Aggressive baits for aggressive fish

Fishing the Midwest

— submitted photo On this day in South Dakota, the crappies were aggressive and willing to hit a bigger jig.

Whether we’re ice fishing or open water fishing, it’s important to try to match our bait presentation to the attitude of the fish. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out the attitude of the fish on a particular day on the body of water that you’re on. Open water or ice, many anglers like to start with the idea that the fish are going to be active. We’re not always right. In fact, there are probably more days when the fish are more finicky than they are aggressive. Nonetheless, we need to figure out that attitude.

Let’s say it’s summer. We’re on a good walleye lake and we’re targeting walleyes. To find out the activity level of the fish, we start trolling crankbaits or spinners. With baits like this, we can cover water quickly. If the walleyes are willing to bite, we’ll find out soon enough. If they’re not, we’re going to need to slow down and try jigs or rigs or slip-bobbers.

How about largemouth bass? Maybe we start casting fast-moving buzz-baits. If they don’t go for buzzers, we need to go a little slower. Not a lot, but a little. We’ll throw some crankbaits. If the bass don’t eat the crankbaits, we need to slow down even more. We’ll drag a plastic worm along the bottom. Much of the time, whether it be walleyes or bass, eventually we’ll hit on the right combination. Or at least much of the time we’ll hit on the right combination.

Now about ice fishing. Same deal. Some days we can work fast, other days we need to slow down if we want to get bit. The advantage with ice fishing is that, if you’re using a sonar unit, you can see if fish are looking at your bait. That’s a huge advantage. You can really get a very strong sense of what the fish are doing directly below the hole that you’re fishing through. The Vexilar FLX-20 that has become my constant companion on the ice is so sensitive that I can see when the waxworm I’m using has fallen off the jig.

Now, about attitudes below the ice. Many ice anglers like to start with a pretty aggressive presentation. A Rattlin’ Blade Spoon is a good place to start. This spoon sinks quickly and makes noise. It’s also available in some pretty bright colors. It gets the fish’s attention. Try the smallest size for crappies or perch, go a size or two bigger for walleyes. Put a piece of bait on the spoon and drop it down the hole. Watch your sonar. You’ll see the bait and you’ll see if fish come in to look. If nothing comes in, pound the bait on the bottom, then lift it a foot off the bottom and shake it just a little. If there’s a fish in the area that’s hungry, pounding will get its attention. If nothing shows up in a couple of minutes, move to the next hole.

If fish do look, but don’t eat, try a different type of spoon. A Leech Flutter Spoon has a much more noticeable fluttering action as it falls, and it falls a bit slower. Maybe that’s what the fish want on that day. Or maybe a glide type bait. Glide baits fall in semi-circles. They kind of go out and look for the fish.

And, if none of these baits appeal to the fish, although once you find the fish one of these usually will, again, it’s time to move to another hole. Maybe the fish will be more active at the next hole, or you might have to check several holes to find the active fish. Keep moving until you see fish. Then work’em over.

If you see fish looking at your spoon or glide bait and they refuse to hit, it’s time to really slow down. For walleyes, maybe try a jig like you would use in open water and tip it with a minnow. If crappies or perch are your quarry, a tiny Genz Jig tipped with a spike or waxworm or two could be the ticket to get them to eat. The key is, try to figure out the activity level of the fish, then give them what they want. Just remember, their willingness to eat can change from day to day, hour to hour, and lake to lake. But if you figure out the fish’s aggressiveness, you’re on your way to putting more fish on top of the ice.


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