Ice Fishing -
To Jig, or not to Jig
by Michael Edwards
During the summer, all anglers use rod & reel setups. Many anglers will also take
out a metal spoon or Silver Buddy type lure to catch any number of different species of
fish. Yet, as soon as ice fishing season arrives these same anglers put down the rod &
reel setup and switch to tipups.
Many anglers that use only tipups are unnecessarily limiting themselves during their
ice fishing trips. There are many times that when tipups are not producing, a jigging
technique will be very successful.
Less Gear Equals More Fishing Time
The gear involved in jigging is significantly less than with tipups. Most anglers
don't realize this. All you need is an ice jigging rod, a small box to hold your lures and
clippers, and a tool to make a hole in the ice. With such a simple list of items to
take out onto the ice, a day of jigging is really a very simple approach to ice fishing. A
quick hint......if you're using a power auger be sure to bring about a half gallon of
mixed gas with you since you'll probably be drilling a large number of holes.
More Holes Means More Fish
With so little gear, it doesn't take the angler long to learn that (s)he is very mobile.
Matter of fact, with a power auger a few anglers can cover a vast area in search of fish.
When I go out on the lake with just a jigging rod and auger, I
will often times start on a shoreline and begin drilling holes just off the
shoreline. I will then continue in a straight line out towards the middle of the
lake separating the holes by about 50 feet. Then I will drill holes parallel to the shore.
This allows me to identify points, drop offs, and submerged humps. Combine this approach
with a good depth contour map and your fishing success is only limited to the amount of
time you have on the lake.
A number of baits are available to a mobile ice angler. You should have baits that will
work for a number of different types of fish since you will undoubtedly be covering a lot
Swedish Pimple - these are probably the most popular ice
fishing baits. It is always good to have a couple of different sizes. Swedish Pimples
sizes are identified in numbers. The number 5 is the most typical size used for crappie
and white perch. Size 7 or larger is typically used for bass and pike. The number 5 is
equivalent to a 1/4 ounce lure. You will want to have a number of different colors of
Swedish Pimples also. Red and chartreuse are the two colors I make sure are in my lure
Kastmaster - these are another very popular freshwater ice fishing lure.
1/4 ounce is good for panfish, while 1/2 ounce is better suited for bass and pike. I often
find that Kastmasters with the white and red bucktail work better than the bare hook
Rapala - Rapala makes a special fish styled bait that has fins on the front and
back. This Rapala model is unique in its action and sometimes can be very productive for
fish of all species. The Rapala moves in a figure-8 when slowly lifted up and down.
Bucktail or Marabou Jig - very good for lake trout and rainbow trout, a
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce bucktail jig is a lure that you don't want to be without.
"Tipping the Lure"
Often you can increase your success by applying one more technique. 'Tipping the lure'
entails putting some type of bait on the hooks of the lure. This can be a 'mousie' (a
small white worm/larvae), a mealworm, a 'dilly' earthworm, or a piece of cut bait. The
scent released from the 'tipping' can sometimes mean the difference between success and
failure. Often a fish will stop just inches from a suspended ice jig before striking. The
use of fresh bait on the hook may be the key that makes the fish strike.
Rod, Reel & Line
The rod, reel and line are often a matter of personal preference. Yet, I have found in my
experience that a small open face reel works well (a typical light trout spinning reel). I
use a spinning rod because it is the easiest to work with if the air is below freezing
temperatures and the wet line starts to freeze on the spool.
When it comes to the rod, I find that most ice jigging rods available from tackle shops
work well. However, through my summer fishing trips I often end up with a broken rod every
couple of years or so. And, if I don't end up with a broken rod chances are someone I know
will have one. By keeping the last 30 inches of the broken rod, and discarding the rest of
the blank, you can use epoxy to glue it back into the handle. This will give you a
very capable 30 inch long ice fishing jigging pole for free.
The line is typically your weakest link between you and the fish. And if you are
catching large fish, the abrasion to the line on the bottom of the ice can come into play.
I typically use 8 pound test monofiliment so that I balance the line's mitigating effect
on the action of the lure with enough line strength to catch the fish.
During a day of ice fishing, two anglers with jigging rods and a power auger have the
ability to easily cover a very small lake or a pond in search of fish. I have covered over
100 acres of water while drilling in excess of 200 holes with another person.
This method can allow you to bring some of the challenge of open water fishing to your
ice fishing trips. It can also significantly increase your chance of catching fish. And it
can allow you to learn a great deal about a lake that is new to you.
Once you start jigging be sure to try different jigging rhythms until you find one that
works. I start with a 1-2 foot lift and fall rhythm. I let the lure settle and remain
still for about 20 seconds in between the lift/fall rhythm. I will vary the speed and the length of the 'jig' rhythm to try
to find one that works. Sometimes when nothing seems to work I will try 'thrumming'. This
is the process of rapidly 'wiggling' the rod tip so that the lure quickly jigs up and down
within a 1-3 inch vertical movement. This process of thrumming can be very effective at
So, the next time you think about ice fishing and you find yourself loading all your
tipups and gear onto the sled, while trying to determine where you will get your shiners,
settle back and think about jigging. Give it a try and you will be hooked because of the
simplicity and flexibility it offers.
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