A lot of factors can determine how many fish we’ll catch through the ice. Color is important: So is lure size. How the bait is attached to your line can be a consideration. A small jig attached to your line with a big, bulky snap/swivel probably won’t be as effective as that same jig tied directly to a low-vis monofilament or fluorocarbon.
A very important consideration any time you’re ice-fishing, but especially when the fish are being finicky, is the action you’re putting on the lure. Just as in open water fishing, how you move the lure will have a direct influence on how many fish you catch.
Different lures have different actions. Consider the difference in action of two really good walleye baits for ice fishing, the spoon and the jig which I tip with a Berkley PowerBait or Gulp! body. The spoon has a very straight up and down motion. When you lift it up then let it fall, it flutters a little bit, but falls pretty much straight back to the bottom.
The jig often falls back to the bottom a little slower due to the body, which appeals to fish in some situations. It also covers a larger area as it falls. This action might appeal to fish that are out to the side of your hole that don’t want to come in to eat the spoon that’s being fished straight up and down. Both styles of baits are good, but there are times when the fish will show a preference.
By the same token, sometimes the fish will prefer these baits being worked fast, other times they’ll prefer a slower presentation. Watch your sonar and see how they respond to different actions, then give them the action they want.
Perch and panfish can be very selective about lure action. Sometimes they want the lure moving quickly, much of the time they prefer a quiver, and there are times when they want it motionless.
We were on a lake in South Dakota a while back that had a reputation for producing lots of big, really big, perch. When we got there a weather front had gone through that had the perch very unaggressive. We could see them on the sonar, and we tried everything we could to get them to eat our baits, but they just didn’t seem interested.
Finally, one of the anglers in our group sat down in the shelter, rested the elbow of his rod hand on his knee, and sat as still as he could. He jigged the bait softly every now and then, but when a perch came in and looked at this bait, he held the bait as still as possible. Eventually the perch ate the bait.
Everyone in our group started employing the “elbow on the knee” technique, and we started catching more fish. We didn’t catch every perch that looked at the bait, but we caught a lot more than we had been.
Whether you’re fishing open water or through the ice, if you pay attention to the action you’re putting on the bait, you’re going to catch more fish.