By Turk Gierke
From my experience in ice fishing for panfish during the late portion of the season, the biggest obstacle is fish becoming conditioned to lures and ignoring baits. This conditioning applies even to a school of fish after one, two, or three are quickly caught.
I doubt we’ll ever know why exactly that fish do the things they do. But when you catch two nice perch on a gold spoon and a minnow head, and your electronics show several more fish directly beneath you yet they don’t bite, well, something is up.
I’ve come to recognize this as lure conditioning, and it becomes more and more pronounced as the season progresses, perhaps because of prolonged angling pressure.
So what do you do when fish hit hard then suddenly hit the brakes? You change your presentation – or you can just wait a spell. It’s as if fish have such poor short-term memory that when you reel up, take away the gold spoon and minnow head for five minutes, then drop it down again, they bite as if they’ve never seen it before.
It is not that once they quit hitting, it’s over. Just get the bait out of sight of the panfish. Make ’em impatient.
Out of sight, out of mind?
This intentional take-away game appears to keep the hole hot longer. Also, I find this tactic pulls fish in from around the immediate area. It also means you need to be organized and efficient in getting lures down to fish fast.
Sometimes it’s great fun to try all the toys in your tackle box and see what the fish like best. I find that a cycle of three rods works best. To be clear, I’m fishing two rods for two holes.
My rotation includes a tungsten jig with a long plastic tail, with or without a maggot; a tiny spoon with a flapper blade; and a bobber setup.
I’ll sometimes add a fourth rod to the rotation, with a different tungsten jig and a different plastic tail.
My aim is to fish on a good spot and continue to draw fish in as I stay warm and cozy in my shack. To start, I punch holes and move my portable fish house until I find a particular hole with good fish activity. Once found, I “call” fish in and not allow them to hit for a minute. To do this, I simply take the jig away and reel up as the marks rise on my electronics.
When I fish the three-rod rotation, I show the fish the minnow on the bobber last.
A large part of the three-rig technique involves spring bobbers on the jig and spoon rods, because when I set them down in a rod holder, I can watch the spring.
Tweak presentations of lure and color, of course, but this takes time, and I find it of utmost importance to keep fish under you and interested. Therefore, at least one bait needs to always be in front of fish.
The quickest and easiest changes are altering plastic tail styles and colors. And for me, there are two types of plastics for ice fishing: a straight, thin tail or some creature shape. It seems the longest I can work a bait is 10 minutes before changing up.
I’ll often drop a minnow in front of the fish and catch one, two, or three in minutes. Then, I take away the minnow and don’t let the fish see it for a while.
In the late season when panfish have seen lots of lures, they might appear to get wise and finicky fast. So go ahead and work their poor short-term memory against them and get out of sight, out of mind, then get back after ’em.
Gierke can be reached through www.croixsippi.com