Why Horizontal Jigging Minnows are the ALL-TIME Great Hardwater Bait
By Gord Pyzer
I love interacting with other anglers at fishing seminars, especially during the question-and-answer sessions, when I can just about guarantee that someone will ask: If you could only ice fish with one lure for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The answer is easy: A horizontal swimming-style lure such as the Rapala Jigging Rap or Acme Tackle Company’s Hyper-Glide and Hyper-Rattle. They’re as close to ice-fishing perfection as the tackle industry has come.
In their smallest sizes, these lures are ideal for nabbing black crappies, bluegills, ciscoes and perch. The biggest versions, on the other hand, weigh almost a full ounce, making them perfect for catching lake trout and pike and the biggest walleye and whitefish in the lake. There are also mid-size models, and they’re all exquisitely painted to resemble baitfish.
I’m particularly impressed with the side wings on the Hyper-Glide and Hyper-Rattle that transform the lures into finesse-style airplane jigs, letting you perform Cirque du Soleil-style stunts under the ice. It’s this very magic you can achieve with these lures that makes them such fatal attractions.
Catch more and bigger autumn pike by following their favorite prey
By Gord Pyzer
When school resumes in the fall, have you ever noticed how moms and dads
eagerly wait at street corners for their kids to get off the buses? Northern pike can also be found congregating in specific places during the fall, but they’re certainly not waiting to hug their young. No, they’re waiting to ambush and devour their prey instead, making autumn the best time of the year to find and catch scores of the big toothy critters.
Indeed, unlike pike during late winter and early spring—two other prime periods—gargantuan fall northern’s are not side-tracked by events such as the upcoming spawn. Instead, they have only one thing on their minds: quickly shoveling as much food down their throats as possible. This makes for a great scenario for anglers, especially given how easy it is to locate the bus stops where the action is unfolding.
Fall is the period of consolidation, when northern pike move away from the deep weed edges and main-lake structures they’ve been frequenting all summer. It’s an interesting transition, because different groups of fish are moving to the same gathering spots from multiple directions.
My favorite way to pinpoint the terminals is by noting the location of the best late-summer spots, then identifying the nearest main-lake or large island points that break into deep water. If there’s an associated ledge or feeding flat in 10 to 20 feet of water, so much the better.
It’s worth noting, too, that the migration out of the back bays has nothing to do with withering or decaying vegetation, or a decline in oxygen levels, as so many anglers mistakenly believe. Instead, the pike are merely following prey, including yellow perch and walleye, that are transitioning to their deep-water fall, and eventually winter, locations.
Even more importantly, however, the big toothy critters are setting the stage for a feast as they intercept pelagic ciscoes and whitefish—and in some cases, lake trout—that are shifting toward shallow rocks to spawn. And once you’ve found one of these bus stops, the great thing is, it will remain productive in perpetuity, as the fish will return to it every fall.
I should mention, too, that this pattern begins falling into place once the water temperature drops below 15°C (59F). It then peaks at 10°C (50F) and continues until 7°C (44F) or so, especially when we’re blessed with unseasonably warm weather. By late fall, however, the fish will have finally moved to their winter locations.
Meanwhile, a good bus stop becomes a great bus stop when it’s exposed to wind and waves. And by parking your boat over deep water, casting up shallow and retrieving your lure out over the break, you’ll always get better results than you would if you stopped in the shallow water and started casting.
Few lures have accounted for more King Kong northern pike than 4½- or five-inch paddletail swimbaits sporting embedded jigheads, such as those in the LiveTarget and Storm WildEye swimbait series. Also effective are five- or six-inch Bass Magnet Shift’R Shads, XZone Swammers and …..
Sometimes, all it takes is a little desperation to discover an effective new fishing tactic. An outing last winter with my Saskatchewan buddies Jeff and Jason Matity offers a case in point. Expert ice anglers, the brothers paid me a visit in northwestern Ontario with their sights set squarely on catching trophy-sized crappies—a sportfish not found in their windswept home province.
Just a few days before the visit, I’d located a large school of 13- to 15-inch plate-shaped beauties, but left them undisturbed in the hope they’d still be there when Jeff and Jason arrived. Fortunately, they were. When we hopped off our snow machines, drilled through three feet of ice and snow and dropped our transducers down the holes, the sonar screens lit up like Christmas trees. I remember excitedly saying, “This shouldn’t take long.”
Boy, was I wrong—the fish just wouldn’t bite, steadfastly snubbing our baits. Now, what would you have done to fool those finicky fish? I’m betting that, like us, you would have used ever smaller lures, presenting them ever more slowly. But the crappies remained obstinate, frustrating us for more than an hour as we watched fish rise up, put their noses on our offerings as if to sniff them, then sink back down to the bottom. That’s when the guys started experimenting with sound to trigger a bite.
Jason dug deep into his tackle bag and pulled out a Fergie spoon that we intended to use the next day for walleye (above). He removed the wire holding the brass and glass clacker, and tied the noisemaker to the end of his line. Then he attached the same minuscule jig he’d been using without success to the rig’s split ring. After dropping it down the hole, Jason shook the contraption briskly enough that he could feel the brass weight sliding up and down the wire, banging against the glass beads. In short order, he was icing crappie after crappie after crappie (see the opening picture).
That’s right. The same fish that wouldn’t open their mouths for the smallest, most realistic bite-sized jig suddenly went berserk for the same bait dancing below six inches of thick visible wire, with a half-ounce chunk of brass banging against two red glass beads. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that sound can’t be an attractant. Need more proof?
After we had cleaned up on the crappies, we set out one snowy morning to locate big burbot. Jeff and Jason may be the best ling anglers in the country, so I took them to a spot where I’d accidentally caught some of these fish in the past. To catch winter burbot, the Matity brothers’ favorite technique is to use heavy 3/4- and one-ounce Reel Bait Flasher Jigs with the willow leaf blade dangling below the head. They tip the jigs with thick butterfly fillets fashioned from fresh ciscoes, then hammer the lure so hard onto the bedrock bottom that you can hear it from 20 feet above on top of the ice.
Truth be told, we didn’t catch any burbot—too many big walleye annihilated the baits before they could trigger the beady-eyed burbot.
After the bare necessities of rod, reel, line and tackle, a sonar unit is your single-most important piece of ice-fishing equipment. I’ve been almost two hours down the road, on an early morning crappie adventure, when I’ve turned around and driven all the way back home to get the Humminbird Ice 55 unit that I left orphaned on the back porch steps. That’s the value I place on a good unit. But “good” can mean different things to different people, leading to a preference for one type of sonar unit over another—namely, flashers versus LCD graphs.
An ice-fishing flasher, which provides real-time feedback, is the traditional choice for hard-water fishing. However, some ice anglers have difficulty interpreting what they see on a flasher’s multicolored circular screen, preferring the more intuitive view of an LCD graphing unit. But when teasing a fish into biting, these anglers are at a disadvantage.
“Conventional LCD graphs only display your sonar history, so there’s a slight delay in the transfer of information,” says Darrin Bohonis, a sonar specialist with Johnson Outdoors Canada. “Add in the inherent performance issues of older models, especially in extremely cold weather, and the delay becomes even more noticeable. Older liquid-crystal displays can even freeze up.”
That’s not the case, however, with many of today’s newer LCD units, which also have a real-time sonar, or RTS, window. Displaying an instantaneous readout, the RTS view is essentially a vertical—rather than circular—flasher mode, showing what’s happening directly below the transducer beam in real time (see image below). Bohonis says you can even set the RTS view next to the traditional scrolling graph view, which will continue to show how a fish may have reacted to your bait if you had happened to look away for a moment.
Some manufacturers offer kits and accessories to convert an open-water sonar/GPS chart plotter for ice-fishing purposes. While many anglers question the wisdom of removing these expensive units from their boats and subjecting them to harsh winter conditions, Bohonis says there’s no need to worry. These brilliantly colored LCD units, with their TFT (thin-film-transistor) screens, can be used in temperatures well below what most ice anglers can bear, he says. “This lets you get four seasons of fishing out of a unit that you’re already familiar with.”
Using a sonar/GPS chart plotter on the ice also lets you navigate as you would in open water, and mark waypoints on all your hot spots. It’s also a great safety feature if you’re caught in a whiteout. “Sometimes, getting back isn’t a simple matter of heading in a straight line, since you often have to navigate over ice ridges and varied ice conditions,” Bohonis says. “Many times on Lake Winnipeg, when the visibility has been next to zero, we’ve navigated safely off the ice using a sonar/GPS chart plotter.”
Selecting a spinnerbait with the right size, shape and color of blades is also key. Wide-cupped Colorado blades grab too much water, as do intermediate-width Indiana- and French-style blades, slowing down the speed at which you can wind in the lure. Instead, the spinnerbait must be equipped with thin willow leaf blades (below). They allow for a fast retrieve, and rotate in a much tighter arc to produce more flash.
When water conditions are clear and the sky is cloudless, VanDam favors a combination of silver- and gold-colored blades. When conditions are overcast, cloudy or raining, on the other hand, he opts for painted blades in hues matching the color of the baitfish. According to VanDam, painted blades provide the perfect silhouette. The skirts on his big-profile spinnerbaits, meanwhile, are generally blends of white, clear, chartreuse and blue that complement the color of his blades.
Finally, VanDam always tips his spinnerbait with a short, sharp, free-swinging 1/0 to 3/0 stinger hook, depending on the
size of the lure. This helps catch smallmouth that rocket up from the bottom and slap at the bait. On many days, he catches a quarter or more of his fish on the stinger.
With light-line finesse tactics and ultra-realistic lures all the rage these days, it’s remarkable that this four-time Bassmaster Classic winner still reaches for a spinnerbait. In fact, there’s rarely a time in the fall—especially when the water’s at least moderately clear—that VanDam won’t fling a spinnerbait for toad smallies. And this raises the question: Why would savvy smallmouth go crackers over a lure that, at first glance, looks like nothing in nature? Understand that, and you’ll soon be catching plenty of big smallmouth bass, too.
It wasn’t that long ago that a reel with a 5:1 or 6:1 gear ratio was considered fast, but it is hardly the case today with 7:1, 8:1 and even a few reels that are approaching double digit proportions.
So what is the best ratio for the occasion?
Before we get into the details, understand that the gear ratio is simply the number of times the spool on your baitcasting reel or the bail on your spinning reel revolves when you turn the handle one time.
So, a reel with a 5:1 ratio means the spool will revolve five times when you turn the handle once. And, obviously, the more times the spool revolves with each turn of the handle the more line you retrieve.
So, a fast retrieve reel is the way to go – right?
Well, not necessarily.
You see, there are many times that you want a slower ratio (5:1) reel, like when you’re casting crankbaits and swimbaits that you want to bump along the bottom and keep in front of the fish for as long as possible.
By the same token, many folks fail to appreciate that fast retrieve ratio reels often excel in situations where you are making slow presentations – like flipping and pitching a jig into matted weed openings or walking-the-dog with a Spook-type topwater and letting it deadstick on the surface.
It is counterintuitive until you realize that with a fast retrieve ratio reel you can retrieve slack line swiftly, set the hook hard and then tame the fish quickly – as well as reel in fast to make another cast – so the speed of the reel has less to do with the actual presentation than it does with managing your line and controlling the fish.
Should mention, too, that some top pros like legendary four time Bassmaster Classic Champion, Rick Clunn, favor using the same medium speed reels (6:1) for all of their presentations, preferring to adjust the speed by consciously turning to the handle faster or slower.
Fishing is full of ironies, paradoxes and incongruities.
A good example is catching walleyes in the summer time when the fish are feeding at their most intense and aggressive pace of the year, eating up to three-percent of their body weight daily. You’d think with the fish pigging out like this every day that they would be easy to catch—and truth be told, they are—but they still manage to drive many anglers crazy.
If you are not catching as many walleyes in the summer as you think you should be, it is most likely because you’re fishing in locations and around structures where there are no fish. So move—but not just anywhere or randomly.
Instead, remember that like all freshwater fish, walleye are cold blooded animals, so the only way they can regulate their body temperatures and stay comfortable is to inhabit the zone of water that is most conducive to their well liking. And the zone in which they feel most contented, at ease and well-off has the register set for between 64 F and 67 F.
Depending on your geographic location, the size of the lake, its average depth and water clarity you may find this optimal temperature zone as shallow as 15 to 20 feet, or as deep as 30 to 40 feet. Regardless, when you find structure and cover in the favorable section of the lake and/or water column, it is usually lights out for walleye.
Of course, you’ll need to select the appropriate “tools” – or the key to open the door to allow you into the zone – which is the subject of this week’s short Fish Talk With The Doc video segment that I recorded for the Fish ‘N Canada TV show.
I’d be a very rich man If I had a dollar for every person who believes that the reason they don’t enjoy the same results as some of the more successful anglers is because they don’t have access to secret lures, covert baits, hush-hush scents and cloak-and-dagger waypoints.
The reason this view is so out of whack is because the key to success most days is not in the big picture or the grand scheme of things, but rather in the subtle, often cunning and clever refinements.
The little things really do add up most days to making a huge difference in your fishing success. And if you enjoy ice fishing as much as I do for walleye, black crappies, yellow perch and bull bluegills, I have a brilliant refinement for you.
Truthfully, it is a game changer.
In fact, here is what I want you to do this winter to prove it to yourself. Use one of the new single action fishing reels like the Rapala R-Type Ice Centerpin and prepare to be amazed for one very simple reason. Because of the natural way that your line comes off the spool, and goes back on – like a fly reel – and because there is no drag system to twist your line, it never coils and develops a memory.
As a result, when you drop your lure or bait down the hole, it remains dead still and doesn’t spin like it does when you use a spinning reel. And if there is one thing that walleyes, perch, crappies and bluegills detest with a passion, it is a lure or bait that twirls around in circles, as they stare at it and size it up.
It is the subject of this week’s video blog that I shot the other day while ice fishing on Northwestern Ontario’s majestic Lake of the Woods. How good was the fishing? In two days, the yellow perch action was non-stop with only two or three fish measuring as small as 12-inches. The vast majority averaged over 13-inches in length, with so many 13.75 to 14.25 inch jumbos approaching two-pounds that it was spellbinding!
Click on the following video and see for yourself.
How the HydroWave Mini Rings the Dinner Bell for Hungry Lunkers
I am convinced that sound and vibration are the next big frontiers in fishing. It is a subject that has intrigued me for many years now, and the more I delve into it, the more certain I am that we’re on the cusp of a revolutionary new understanding about the role these two factors play in our fishing success.
As a matter of fact, I can picture a not-too-distant future when anglers will concern themselves as much or more about sound and vibration as they do about the size, shape, profile and color of their lures.
This is because the factors that attract fish to our lures and then trigger them to strike are different than what anglers imagine. The popular perception is that a fish sees our lure swimming through the water and is attracted by its appearance. That’s why anglers spend so much time fretting over the color of their lures, and attempting to “match the hatch” with lures that resemble the baitfish that big predator fish are eating.
This is a good strategy—at least as a starting point. But there is so much more that many anglers miss. Once attracted to our bait, a big walleye, bass, lake trout, salmon, muskie or pike will often follow and inspect it, sometimes for several minutes, waiting for clues that suggest that it’s alive and edible. But here’s the twist: significant study has shown that these fish are triggered to strike by the sound and vibration emitted by the lure, which is picked up by the sensory receptors in the fish.
This is precisely why lures like soft-plastic swimbaits are often swallowed so greedily by walleye and bass, and large double-bladed bucktails attract and trigger so many gargantuan muskies and enormous northern pike. The sounds and vibrations these lures emit are so accurate, natural and real that following fish are obliged to strike.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
Imagine if we could produce a natural, life-like sound system that would pull fish towards our boats and our ice fishing holes, and then trigger them to bite. Well, stop imagining—it’s here.
Click on this link to read the rest of this incredible story:
Are they biting light? Turn ’em on with these teasing tactics
When a big fish shows up on your sonar screen, there’s a natural tendency to drop your lure in front of its face. But trying to make it easy for a fish to bite rarely works. So how do you get the fish to bite? By making it harder for them! If you understand the species you’re targeting, you can trigger their predatory urges by tempting, teasing and goading them into attacking your bait.
Since walleye are the largest North American member of the perch family, you’d think you could fire up a school by using the same teasing tactics that work on yellow perch (coming soon!), but that’s rarely the case. Maybe it’s because perch are more gregarious and huddle together in greater numbers, so their competitive instincts are that more intense. Or it could be that yellow perch just aren’t the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. I suspect it’s a blend of the two.
That said, I will use the same larger lures for walleye that I use for aggressive perch: W3 Jigging Raps and W30 Warblers (but tipped with minnow heads) and ¼-ounce Freedom Minnows. I’ll also use a fluorescent orange or chartreuse/orange ¼-ounce ReelBait Flasher Jig tipped with a lively minnow, and a lipless crankbait such as the Kamooki Smartfish (below), LiveTarget Shad or Rapala Rippin’ Rap.
When I can’t see any walleye on the sonar screen, I’ll drop one of these baits to within a foot or two of the bottom and pause for 10 seconds. Then I’ll pop it up briskly and pause for another 10 seconds before letting it fall back down to repeat the process.
The thing you always have to remember when ice fishing for walleye is that your presentation consists of two very distinct phases: attraction and triggering. You jig your lure to attract the fish, then trigger them into biting by teasing them.
The problem is, you can never count on walleye to do anything consistently. Sometimes when you’re lifting and shaking your lure as if you’ve had too much coffee, one fish will rush in and smack it without hesitation. But then two minutes later, you’ll have to tease the next fish forever to entice a bite. Consider that there may be a solution! Click below to check it out.
Hi folks – I have a favor to ask and that is to please click on and watch the following video clip. It is about a unique new way to combat barotrauma (uncontrolled decompression of internal gas) in fish like walleye, bass, perch, crappies, pike and muskies that have a closed swim bladder, using a product I discovered at the ICAST Show.
I think is the best conservation fishing tool I’ve ever come across. And full disclosure: I am not sponsored by the company (called EcoLeeser) nor have they paid me a penny to endorse their product. Matter of fact, they don’t even know to endorse their product. Matter of fact, they don’t even know I’ve reviewed it here. I have been testing the RokLees for more than a year now in open water as well as through the ice, and it is brilliant.
As many anglers know, every 28 feet you go down in the water column represents one atmosphere of pressure. So, when you hook a fish in deep water and bring it up, its eyes bulge and its swim bladder expands because of the reduction in pressure. In the extreme, its blood vessels can even burst and the fish can haemorrhage.
In divers, the problem is known as “the bends” or “rapture of the deep”. And, the way it is counteracted is by a long, slow and steady ascent to the surface often taking half-an-hour or more, so that your body can adjust to the changes in pressure and expel the life threatening gases.
But, that is not feasible with fish. Imagine, taking 45-minutes to land a walleye, bass or muskie that you hooked in deep water. Anglers have looked for other solutions including fizzing, or sticking a hypodermic needle into the swim bladder to expel the build up of air. Even worse, some have resorted to deflating the stomach sticking out of the fish’s mouth mistakenly thinking it is the air bladder.
I won’t go into all of the cons of fizzing, but know there are very few, if any, natural resource agencies that support the procedure.
Anglers, too, often mistakenly believe that if they reel a fish up slowly to the surface, they can reduce the risks of barotrauma; whereas in fact, a slow retrieve exacerbates the situation and gives the air bladder more time to expand even further.
Indeed, for over 30 years, prior to retirement I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and when I was the District Manager in Kenora, our conservation officers would routinely scoop up dead and floating walleyes following major tournaments with clear evidence (intestines and organs hanging out of the punctures) that the fish did not survive.
Ditto in the winter, when our fisheries’ technicians would put underwater cameras under the ice in popular crappie ice fishing locations and spot dead crappies floating just under the surface of the ice for as far as they could see. The crappies had “drowned” because they had expended so much energy fighting the effects of a distended swim bladder after they were released that they subsequently popped up to the surface like a cork and died.
The RokLees, on the other hand, was developed to safely return these fish to the bottom, or the depths where they were caught. In fact, it was specifically designed for rockfish along the Pacific west coast, where anglers routinely hook the fish in several hundred feet of water. If it works at these depths for rockfish, imagine how well it will perform on walleye, bass and other fresh water fish caught in much shallower water.
Indeed, I recently loaned my RokLees to the fisheries’ consultant working with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on the Winnipeg and English River systems in Northwestern Ontario. They are live netting and tagging lake sturgeon as part of a population study, but inadvertently, they are also catching extremely large walleyes. Fish in the 10-, 12- and 13-pound category.
They were so impressed with the success of the RokLees for successfully releasing the large walleyes that they immediately ordered several of the inexpensive tools for the technicians.
If you watch the following video clip you’ll see how it works.
A good percentage of ice anglers, I suspect, never fully realize the potential of their sonar units -especially flashers – because they turn them on and then fail to adjust them properly.
Fine tuning is absolutely essential if you want to know the size of the fish you are seeing on the screen. Honest truth, I’ve had folks out on the ice with me and they have spent an interminable amount of time trying to catch the “big fish” they were convinced they could see, because the signal it was returning was so big, bright, bold and red. But when they finally landed it, the fish was tiny.
So, how do you fine tune your sonar unit so that it will tell you everything you need to know about the size of the fish you can see on the screen? Well, click on the following video, look over my shoulder and I’ll show you how to do it.
A confession and story by World Class Outdoorsman, Gord Pyzer, and a How-To video tutorial from Olympic Winning Chef, Cameron Tait.
I have to confess, for years I’ve been fanatical about the sharpness of the knives I use to fillet fish and field dress moose and deer. But, as particular as I am, I’ve always known that somehow, some way, I could get them even sharper.
Thanks to fishing friend, Cameron Tait, I now know the secret.
Cameron is a two-time gold-medal winning chef who represented Canada at the Culinary Olympics. These days he teaches at the Paterson Global Foods Institute at Red River College in Winnipeg, and if you’ve ever had a chance to taste his wizardry, you know what I mean when I say that it gives new meaning to the term finger lickin’ good.
Even if you haven’t sampled one of Cameron’s mouth-watering masterpieces, however, you’re in for a treat. Starting with the 2016 Ice Fishing Special issue (out in mid-December) he is going to be contributing fish and wild game recipes to Outdoor Canada magazine that are easy to prepare in the field (or at home), and featuring the freshest basic ingredients. How good are they?
Well, last winter buddy Bob Izumi joined up with me for a late winter lake trout ice fishing expedition and as a surprise, I invited Cameron to join us and cook a special shore lunch out on the ice.
Needless to say, Bob was so impressed, he featured almost none of the actual fishing, devoting almost the entire show segment to Cameron (Real Fishing Television) and his lip-smacking tour de force out on the ice. Which brings us back to the subject of sharp knives.
I recently handed Cameron the well-worn Rapala knife that I’ve used to filet more walleye, trout, salmon, pike and perch than Captain Highliner, and the Buck knife I have used for over 40 years to field-dress moose and deer, and asked him to give me a grade. He rubbed his finger over the edge, scrunched up his nose and said: B-minus.
B-minus?! Are you kidding me? I thought the edges were worthy of at least an A-plus. Well, after he finished sharpening them with a trio of Japanese water stones they were that sharp. In fact, they were so razor keen that he effortlessly removed the hair from his arm with the blades.
But enough talk.
Sharpening your knife like a world-renowned chef is a tip too good not to share, so I filmed the entire process, which you can watch at the link below. With a little bit of practice, you’ll soon be putting a razor-sharp edge on all of your hunting and fishing knives—just like the pros. VIEW VIDEO HERE.
People are often shocked when I take them fishing or present a seminar at a sport show and tell them that many days when I am successful, I won’t feel a single fish bite.
They always respond the same way, by asking, “If you don’t feel them bite, how do you know you have them on?”
The answer is that I’ve become a line watcher.
In other words, I keep my eyes glued on the short section of line between my rod tip and where it enters the water. And if I see it tighten up, even slightly, I know that a fish has taken my bait.
Just as often, however, I’ll often see the line go limp, signalling a bite as well. Crappies, in particular, are notorious for spotting your bait, rising up ever so slowly, sucking it in and swimming up even higher. When they do it, you’ll see your line go slightly slack, signalling a bite.
But enough words. Click on the following short video and watch as I explain how you can double, triple, maybe even quadruple the number of fish you catch this winter, simply by watching your line.