1) In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange first suggested in the seminal In-Fisherman book, Ice Fishing Secrets, that constantly switching minnow heads often triggers more fish. "Fish like walleyes, perch, crappies, smallmouths, pike, various trout, and whitefish are sight-feeders," he says, "but they can smell and taste too. When a fish enters the zone close to the lure, they enter a slight more intense 'aura-area' of smell and taste that has a subtle but important bearing on whether or not they finally decide to bite.
"With extended time in the water, a head gives off less scent and taste. First, just squish the head a bit but not so much it falls off the hook. Walleye fishing, I change a head about every 10 minutes when it isn't prime twilight time and about every 5 minutes when it is. You're only on the ice for 30 to 45 minutes at prime time."
2) We often tinker with spoons, removing the factory treble hook and replacing it with a plain single hook, adding an extra split ring to more slightly separate the hook from the spoon. This provides a pronounced "pivot point," allowing the hook to move easier into a fish's mouth when it inhales the baited hook.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer accomplishes the same purpose with a FASTACH clip. Remove the factory treble, add the clip to the split ring and then reattach the treble (or a single hook) to the end of the clip. Pyzer often slides a minnow head over the top of the treble hook with the end of the hook coming out of the minnow's mouth, then puts the treble on the clip, making the minnow head impossible for a fish to steal. FASTACH clips are available from Rollie and Helen's Musky Shop, muskyshop.com.
Chain droppers also are available from companies like Nils Master USA and H.T. Enterprises. Or you can tie up your own, keeping the drop length less than about 3 inches to reduce problems with tangling.
3) For some lures we also upgrade the treble hook by at least one size. The wider gap increases hooking percentage. We also often use premium treble hooks such as the Mustad Triple Grip #36242 or the Eagle Claw Wide Gap Treble. Another replacement option is a Carlisle-style single hook like the Eagle Claw 218 or Mustad 3191.
4) When walleye tipping with a whole minnow it can be helpful to have a minnow head on as well. The whole minnow is mostly visual, whereas the minnow head is more important in distributing scent and taste. Put the minnow on first, either hooked through the lips or along the dorsal fin, then add the minnow head. With a treble hook, the minnow goes on one tine and the head on another.
5) Pinching a head off is better than cutting it off, because a ragged edge is better at distributing scent and taste and is better visually as well. We often pinch a head a little long—meaning, leave a little meat hanging below the head, instead of pinching right behind the head—not too much, just a little. If you're short of minnows, this also allows freshening the bait by pinching the meat off the head.
Taste and scent are but subtle visual cures usually are what finally get fish to bite. That's why pinching is better than a clean cut. The ragged edge moves even when the lure's held dead still—subtle but alive.
6) Slip the hook up through the lower jaw and through the first part of the minnow's skull just behind the lips to keep the minnow head on during aggressive jigging. Slipping the hook through the lips adds head-waggling action on the jiggle but increases the chance for loosing the head as you work the spoon. Fine-tuned electronics allow you to see when you've lost a minnow head, if you can't feel it on the jigging stroke.