With so many lures available to anglers today, it can sometimes be a challenge to best determine what lures we should use when pursuing our favorite species through the ice. Lipless crankbaits, a renown fish-catching lure type throughout the open water season, work incredibly well throughout the hardwater months in the Ice Belt. Yo-Zuri offers several sizes and patterns of lipless crankbaits that ice anglers can count on when chasing everything from panfish to predators.
Early ice starts right after there is enough ice to walk on lakes and lasts until about the third or fourth week of January. It is the time of the ice season where big, noisy baits work really well for walleyes and northern pike alike. The Yo-Zuri 3DR-X Vibe is a 2 3/8” deep-bodied lipless crankbait that rattles as it is ripped through the water column. The patented scale pattern adds an extra dimension of realism to its presentation so that even less aggressive fish might be tempted to strike. Going with ten pound test Dark Green SuperBraid, ten pound test Hybrid, or ten pound test T7 Fluorocarbon is recommended to avoid bite-offs as fish often take the entire lure in their mouths when they hit.
Early Ice Scenario
One of the best situations in which a larger lipless crankbait like the 3DR-X Vibe works well on early ice is in 8-10’ water with a sand/rock bottom adjacent to deep water. Finding areas with sparse weed patches can be even better as they may attract and even hold fish in some cases. Dropping the 3DR-X to the bottom and pounding it several times followed by quick 1-2’ rips upward can be a great way to draw fish in from afar. Once fish approach, it may be necessary to dial back the rips to a more subtle jigging movement interspersed with a quick, short twitch. The twitch with the 3DR-X Vibe is intended to simulate a wounded minnow and will often provoke a strike.
Once the ice thickens to 20” or more the bite windows can become much narrower each day, oftentimes requiring that fishing efforts be refined to dawn and dusk to maximize fish-catching potential. With the increased snow and ice that comes with mid-winter, it is often necessary to refine lure sizes and the cadence at which they are worked to get more finicky fish to bite. A 2 1/8” lipless crankbait like the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe can be a great solution to mid-winter blues as it is a shorter and thinner profile lure that mimics minnows upon which the fish are feeding. Six pound test T7 Fluorocarbon or six pound test Hybrid lines offer the strength needed to land bigger fish while still allowing a more finesse-based presentation that is important to get finicky predators to bite.
A classic mid-winter scenario occurs on underwater humps. An area that comes up to 10’ of water but is surrounded by 20’+ of water is an area in which walleyes and northern pike cruise for unsuspecting prey during lowlight periods in mid-winter. Dropping the Rattl’N Vibe to bottom, letting it sit on the bottom of the structure for a few seconds, and then gently lifting it up to about 1’ off the bottom can be a great way to entice fish to bite. The subtler lift and fall presentation coupled with light jigging strokes when fish approach the Vibe uses the built-in rattle system to initiate clicks the fish can hear and then react with strikes. Luminescent patterns are especially productive this time of year because of their glow characteristic, making lures more easily seen when visibility is low.
Late ice is the time during the ice season when snow has begun to melt or has melted off the ice and back into the lake. This is a prime time to pursue large panfish using miniature lipless crankbaits. The Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a 1 5/8” miniature crank that big crappies cannot resist during late ice. If the lake being fished is commonly known for bass, northerns, or walleyes, then going with four pound Hybrid Ice is recommended. If the system being fished has predators, but they are not as pronounced, then the Mini works great with three pound Hybrid Ice line.
Late Ice Scenario
A classic late ice scenario for big crappies includes a combination of using the basin of the lake and shoreline structure. During midday using metallic, UV, or luminescent Rattl’N Vibe Minis over basin areas are solid considerations for initiating uphits. For example, if fish are located 15’ down in 25’ of water, then jigging a Black Silver Rattl’N Vibe Mini around 13-14’ just above the school is recommended. As the day progresses into the last hour of daylight, changing positions to old weedlines can be a fruitful approach. Even if the weeds are dead, they may be the only cover available, and big crappies will often congregate in and around them as the sun gets closer to setting. The same lure and patterns can be used in this area, but jigging rapidly in, around, and just outside of the weeds within 2-3’ of the bottom can be highly productive to lure big slabs out of hiding.
Whether you are in pursuit of predators or panfish, lipless crankbaits can be a highly effective lure style to use throughout the entirety of the ice season. Adding lipless cranks like the Yo-Zuri 3DR-X Vibe, Rattl’N Vibe, and Rattl’N Vibe Mini to your arsenal will increase your chance of catching some great fish on hardwater. Visit yo-zuri.com today to learn more about the different Vibes mentioned in this article.
Tight lines and have a safe ice season!
The first and foremost thing we need to talk about here is safety, and that is NEVER give the ice more credit than what it is due. Make sure to have crazy amounts of caution when fishing the ice, the last thing you want is to break through and risk hypothermia. That being stated, always remember the buddy system: ice fishing is not something I suggest anyone do alone. If you do go somewhere alone, make sure there are other people in the area and you tell people where you are going. It is always a good idea to wear flotation clothing just for ice anglers, or perhaps what I do and wear a life jacket. I know they are big and bulky, but its better safe than sorry. The suggested ice thickness that everyone I know abides by is 4” to walk on, 6” for an ATV or snowmobile, and 12” for vehicles. Always have a spud with you to check the ice thickness.
This is one of my favorite times of year to fish because the best eating fish can be caught. Those include the Panfish, Bluegills, Yellow Perch, Walleye, and Crappie. Yes, I know you will have to brave some crazy elements to make this happen; but it is well worth it when you can get on a good pile of them. This time of year; however, the fish have to eat to generate some sort of heat. So if you drill your hole around them and have a hardbait that is UV with rattles, it’s typically not hard to get them to bite.
What to target:
This is where experience on the lake you are ice fishing really comes into play and so does a good depth finder and mapping system. I typically want to target some piece of structure and weed lines, and fishing the warmer months in open water is really the only way to find this. You can certainly find some solid weed lines and edges in 6-12 feet of water that are holding fish. This is because the chunk rocks in these areas hold healthier vegetation and heat, which the fish will relate to. Structure though, is where I find the better walleye and crappie. So it pays off to know the best areas of structure of transitions off flats.
This is where it gets a little bit tricky to justify when the best times to go are, because it is always cold. As much as I hate to say it for the anglers that do not like the cold, the night time is the best time to get out there. The last few hours of daylight in the day into the dusk/night fall hours have always seemed to be the best for me. I believe this is because the moon and gravity force become less at night allowing the fish to move around a little easier in the cold conditions.
What to take with you:
Flasher/sounder/camera- a combo of a flasher and camera is pretty much all you need. I’ve found that an LCD display sonar is great for larger fish generally, as you have history on the screen which you lose when you use a flasher which provides real-time feedback on fish and lure location, but there is no history.
GPS – ideally you’ve done your homework ‘ground-truthing’ spots during open water with your boat – the GPS is also great for new spots, and finding your way to safety if you’re in whiteout condition.
Gas powered Drill with 24” bit- This is for drilling your hole to drop your flasher/ camera and fishing out of.
Biggest Mistakes by Beginners:
Panfish – line too thick, and lure size too big for the size of the presentation and the species target.
Larger predators – for walleyes – fishing the wrong times of the day or targeting them in water considered to be less than optimal in depth, there are always exceptions to the rule here if you have some history to go off of. Very common today for people to use a braid and fluorocarbon leader – often the fluorocarbon will be added to a swivel if you’re using a rotating presentation. Because of dropping strait down, this will create line twists. Braid can be problematic in very cold temps – if you’re in a hut, you’re in business. Larger fluorocarbon requires a larger size spool to manage the stiffness of the line.
Yo-Zuri Product to Take:
-Hybrid line in 4lb test, this is definitely a style of fishing that you want the smallest diameter line you can get away with.
-8lb TopKnot Leader, this is something I like to use when fishing for bigger walleyes. I also think it helps the bait sink faster when I see a fish on my camera or flasher.
-NEW Rattl’N Vibe Mini, this is a bait designed specifically for ice fishing anglers. I definitely love the UV colors since I fish so much at night, but also my favorites are Firetiger, Gold with Black Back, and Hot Perch
-3DS Vibe, this is a bait I catch a lot of bigger walleyes on and it seems to have a great falling action through the water column. Usually the fish eat this bait on the initial drop.