The hole story: Ice fishing’s top baits, from mousies to mealworms
A short while ago a friend called and said there was plenty of safe ice and asked if I’d like to go with him to a farm pond he knew to catch some perch and crappie. He said he was on his way to the local bait store to get some mousies and mealworms. Crappie are often suckers (no pun intended) for a small fathead minnow suspended just above them, but perch and bluegills are mostly tempted by mousie grubs, spikes or mealworms. I’ve seen and used these popular baits since I was a kid but began to wonder just where they came from and what insect species they represented.
As it turns out the so-called mousie grubs are the larva of the drone fly that lives in drainage ditches, pools around manure piles, sewage, and similar places containing water badly polluted with organic matter. The larva likely feed on the abundant bacteria found in these places. The mousie’s tail is actually a breathing tube that allows the larva to breathe while submerged in the fecal soup. The adult fly resembles a honeybee and is considered harmless. In nature, drone flies are common visitors to flowers, especially in late summer and autumn, and can be significant pollinators.
Most of us whose job it is to take out the garbage have seen maggots at one time or another. It’s disgusting to discover live maggots crawling and wiggling around in the trash, and once discovered we take quick steps to eliminate them. These maggots are those of the common housefly and are similar to the ones called spikes that are familiar to ice fishermen. Spikes are the larva of blowflies, which are also known as blue bottle, green bottle or cluster flies. Spikes are about a half inch long and are white with two tiny black eyes. After about a week of eating, spikes will turn into a brown cocoon, but fishermen slow down this change by keeping them in the refrigerator. Because of their tiny size, spikes are best for catching fish with smaller mouths, like perch and sunfish. Top off a small jig like a No. 2 Swedish Pimple with a spike or two and you’ve got a lethal panfish combo.
Probably the most common ice fishing bait is the waxworm, which is also sold as food for some birds and terrarium pets. In the wild they live as nest parasites in bee colonies and eat cocoons, pollen, and shed skins of bees. They also favor the beeswax and chew through it, thus the name. It’s no secret beekeepers consider waxworms to be unwanted pests. Waxworms have a soft body, are larger than spikes and mousies and are an all-around favorite because they catch everything from crappie to trout when dressed on a Swedish Pimple or Kastmaster. Pickerel and walleye are also fair game when several waxworms are hooked on a jigging Rapala.
One of my favorite ice fishing baits is the head of a fathead minnow impaled on the hooks of a small Kastmaster or Swedish Pimple. Most panfish or even trout will attack the bait headfirst, and this combination of sight and smell can be deadly on some days.
Regardless of the bait used, getting out on the ice for a few hours can be excellent therapy after deer season ends and there is no finer eating than the fillets of perch pulled through a hole in the ice.