™s Golden Shiner, Northlandâ€™s Live-Forage Rippinâ€™ Shad, Rapalaâ€™s Clackinâ€™ Rap, and Salmoâ€™s Zipper have been around open-water for a whileâ€”and enterprising icemen have experimented with them here and there for walleyes and pikeâ€”theyâ€™re now gained credibility on ice. In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer, whoâ€™s explored the clacker scene in depth, says he keeps a rattlebait rigged on at least one rod at all times when pursuing walleyes. As with darter-style swimmers and any bait new to your arsenal, a key to success is having the determination to tie one on and give it a fair shakeâ€”without losing faith and switching to a â€śconfidenceâ€ť lure after a few jig strokes.
Metal Of Honor
No walleye arsenal would be complete without the wobble, flash, and flutter of spoons, which for good reason have been a staple of the ice trade for decades. â€śNo single spoon does it all, but you donâ€™t need a multitude of them, either,â€ť Neustrom says. â€śMost times you can get by with three that cover the bases in speed of the drop, wobble, and weight (for water depth or current).â€ť Over the years, heâ€™s watched a parade of spoons sizzle, then fizzle. â€śWeâ€™ve all seen lures come on the scene for a season or two that are really pretty or someone catches a big fish on them, but theyâ€™re situation baits that donâ€™t stand the test of time,â€ť he says.
Proper weight and wobble are critical, and itâ€™s a balancing act thatâ€™s hard to achieve. A longtime Northland pro staffer now working with Rapala, Neustrom says that Northlandâ€™s Macho Minnow ranks high among his favorite all-time spoons. â€śAgain, itâ€™s all about proper weight and wobble,â€ť he says. â€śThereâ€™s no rattle, but the clicker makes just enough noise. Because of the design, you donâ€™t need meat. You can add it, but I fished it many times without any tipping because the wobble is so enticing on its own.â€ť
In contrast, spoons like Luhr-Jensenâ€™s Crippled Herring are â€śtoo heavy, too stiff, and fall too fast; you have to add meat to them to make them work,â€ť he says. â€śThe Swedish Pimple is a great spoon, same with the K-B Wobbler. I look back over 30-plus years of ice fishing and these are right up there. We used to use large spoons, sizes 7 and 9, in 12 to 18 feet of water, and caught a lot of big fish on them. Now the trend is toward downsizing and finessing, which is fine, because everyoneâ€™s main goal is to get bit. And if getting bit means downsizing the presentation, so be it. But we caught a lot of trophy walleyes on big baits over the years, and still do. So you donâ€™t always have to downsize, the only exception being finessing negative fish, which really works.â€ť
Martin, too, has a soft spot for old standbys. â€śIâ€™ve been using Little Cleos since I was knee high,â€ť he says. â€śThese thick little spoons have a good wobble and flutter that catches walleyes, yet theyâ€™re largely overlooked by the masses.â€ť Trademark Cleo cadences are â€śas erratic as possible,â€ť particularly when fish arenâ€™t around. â€śJerk them up, slap â€™em on bottom, attract attention,â€ť he says. Tweaks are basic. Add a snap to the spoonâ€”for maximum actionâ€”and a ball-bearing swivel a short distance up the line. â€śDonâ€™t clip a snap-swivel to the spoon, any spoon, or you make it nose-heavy and kill the action on the fall,â€ť he says.
Having sung proven spoonsâ€™ praises, itâ€™s worth noting that the frontier always holds promise as well. Northlandâ€™s new Macho Whistler Spoon, for example, sports four beads and a propeller on a metal shaft, throwing it into a branch of the flash lure family tree with other noisy spoon concoctions like ReelBaitâ€™s Fergie Special Spoons (which lacks the prop but features glass and brass rattles). Such noisy spoons trade flutter for clamor, but arenâ€™t totally without action. â€śThe propeller slows the Macho Whistlerâ€™s descent, allowing the cut-brass body to flash and flop,â€ť says decorated hardwater guide Tony Roach.
And what about bladebaits? They pack power and finesse into one presentationâ€”and also overlooked by many icemen. Curved-blade Cicadas and straightmen like the Silver Buddy and Heddon Sonar have been around the block, while newer blades like Northlandâ€™s Fish Fry Minnow Trap are gaining ground. And just last summer, of all times and places, while I was working a Cabelaâ€™s North American Bass Circuit qualifier in Madison, Wisconsin, Vibration Tackleâ€™s Justin Blanchar dropped an EchoTail in my hand. Billed as a hybrid blade, it features a weighted nose and tail section designed for holding softbait trailers. â€śTry this on ice,â€ť he whispered. Good Lord willing, I will, as the quest to track rising stars and stalwarts on the walleye scene continues.
*Dan Johnson of Harris, Minnesota, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications and director of the Cabelaâ€™s Masters Walleye Circuit, masterswalleyecircuit.com.