While there are a multitude of different ways to catch panfish on early ice, few methods can compare to using mini hardbaits. The Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a great example of a mini hardbait that can lead to fast and furious action with explosive strikes from some of the largest panfish in a given body of water. Large crappies, perch, and bluegills strike the Mini with the veracity of apex predators.
At 1 5/8” and 3/16 oz., the Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a perfect size hardwater panfish lure as it is a little bit bigger than the average crappie minnow, but a little bit smaller than the average fathead minnow. This in-between size makes the Mini an ideal lure choice for enticing some of the bigger fish which may be hesitant to bite out of a respective school.
The numerous color schemes that the Rattl’N Vibe Mini comes in makes it an exceptional choice on any body of water as the variety virtually covers any situation that may be encountered. For example, the metallic patterns (Blue Chrome, Gold Black, and Black Silver) work perfectly for tannic-stained water due to the amount of light and flash that they reflect when jigged. Green Perch, Hot Perch, and Matte Crawfish Minis are all solid choices for clear bodies of water with high visibility due to the naturalistic appearance they have to prey panfish feed upon. Lastly, the Luminescent, Luminescent Perch, and UV Tiger patterns are all great selections during low light periods at the beginning and end of the day due to their glow and UV presence.
The new Yo-Zuri ice lines are strong beyond their pound test listed, they are abrasion resistant when fish go on runs and rub the line on the bottom of the ice, and they have a very thin diameter which is paramount for increased sensitivity to feeling the bite. As a general rule of thumb the new Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon or Hybrid Ice lines in 3lb or 4lb test are good bets when using the Mini for panfish at early ice. The 3lb or 4lb test of either line allows for the Rattl’N Vibe Mini to be fished effectively with varied cadences to prompt the rattles within to click, but they also are strong enough lines to hold bass or northern pike when hooked as these predators are often found in the same vicinity as large panfish.
If an early ice fishing trip is on the docket, then stocking up on a variety of Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Minis and new ice lines is highly recommended to improve your odds of landing some great bull bluegills, slab crappies, and jumbo perch.
Good luck, tight lines, and stay safe!
Lure: Rattl’N Vibe
Line: Yo-Zuri 20 lb test SuperBraid
Colors: Glow, Glow Perch, Wonderbread
Location: Lilypads or grass in 4′ of water or less adjacent to a sharp drop into 10′ of water or more.
Scenario:Crappie metabolism is at its peak in mid-summer and the fish feed on bigger prey. Using a 2 1/8″, 5/8 oz. Rattl’N Vibe in the new Glow, Glow Perch, and Wonderbread patterns from 30 minutes before sunset to 15 minutes after sunset close to the edge of lilypads and/or grass can be dynamite for big slabs. Letting the lure fall to halfway down in the water column and varying the cadence with up to 4 reel crank turns followed by a pause can elicit some dynamite strikes.
Early and Late Ice Season Walleyes
Lure: Rattl’N Vibe Mini
Line: Yor-Zuri 4 lb test Ice Hybrid or TopKnot fluorocarbon
Colors: Glow, Glow Perch, Wonderbread
Location: Sand/Rock Flats in 10′ of water or less
Scenario: Early and late season ice walleyes are voracious predators as they begin to pack on weight for the upcoming winter and then for the spawn respectively. The Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a great lure choice because it can be worked aggressively for active fish, but at 1 5/8″ and 3/16 oz., it is small enough that it can be effective for more finicky eaters as well. Using it with or without live bait works great for early and late season ice walleyes.
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.
This week marks the start of the 2019 Walleye season up north and we checked in with Yo-Zuri Prostaff angler Marc Tremblay in how he attacks early season.
Primary Technique: Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Walleye DD
Marc always starts with when early season walleye fishing is trolling a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Walleye Deep Diver in a shallow area (rock structure-weed line-edge of pool)
“I try to put the bait very close to the bottom. The fish are often relating to a rocky bottom because the the most heat will be held here. Typically if I am not hitting the bottom then I am not in good position to get bit”, says Marc.
The trolling speed in cold water is around 0.8 and 1.2mph, this allows the Crystal Minnow Walleye DD to have great action while not being too fast. The walleye are cold and lazy after the ice melt and may not seem as aggressive as they will be in a month.
Marc prefers a seven foot trolling rod medium heavy extra fast action. This rod also the bait to work the best action and is not too stiff whenever a walleye bites.
“I use Yo-Zuri SuperBraid 20 pound. I prefer the smaller diameter to help the lure to go to the bottom faster and less restriction. I also tie on a 6 foot Yo-Zuri TopKnot Mainline fluorocarbon leader. My method to the madness is simple: Dark color in cloudy water (Zombie, Midnight) and light color for a sunny day.”
Secondary Technique: Jigging a Rattl’N Vibe
Marc mostly uses conventional jig equipment with a Yo-Zuri Vibe, preferably the 1/2oz size.
“I prefer this technique when fishing around a lot of current. The tight wobble and loud sound of the Vibe seems to really make a difference. I use a 6 foot heavy jigging rod with 10 pound SuperBraid mainline and 8 pound HD Carbon leader.”
Marc says for the best action to use the bait without a clip and try to fish in areas where there is a discrepancy in the current. Finding a small calm current break can be the most successful. The walleye this time of year again are lazy and would rather find areas in current where the bait will naturally appear in their face without having to chase it down. This also means not being afraid to make multiple casts.
With old man winter quickly approaching and the temperatures are dropping, the last chance to fish open water is coming to a close. There are still good quality walleye to be caught and the last chance to stock your freezer before having to drag out the snow mobile and ice drill. With water temperatures hitting the mid-forties, it’s just a matter of time before the first sheet of ice hits the water.
When it comes to catching walleye, I have two favorite Yo-Zuri baits. The first choice is the Duel Hardcore Shad. This bait excels in spring, summer, and fall – especially deadly around this time of year near weed edges in 4-6 foot. The Hardcore Shad has a tight wobble upon retrieve, and the suspending capability makes this a great choice for triggering feeding walleye with a twitch-and-pause retrieve. Lastly the magnetic weight transfer system allows effortless long casting necessary in more clear bodies of water such as the St. Lawrence River.
My second choice is the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe. These lipless crankbaits excels in all seasons for covering various depths. These baits shimmy and rattle vertically on the drop and are equally as effective employing a straight retrieve, or the secret weapon, a yo-yo retrieve. When you contact bottom or a weed bed, a firm snap makes the bait dart and really triggers walleye to crush it. The Vibe works equally well ice fishing for winter ‘eye. So even when the dreadful ice happens, make sure you keep your 3/8oz sizes handy.
For fishing both these lures I prefer to use a 2500 series spinning reel loaded with 20lb Yo-Zuri Superbraid Blue with a four foot leader of 12lb Natural Clear Yo-Zuri TopKnot leader The blue colored braid for helping to detect bites. I rely on a 7ft medium action rod with a fast tip for making long accurate casts, and for keeping fish pinned after the hookset.
Up around the north where I am from it is hard to find a tackle shop that isn’t fully stocked of Yo-Zuri products. Be sure to pick up a few extra of these baits because sometimes the walleye will surprise you in how strong they are. Another rule of thumb is to always rely on your shine/ chrome colors on sunny days and more natural colors on darker days. I always try to hit the water when the weather seems the worth, although fishing in the snow and wind affects the angler, it can produce some of the best days to catch a good stringer of fish.
Lastly, don’t forget the hushpuppies and fries!!!