January 14, 2022
By Cory Schmidt
Ice fishing missions in the Northcountry frequently greet you with soul-stirring sunrises and profoundly peaceful surroundings. Ice, of course, also begets predictably frosty temperatures, and if you’re not careful, numb hands. Thankfully, the popularity of the wintery pursuit has bred excellent angling technology—things like valuable fish-finding sonar, plus outerwear and gloves that keep your extremities warm and dry.
But what happens when forced to remove your gloves to perform basic tasks such as constantly replacing baits? Digits begin to struggle with essential angling duties. Tying knots and rigging baits become exponentially more difficult (and painful) when bare hands lay exposed to the elements. In short, cold hands impair fishing performance. And when you’re watching water freeze in your ice rod guides, “cold” takes on a whole new meaning.
“If I can tie on one little softbait at the start of the day and catch fish with it for hours—without having to remove my gloves and constantly re-rig—I’ve already had a great outing,” said Jamie Bruce, an exceptional ice angler and tournament bass champion from Kenora, Ontario.
Among the first anglers to shuffle out across a tenuous veneer of frozen water each winter, Bruce has hooked dozens of wintertime crappies on a singular jig and softbait combination most anglers have yet to contemplate.
“We sort of discovered the incredible advantages of ElaZtech for ice fishing by accident,” he said. “Had some baits sitting out in the cold and thought they were toast. Found that the material eventually freezes up in bitter air temps. But we also found that if you just give the bait a nice stretch, it immediately returns to its natural shape—just as soft, lively and durable as right out of the package.
“Even in super cold water,” added Bruce, “ElaZtech stays nice and pliable and almost infinitely fishable—as in, one bait can last you an entire day of fishing, or more. And we already knew about its buoyancy. That when rigged on a jighead, the bait always hovers at that perfectly natural horizontal posture, suggestive of a living thing.”
On Bruce’s inaugural crappie trip, captured in a recent YouTube video, he tied on one shortened Finesse ShadZ tail, threaded it onto a tiny tungsten jig and proceeded to catch dozens and dozens of crappies without re-baiting.
“Customized ElaZtech baits just create an incredible, efficient ice fishing system,” noted Bruce. “Can’t believe more anglers aren’t mod’ing their ElaZtech baits for ice.”
From his finesse bass fishing experiences, Bruce realized he could do a little creative softbait surgery and craft smaller panfish-sized morsels with perfect tail-action, while benefitting from ElaZtech’s astonishing resilience on the hook.
“These days, we’re pretty mobile on the ice, tracking and following moving schools of crappies, walleyes and big lake trout with live-sonar units. You need an efficient bait that can be deployed fast; one that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance between fish. You want to get down fast, stay down and make hay while the school’s hot.
“With crappies, you might have just a three-minute window of fish activity before they scatter, or the school regroups. The last thing you want to be doing is digging in your bag to find a new bait because a fish nipped the tail off. Happens constantly with traditional soft plastics—sometimes you have to re-bait after every panfish. But that simply doesn’t happen with ElaZtech. Imagine fishing one softbait on the same jig, all day long; never having to remove your gloves or getting cold fingers.”
Bait Mods on Ice
To create his favorite hardwater crappie concoction, Bruce trims the tail off a Smelt or Meat Dog pattern Z-Man Finesse ShadZ. The remaining razor-thin 1-1/2- to 2-inch tail section is threaded onto a compact mushroom jighead or tungsten VMC Tubby Jig. He applies one drop of superglue to the hook-shank or jig neck before securing the bait almost permanently in place.
“You can do the same thing with baits like the Hula StickZ, TRD TicklerZ or even the TRD TubeZ,” Bruce explains. “Or slice off one leg off a TRD HogZ, to make a more flattened, leech style bait. All these little tail sections are super-thin, soft and kick like crazy when you jig.”
Bruce suggested a nice, sharp pair of mini scissors for easily cutting through the resilient ElaZtech material.
“All you want to do is snip a single tentacle off some of these baits, leaving a thicker chunk of material for a head, which makes it easier to secure to a jighead. Give it a nice big stretch to shed any salt, add bait buoyancy and soften up the material, which frees it up for even more lively movement.
“I like to drop the bait down, so it hovers just a foot above the crappies, and let them chase as you give it little tail-twitches with your rodtip. When a fish starts reacting, you’ll want to slowly elevate the bait, making the fish hunt it down. Watching the whole drama on a sonar or LiveScope screen really adds to the excitement. And other than a wayward pike, you never have to worry about the bait getting its tail chewed off.”
Just after the New Year, Bruce and buddies like Bassmaster Elite Series angler and fellow Z-Man pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson regularly find themselves jigging for the ultimate ice fish—the energetic, bait-smashing lake trout. Once again, ElaZtech baits have become essential hardwater equipment.
“Especially on pressured lake trout water like Lake of the Woods, presenting baits in that natural, horizontal posture is a big deal,” he said. “Two central baits—a 5-inch Scented Jerk ShadZ and the Hula StickZ—are all I ever use to trigger heavyweight, drag-screaming lakers.
The buoyancy of ElaZtech baits, notes Bruce, produces a natural baitfish posture that consistently tricks hardwater predators. “Big lakers can be pretty picky, at times. They’re feeding on smelt and occasionally, ciscoes, that roam deep openwater. We pick ‘em off along prominent hardbottom shelves and pinch points (funnels and narrows between lake basins), bombing fish with a 1/2-ounce jighead, like the Smeltinator or Finesse EyeZ.”
Bruce said there’s a common misconception, too, that lakers always prefer an erratic presentation.
“We catch some of our biggest fish way high up in the water column, deadsticking the Jerk ShadZ in place. The Hula StickZ is also killer in this situation because it looks and reacts like a tube—a classic lake trout bait. The Hula StickZ is even better because it’s naturally buoyant.
“You simply can’t pull off the same naturally horizontal bait posture with traditional plastics because they don’t offer the ‘float-up’ factor, and so the tail just droops down below the jighead. No good for lake trout, or for any predatory species, actually.”
Finally, when a laker appears on sonar, but won’t immediately bite, Bruce dials up the cadence.
“To mimic an escaping smelt or cisco, I like to rock the bait fast up and away from a chasing fish. Nothing more exciting than watching a big mark shoot up 10 or 20 feet to throttle your bait and jar your rod.”
Bruce suggested other ElaZtech essentials:
“You can use any bait color you want, so long as it’s pearl white,” he laughed. “Again, add a drop of superglue to the jighead to create a semi-permanent bait bond. Periodically, I also like to stick the Jerk ShadZ back into its bag to soak up more Pro-Cure scent; lakers react strongly to potent scent and flavor, and the Jerk ShadZ’ pre-marinated nature adds big fish appeal. Occasionally, when fishing low-density lake trout lakes with ciscoes, we’ll even notch up to a 7-inch Jerk ShadZ and fish extra fast and aggressive.”
Hang horizontal. Keep your gloves on. And fish like winter’s a celebration rather than a season.