Everyone can stand to catch a few more panfish through the ice. However, ice anglers typically settle into a routine when they head out onto the ice. They catch several fish and then the action slows down or stops entirely. Maybe they change depths, colors, or holes a few times but that is about it. Once they stop catching fish based upon this routine, they quit and blame it on the fish – “they just stopped biting.” Prior to muttering this phrase again, try the following tips and techniques.
1. Vertical to Horizontal. The style of one’s ice jig is just as important as its color. Most anglers are accustomed to using a tear-dropped shaped jig that hangs vertically in the water, such as Jammin’ Jigs Beetle or Teardrop jig. When fish stop biting vertical jigs, switch to a jig that hangs horizontally such as a Jammin’ Jig Bobber Fry. I have found that crappies and perch generally bite better on a horizontal jig. To observe a wide selection of both horizontal and vertical ice jigs on the internet, check out www.jamminjigs.com.
2. Line Twist. Most anglers only move their jig in an up and down jigging motion. Fish become accustomed to this presentation and stop reacting to it. For a change of pace, try holding the line between your index finger and thumb. Next roll or twist the line between your fingers. This will cause the jig to spin in the water while remaining at the same depth. Also try moving the jig around the perimeter of the hole without imparting any up and down motion on the jig. Fish respond especially well to this technique in shallow water.
3. Bait to Plastic. Give the live bait a break and go exclusively to finesse plastic lures. As unlikely as it may seem, bluegills and other panfish will eventually tire of live bait. When this happens, switch to a tiny 1/80 round head jig with a sliver of plastic hooked on it. The finesse plastic tails of these tiny jigs quiver and shake with even the slightest movement of the rod tip. Finesse plastic jigs are also excellent search jigs and perform great in clear water.
4. Bounce the Bottom. An excellent way to add a few more jumbo perch to the bucket is to allow the jig to bounce off the bottom of the lake. Perch feed predominantly within a few inches of the bottom. By allowing the jig to bounce off the bottom, the small cloud of bottom debris and sound created by this action will attract fish from a distance. This trick also works for bluegills. At certain times, it is even more productive to allow the jig to hit the bottom and then lie at rest on the bottom. To use this approach, a spring bobber is helpful. The jig should just barely rest on the bottom of the lake, with enough of the jig’s weight on the spring bobber to hold it half way down. When a fish takes the bait, it will typically rise with the jig and cause the spring bobber to go up.
5. Looking Down the Hole. For a stiff neck and a few more fish, try staring down the hole and watching as fish take the bait. This approach is excellent for learning how fish respond to various baits and jigging techniques. It is also an excellent way to take larger bluegill, perch and suspended crappie. Big bluegills have a way of hovering in front of a bait for several seconds before inhaling it and then quickly spitting it out. Since this happens so quickly and barely moves the line, a fixed float or even a spring bobber will often not detect this type of bite. Your only hope of catching these fish is to be looking down the hole and setting the hook once the fish inhales the jig. This tip also works great for suspended crappies. In both cases, brightly colored jigs that hang horizontally work best since they are visible at greater depths and in stained water.
6. Chum. To get an added advantage over other ice anglers, try chumming. Take a few extra wax worms, spikes, or minnows, crush them and drop them down the hole. This trick will not only attract more fish to your area but will also get fish feeding more aggressively.
7. Change Sizes. When action slows, instead of changing colors, try changing the size of one’s jig. This tip works both ways – switching from a smaller to a larger jig and from a larger to a smaller jig. One of my favorite ice fishing jigs is a red and chartreuse size 10 Teardrop by Jammin’ Jigs. After catching as many fish as I can on this jig, I will switch from the size 10 Teardrop to the size 6 Teardrop which is nearly twice as big but in the exact same color. This often results in catching a few bigger bluegills. As a final matter, I will switch to the ultra small size 12, Teardrop jig and will catch a few more fish that would not take the other two sizes.
8. Set the Rod Down. When fishing with a spring bobber rod like Frabill’s new Panfish Popper rod, a simple way to catch a couple extra fish is to set the rod down and allow the bait to sit totally motionless. Even if you think that you can hold the rod totally motionless in your hand, place the rod down on the ice or in a rod stand to catch a few more fish.
9. Cover the Hole. In shallow water, cover the hole with ice shavings to block out light penetration into the water. This applies in both clear and stained water lakes. In stained water, the use of a glow in the dark jig also works well with this approach.
10. PowerPro. For deep water panfish, do not use ultra light monofilament line. Two pound test or lighter monofilament line has so much stretch that it is difficult to detect light bites or to set the hook in depths greater than 20 feet deep. The key to catching more fish in deep water is to use a super line. The most effective of these lines for ice fishing is PowerPro line. PowerPro makes a line with the diameter of one pound test monofilament but with the strength of eight pound test. In addition, PowerPro line has nearly no stretch and is extremely abrasion resistant. This lack of stretch means one can feel more bites and hook more fish in deep water.
The next time you are on the ice and are a few fish short of a fish short of a limit, instead of uttering those dreaded words (“The fish just stopped biting”), try the above tips and techniques.
Photo: Ryan Afflerbaugh