Tiny Often Takes It

While big lures catch big fish, the fact of the matter is the majority of what fish eat is miniscule.

By: Mark Martin

While big lures catch big fish, the fact of the matter is the majority of what a fish eats, no matter its size and species, is tiny aquatic insects and crustaceans. Even full-size fish like walleye, lake trout, bass and pike, you ask? Oh yea… And this is why fishing with tiny jigs tipped with a tidbit of live bait or scented imitation often works so well.

Even more so when the bite is slow.

However, there’s a lot that goes in to catching fish with tiny offerings than meets the rod tip. Without the right equipment, a fish landed can turn to broken line and a fish lost in an instant.

To boot, if the offering is not rigged right in the first place, fish will turn tail without as much as taking a look.

Imagine that

The trick to catching fish on minuscule baits is to make your offering not only look like the real thing, but wiggle and waggle like it, as well.

Ponder the tiny mayfly larvae, also known as a “wiggler” when you look for them at the bait shop. Their nickname has to do with the never-ending action these little critters employ.

When wigglers are moving or burrowing into a silted lake bed, they have an action similar to that of one of those wobble-bodied hula dancers often seen on car dashboards, waggling wildly about their body’s midpoint. Unlike dashboard decor, however, even at rest on bottom or grasping onto foliage, their feather-like gills at the back half of their body continuously pulsates as they breathe.

In fact, all aquatic insects and crustaceans are constantly stirring, whether bloodworms, water daphnia, freshwater scud (shrimp) and all creatures in-between. And all are eaten by fish. And it’s this always- moving action an angler needs to emulate to a tee, as without it fish aren’t as likely to strike.

It’s all because fish can not only see the movement of these creatures, but they feel the motion via their lateral line – the nerve that basically runs from behind their eye down the side through their tail. And this big nerve is how fish zone in on forage in stained and muddy water, as well clear.

Going down?

The most trouble with getting tiny offerings down and in front of any fish’s face that I am marking on my Lowrance Hook-5 Ice Machine before they swim away is the lack of weight of the average miniature jig. And when tipped with live or fake bait, the added water resistance can make for an even slower decent.

But with modern-day jig and gear, it’s not as difficult to get lightweight baits to fall fast.

Take the latest alloy to hit the market – tungsten. It’s heavier than the jigs poured of lead, thus it falls faster through the water column.

Northland Fishing Tackle’s Hard-Rock Mooska Tungsten Jig, with its tapered body, comes in three diverse weights and eight different glitter/color combinations. And all sport huge lifelike painted eyeballs. When tied to the right line, these jigs fall like a rock before fish scatter from under foot.

What’s the right line, you ask? Either an ultra-light line of 1- to 2-pound test for panfish or 4-pound for larger species; however, you need to use line that’s manufactured to stay soft in cold conditions.

By far the best monofilament line I have found for ice fishing is Berkley’s Trilene Cold Weather—which has the same flexibility at 32-degrees Fahrenheit as other lines do at 70 degrees. Berkley’s FireLine Micro Ice Fused Crystal with a fluorocarbon leader is another option. Both are formulated to withstand the brutality ice fishing can bring, and all have an extremely-thin diameter, crucial for making small offerings come alive with the lightest jiggle of the rod tip.

No matter the lure, all obtain their best action when tied to the lightest pound test you can get away with. For instance, a tiny jig tied to, say, 20-pound test would have very little lifelike movement, as well would not flow to and fro with the water currents below the ice, like live forage would. Those same jigs when tied to ultra-thin line will have the most action.

Nipped, not tipped

To add the most action to a tiny tear-drop jig, live bait or scented imitation should be nipped onto the hook, not threaded on.

This means when I add a wax worm, spike or wiggler fresh from my Frabill Universal Bait Can (yes, perfect for tiny bugs in cold weather, too) or when adding a single Gulp! Fish Fry, Maggot or 1-inch Gulp! Minnow Alive! to a petite jig, all should be just barely nipped through the tip of the body, not impaled. This allows a jointed action to your offering; the pivoting action imitating the minuscule forage fish feed on.

Smooth sailing

An ultra-light rod that bends efficiently without fearing line breaking under the strain of a large freshly-hooked fish, and a reel that has a smooth-as-silk drag for when a fish makes a run are both a must.

Now, I admit I like to crank the drag down on a reel so that no line come out unless I back-reel. However, if you are not used to back-reeling, a reel with a smooth drag will allow large fish to run when they want, which lessons the chance of losing them.

Overall, an ultra-light ice-fishing rod fixed with a reel that has a drag that flows smoothly—like the ABU Garcia ABU Garcia Orra S spinning reels I use, can handle most any fish that swims under the frozen surface of a lake.

Little is a lot

When jigging little lures, I find very a modest action is the best you can give your offering.

Because an aquatic insect’s movements can be measured in millimeters rather than inches, you should be presenting your offering the same way. Just vibrating the tip of your ice rod will add more than enough action to your jig.

And strikes are often very light, sometimes nearly undetectable when emulating this action. Time and again, a bite may only be telegraphed by nothing more than your rod tip stopping moving while you’re wiggling it. No matter what, set the hook anytime something looks or feels out of the ordinary.

Tip, jiggle, set

Looking to land a lot of fish this ice-fishing season, especially during those days the bite is slow? Just tie on a tiny jig, nip it with live or fake bait and send it down to the same depth you are marking fish on your sonar. Just give your lure a little jiggle to allow your offering the same action as the forage, and set the hook at the slightest sign of a hit.

You’ll be surprised at the size and species of fish you catch throughout the winter months.

Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament professional, as well an instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/School. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.