By Vic Attardo
Things are changing in ice fishing – again.
As I tell folks, up until three years ago, I only used short jigging sticks, measuring about 24 inches, for catching winter panfish. But in the ever-changing world of ice fishing, I’ve gotten away from short ice rods in many situations.
For me the transformation began when some friends returned from Wisconsin with a specialized rod/reel combination measuring 54-inches. On this unique combo the line passes through a spring bobber at the tip and actually goes down through the rod blank to a spool that masquerades as a reel – only a horizontal spool with a handle that really doesn’t gather up line.
When I feel a strike on this extremely sensitive outfit I tighten my grip on the spool so that it doesn’t inadvertently spin, at the same time reaching out for the line off the rod tip to bring it up hand over hand.
These unusual rods are apparently all the rage in the Midwest, where the Frozen Chozen fishes water less than three feet deep to catch bluegills. I’ve found that, with practice, the contraptions work very well at 6 to 8 feet, but I had to practice a lot from my second floor staircase to get it right.
A number of ice rod companies are making longer rods that also fit into this mold. Last year I purchased an Elliot 44-inch extreme ultra-light rod and teamed it with a small spinning reel. The flex in this rod was amazing and the added length snapped the hook point into the panfish’s mouth like nothing I had ever used.
Step away from the hole
Not only did the long rod provide a swift hook-setting fulcrum but I believe it gave me the advantage of not having to stand so close to the ice hole. I’ve long been a proponent of such wisdom as not casting your shadow over the divot – if you can help it – thus alerting fish down below. Now with a 40-inch plus rod I can stand way back and not flash across the screen, so to speak. Whether this matters in water more than a few feet deep I can’t say for sure but there was some positive anecdotal information I gathered last season.
In the past, using Sonar, I’ve seen fish bolt from directly under the hole when I made my appearance carelessly known. But with the long rod I didn’t have to stand tight to the hole even when I raised a hooked fish. As a result I seemed to do better with fish that didn’t flee at “my shadow” and with repeat bites.
I didn’t think anything was wrong with my jigging techniques but the long, sensitive rod made me more aware of what I was doing, paying off in confidence and strikes.
And I didn’t “break my back” having to bend low with a Tom Thumb rod.
In addition to longer rods an innovation I worked with last year was in the jig. ACME offered a jig with a slotted head which allows the hook to flex down and up through the horizontal position. It “wiggles” when jigging and when I struck a gill the movable hook went down then up into the gill’s jaw, often the upper half. The slotted jig called the Sling Blade helped improved my hook sets, resulting in more fish.
But innovative equipment isn’t worth a dang if you’re technique is lacking. And the most important in winter panfish is having a good jigging technique and the ability to adjust your jigging tactics.
Here’s what it boils down to: first get the fish’s attention, then, make it easy for them.
When I show a new ice angler how to work a tiny jig and wispy rod, that’s the phrase I use to convey the effective temperament of the lure. It seems to fit pretty well through most moods of winter panfish.
I also believe in “jackhammering” the jig on the bottom to send up clouds of muck that attracts curious panfish. I then dance the bait 1 to 4 feet off the bottom, raising and slow lowering the rod.
It’s good to yo-yo the lure in this depth range for half a minute or so, then lower the rod tip so the bait is only a foot off the bottom. After that, I quiver the rod tip which slows the vertical action but keeps it animated.
Always working with a flasher or an underwater camera, I follow the solid lines on the flasher scale or the actual image on the video screen. Using these aides is the best way to understand how your lure is performing under the solid sheet. If we’re lucky a fat bluegill or pumpkinseed comes out of the murky water and heads towards the vibrating jig.
When a visitor appears at the edge of the Sonar cone I continue to quivering the rod tip. As sonar marks gets closer to the jig I slowly raise the rod watching as the bluegill follows it upwards. It takes a stubborn bluegill not to fall for this trick but if it doesn’t and starts sliding back down the bottom, I don’t follow the gill with the lure because what prey turns around and attacks its tormentor? It’s really unnatural if your lure turns around to chase the thing that was just chasing it.
If the stubborn bluegill we hoped would take your jig swims off, I suggest keep quivering the bait at its last position because often a fish we didn’t see comes up from underneath or just outside the sonar cone and takes it instantly
If the pleasant surprise doesn’t occur then it’s time to rinse and repeat. I suggest sending the jig back to the bottom, raise a little cloud of muck, then lift the bait off the bottom, jiggle and slowly raise it if another bluegill appears. Do this with tungsten jigs, jigging raps, flat, thin teardrop spoon and solid spoons.