SECRETS of ICE FISHING: Fool Perch with Living Deadstick

Mark Martin, the original Professional Walleye Trail champion, hosts a unique ice-fishing “school” that teaches techniques for finding and catching fish right out on the ice. Mark Martin’s Ice Fishing Vacation Schools are peopled with fish-head instructors that spend every possible winter moment dropping their lures through holes in the ice.
Ice Fishing Perch
“My pro staff is avid about perch, Martin says.  Over the past five years, they discovered that using a Ice Perch PIX 3of3deadstick and just tapping it once in a while at least doubles your catch. Where three rods are legal, they use one jigging rod and two deadsticks, each sporting jigs tipped with wax worms or just a piece of plastic. I don’t know why, but if you just tap that deadstick once in a while, it will catch far more perch than the jigging sticks. These include piles of porky perch!  Hard to believe? Martin never wanted to believe it, either. “You know me,” he laughed. “I hate it. I’d much rather be jigging with the rod in my hand, but when my staff is catching three perch to my one every single day we are on the ice and that goes on for five years, I realized I had to accept it and change or just keep getting dusted.

Most manufacturers of ice rods build deadsticks. They are easy to distinguish, deadsticks have wimpy, floppy, brightly-colored tips (usually orange) and usually 8-inches to a tad over 24-inches in length. Easy to see against a backdrop of snow and ice, these fishing tools are specifically designed for the tip to bend without the fish feeling any pressure, giving you time to grab it and set the hook. The mid-section of the rod is stout, to drive hooks home with authority, but the tip flops about for quick, easy strike indication. Examples include the Clam Jason Mitchell Signature Meat Stick JMS28MS, the Wright & McGill Tony Roach Signature WMTR128PPF, the Thorne Brothers 28″ Deadstick, and the Frabill Bro Series 28″ Deadstick.

The best fishing program is a single-hook spoon with bait,” Martin said. The JB Lures Gem-N-Eye and Custom Jigs & Spins Demon are both good examples offered in a wide variety of sizes to match baits and conditions. “Lightly hook a minnow under the skin along the spine and that spoon has to turn every time the minnow moves,” Martin added. “Waxworms might work better when perch are feeding on invertebrates near bottom or when perch are really inactive, but if you have bait on the jig and just tap that deadstick every few minutes, they will come.  It’s weird.

Ice Perch PIX 1of3Martin adds, Any under-ice current makes it wobble when you leave it alone and when it wobbles it moves the bait. My staff either uses a split shot and Aberdeen hook, a vertical jig like the Custom Jigs & Spins Rat Finkee or a spoon with a single hook. I sometimes use a swinging-treble spoon like the VMC Tingler, but another favorite is a size #3 Jigging Rapala with no bait. It catches perch better under a deadstick than when jigged. Put a single, light-wire, #8 Aberdeen hook on a small Jigging Rapala and it moves more, it catches more current. Last year on the deadstick rod using a #3 Rapala with no bait, I caught quite a few walleyes and countless perch.”

It may seem like a “do-nothing” technique (only because it is), but one of the keys to successful dead-sticking is picking the rod up without alerting the fish. Martin likes to simply lay the rod over the top of a bucket, keeping it within reach or use a special balance-beam style rod holder. I like the coated-wire Rod Rocker made by Today’s Tackle,” Martin said. “It clips onto the bucket and the rod simply balances on top so you can pull the rod out without popping the tip up and signaling the fish, which would give them time to spit the hook.”

Martin wants to be jigging somewhere near the deadstick. Not just to be within reach, but to attract perch that usually end up hitting the bait under the deadstick.  “Giving perch a decision, between the jigging and the deadstick, that’s the idea,” Martin said. “Sometimes we find the active lure is too much for perch to process in cold water. We can’t hold it still enough for long enough on most winter days.”

Surprising to many students at Ice School is the height off bottom Martin and crew suspend baits.  “If we mark bait 15 feet off bottom, that’s where we set those deadstick baits,” Martin said. “The water is clear in most of the waters we fish, so we always want it well off bottom. About 4 to 5 feet up is normal. If perch are on bottom, they’ll rise for it. Even when they’re on bottom, rooting around for insects, they’ll come up 4 feet or more for these deadstick presentations.”Yet, for Martin and his merry ice-fishing men, deadsticks beat jigging every day, every place they go, and with a record for the past four or five years. These guys get around too, taking the Ice Fishing School to lakes and Great Lakes throughout the North.

“Most of my staffers don’t even jig for perch anymore,” Martin said. “We figured out a new way to jig, and it’s not to jig at all.”