LURES & TERMINAL TACKLE
Like serious open water anglers, die-hard winter fishing enthusiasts have realized fish eat a variety of food items beneath the ice. They understand the importance of learning to use a variety of different lure styles, and carrying each design in several sizes, shapes and colors, enabling them to meticulously adjust their tactics depending on the target species' environment, type of forage and activity level. And like open-water fishing, lures must be matched with the appropriate terminal tackle to perform to their full potential.
Ice-fishing lures come in virtually every style, shape, size and color imaginable, so it's easy to understand why many beginning anglers may be confused by what they see. However, for simplicity, ice lures can be grouped into seven basic categories: teardrops, ice flies, plastics, jigging minnows, spoons, swimming jigs and bladebaits.
TEARDROPS are essentially small bits of lead or metal molded or soldered to a hook. Designed to represent various zooplankton and insect larvae, they come in an almost infinite variety of sizes, styles and colors. Naturally sized and colored teardrops work best in clear water. In dark or colored water, ice fishermen should use larger, flashier and more colorful teardrops to get the fish's attention.
ICE FLIES, basically modified teardrop ice jigs featuring rubber, plastic or hair dressings, come in a variety of sizes and styles and are designed to represent mostly zooplankton or insect larvae. Used primarily for panfish, naturally sized and colored flies work best in clear water, while larger, more colorful or flashier patterns are better in dark or colored water.
PLASTICS can consist of anything from ultra-thin, vibrating strips to large tube or twist-tail style lures. Since they have a natural, soft texture and feel and are worked slowly, they work best in clear water when trying to tempt light-biting, fussy fish. They may be added to various jig heads or spoons, but can be fished on plain hooks.
JIGGING MINNOWS are gliding lures that when lifted and dropped abruptly, dart to the side. They represent darting minnows, work well in clear or dark water, and are good bets when trying to cover water, work aggressive fish or trigger finicky biters.
SPOONS are long, narrow or wide-bodied metal lures, usually featuring shiny nickel, gold or copper finishes that may be accented with glitter, prism tape, beads or paint to help attract fish. When jigged, they dart, flutter and flash to represent struggling, dying baitfish. Spoons are effective for attracting fish in deep or dark water, working semi-aggressive fish or for triggering finicky fish.
SWIMMING JIGS are gliding lures that when lifted and dropped glide in a circular motion, representing dying baitfish. They're effective when trying to cover water, and work well in clear or dark water when trying to tempt aggressive fish or trigger finicky fish.
BLADEBAITS are thin, narrow, forward-weighted slices of plated or painted metal that when aggressively pulled upward, wiggle with an intense, tight fish-attracting wiggle. They're great for working dark water, active and aggressive fish, or triggering strikes from neutral fish.
Winter anglers usually sweeten ice lures with grubs, maggots, minnows or bits of live bait. Those skillfully fishing a versatile array of these lures set with various innovative riggings and jigging cadences are often among the most consistently successful anglers on the ice.
In addition to carrying a good assortment of lures, successful ice fishermen carry a wide variety of terminal tackle. The most important items include the following:
BOBBERS AND FLOATS. Small sponge, Styrofoam(r) or balsa ice floats are usually pegged or clipped to the line. Some can be rigged as slip-floats, which allow line to slide through the float body up to a small bobber stop, allowing rod-and-reel anglers to retrieve fish from deep water without removing the float. Sponge floats are popular with some anglers because ice buildup can easily be squeezed off.
SPRING BOBBERS. Sensitive spring bobbers clip or adhere to rod tips. The fishing line runs through the spring at the rod tip, allowing anglers to detect even the slightest strikes.
SINKERS. From micro-shot used to precisely weight tiny bobbers to large Rubber-cor(r) weights for keeping large minnows in place on tip-ups, sinkers are a must for many ice-fishing situations.
SNAPS. Small snaps allow anglers to quickly change jigging spoons without retying.
HOOKS. Depending on the winter species being targeted, hook sizes range from tiny #14's for finicky sunfish to large 4/0's for lake trout and pike.
LEADERS. Lure or bait rigs for toothy fish like northern pike require some type of wire leader to prevent bite-offs. Mono leaders are often attached to dacron tip-up or rattle reel lines for walleyes and other wary species.
SWIVELS. Many ice fishermen use swivels to attach mono leaders to the main line when rigging tip-ups and rattle reels.