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Not catching fish? Here’s the worst excuse ever

By Tim Lesmeister

When I began writing about outdoor sports in the mid-1980s I interviewed many of the top anglers who were promoting the sport. One of those premier promoters, Gary Roach, actually invited me to fish with him, and I jumped at the opportunity.

According to Tim Lesmeister, the next time you’re out on the water, be it open or frozen, and you haven’t had a bite for some time, the old excuse that the fish just ain’t biting is no vindication for your lack of success.

We slid the boat off the dock on a mid-sized lake near his home in the Brainerd lakes region and motored to a point where he handed me a rod with a live-bait rig and a leech and we started fishing, telling stories, shooting photos… and not getting bites. Of course this rookie said that the fish must not be biting and Roach laughed, then laughed and laughed some more.

He explained that on any given body of water whether it be a lake, river, reservoir, farm pond, creek, during open water or on the ice there will be fish biting somewhere on something. One just needs to find those fish and give them what they want.

We moved to a couple other spots and eventually found some nice walleyes hungry for nightcrawlers, and we caught some big bass and perch too. It was a valuable lesson that I have experienced many times over the 35-plus years I’ve been fishing with the pros.

Veteran tournament angler Mark Courts described it as a mission to discover the most aggressive fish in the water and catch the biggest ones. He points out that he’s never fished a competitive event yet where someone didn’t figure out how to catch enough big fish to win.

Dave Genz is the Godfather of ice-fishing, and his style of mobile ice angling changed the entire world of fishing on hard water. He never waits for the bite. He actively pursues aggressive fish and discovers the exact locations where he can achieve the best results.

This doesn’t mean the fishing is always great somewhere on a particular water body. Weather conditions and other factors can create a less-than-ideal environment and foster a poor bite, but the aggressive angler willing to adapt to those conditions can still catch fish, although they will have to work for them.

Roach says versatile anglers perform best under those tougher conditions. They can fish shallow techniques, deep presentations, work weedlines and vegetation, troll lures, vertical jig, whatever it takes to trigger a bite when the fish aren’t actively feeding.

It’s tougher when fishing through an 8-inch hole on the ice to be versatile but Genz says in that instance it’s the subtle disparities in a presentation that make the difference in getting fish to bite or not. He might add a few extra maggots to the jig or quiver the lure as it drops. He experiments with his offering in terms of bait option, color choice, jigging technique, and he uses line on his rigs that allows him to maintain absolute contact with the lure.

So, the next time you’re out on the water, be it open or frozen, and you haven’t had a bite for some time the old excuse that the fish “just ain’t biting’ is no vindication for your lack of success. They’re biting somewhere. You just need to find them and give them what they want.



By Chip Leer

Yes, I feel your pain. It’s February, and the bite can get a bit slow. Add in the fact that snow is often deep, temps are cold, and you might need an auger extension just to find water, and it’s easy to choose a warm couch over a frozen 5-gallon bucket.

That said, I learned long ago that the fish are always biting — somewhere — and it simply takes dedication to find them, and creativity (at times) to make them strike. Here’s a tip to get you started in the right direction when it comes to the catching part: Whether you’re chasing crappies, perch, walleyes or pike, a properly presented swimming jig can help you ice more fish as the hardwater season progresses into the midwinter doldrums.

Thanks to their ability to swim horizontally, such lures — also called swim jigs or swimbaits — allow you to reach out and trigger more fish than strictly vertical presentations. This makes them perfect for extending the action of peak feeding periods around sunrise and sunset, as well as searching for scattered groups of aggressive fish during the day.

Swim jig options include classic choices such as the Northland Fishing Tackle Puppet Minnow and the classic Rapala Jigging Rap, but my all-around favorite is Northland’s Forage Minnow Dart (below).

This unique jig is one of the only, if not THE only one, designed for use with soft plastics or live bait. The jig features a top-mounted line tie, single tail hook, and centrally located belly treble. Because of the jig’s balance, it swims horizontally when jigged and rocks subtly before coming to rest. Trust me: this action is a great trigger.

What’s unique to the Forage Minnow Dart is that you can make it swim however you like by changing how you tip it. Most often I tip with a minnow head on the treble, and at times I’ll add a full minnow (hooked through the head) on the rear single hook (see photo below).

If I want a different color or extra glide, then I’ll opt for a flat-sided, scented plastic such as an Impulse Water Flea (below) or Impulse Stone Fly. Remember, the more surface area of the plastic, the further the bait will glide. This is why I love this swim bait; I can adjust action and glide to match the fish’s mood.

To fish a swim jig, start with a couple of 12- to 18-inch jig strokes to get the bait swimming outside the hole to attract the attention of nearby fish. Let the jig settle between strokes.

Some fish charge in and hit right away, but others need more coaxing. To turn these lookers into biters, play a game of cat-and-mouse with smaller jig lifts, nods and bobs, or encourage the fish to chase by slowly raising the lure away from it. Obviously, electronics are key to making the right move and the right time.

Keep in mind that a Forage Minnow Dart acts differently depending on the tipping. When fishing a big plastic, I let the jig free-fall on a slack line. With a minnow, it performs better on a semi-taut leash.

While some anglers consider midwinter the time for finesse, I always keep a swim jig tied on at least one rod — and you should, too. These free-swimming, versatile lures catch fish all winter, even during the dreaded doldrums of February.

Posted in 



Bro’s Icy Hot Tips For Rolling The Bones With
Northland Fishing Tackle’s Skeleton Minnow

Veteran fishing guide and Northland Fishing Tackle pro staffer Brian “Bro” Brosdahl says the company’s soft-plastic IMPULSE® Skeleton Minnow is one of the North Country’s hottest tippings for putting portly winter panfish on ice.

“No bones about it, the Skeleton Minnow is a true utility player that catches bluegills, crappies and jumbo perch in virtually any situation—from reluctant weed-bed bluegills to skittish suspended crappies,” he begins. “The bait’s slender, segmented tail section undulates seductively with minimal jigging. Its frail look and subtle action get even the most tight-lipped panfish fired up.”

Brosdahl threads the Skeleton Minnow’s bulbous, hook-friendly ribbed body onto a proven ice fishing jig like the Northland Fishing Tackle Gill-Getter, Mud Bug, Mooska, Bro Bug or Tungsten Fire-Ball® Jig.

“It’s easy to rig a Skeleton Minnow. Run the hook down through the middle of the body, just like you would an angle-worm,” he says. “To ensure proper hook placement, hold the jig’s hook next to the plastic body before rigging. Visualize the shank’s ideal route of travel through the body, and count the number of Skeleton Minnow ribs to the hook’s perfect exit point. You can also trim away ribbed sections as needed to accommodate short hooks or to downsize the presentation.”

Only rarely does Bro place extra tippings atop the plastic dressing. “The Skeleton Minnow is a solo act 90 percent of the time,” he says. “Fished alone, it looks and acts just like a defenseless insect, while the IMPULSE® formula provides all the scent and flavor you need. The only time I add bait is to bulk it up for supersize panfish.”

Jig strokes match conditions and mood of the fish. “For example, when fishing big bluegills along weed edges or inside weedbeds, I hold the jig a foot above the fish and gently wiggle the legs, occasionally adding a slight swimming motion,” he says. “As a bluegill draws near, I slowly pull the bait up and away an inch at a time. Nothing drives a bull ’gill crazy like a good game of cat-and-mouse.”

For spooky crappies suspended in clear water, Bro impales the Skeleton Minnow on a Gill Getter or Mud Bug. “I drop it down and shimmy the rodtip so the tail undulates. While the tail is moving, I slowly raise the jig about a foot and drop it back down

The 1˝-inch-long Skeleton Minnow comes in a variety of colors. Bro advises stocking up on different patterns, so you can experiment to find out what the fish prefer. “Bloodworm is hot in some lakes and situations,” he says. “In others, the green shades of Emerald get more bites. And sometimes Purple Passion outfishes everything else combined.”


The early ice fishing formula for 

success with 

"Tackle" Terry Tuma

by Terry Tuma

With the arrival of hard water, “Tackle” Terry Tuma answers some questions for fishing multiple species through holes in the lakes the next several months. Catch a live seminar with “T3” next weekend at the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show at RiverCentre.

Q: Will jigging spoons catch winter crappies and sunfish?

“Tackle” Terry: Most winter panfish anglers will avoid spoons because they consider them strictly walleye lures. They shouldn’t!

Size, color, vibration and action is key to catching aggressive and lockjaw pans. Work more aggressive presentations for periods of high panfish activity levels. I do this by intensifying lift-drops coupled with short pauses and holds with my Rapala jigging spoons. Slow down the movement for those tough biters with fewer, shorter lift-drops and increase hold times.

Lures in sizes of 1/12 and 1/16 ounces are both attractors and triggers. Tease the slabs by adding one waxworm on each tine, or a minnow on one tine hooked parallel to the dorsal fin. Drill two holes 2 to 3 feet apart for both stubborn crappies or sunfish and rapidly pound bottom in one hole which becomes an attractor. Trigger with a dead stick, bobber system or small, slower presentation in the other opening. This is a one-two approach that will produce winter walleyes, too!

Q: When should I set the hook with jigs for ice walleyes?

“Tackle” Terry: On all water bodies, a heavy thump indicates a walleye has inhaled your bait, so set the hook quickly. If you feel ticks, fish are just nipping baits, so hold off. Gently and slowly lift the jig up an inch to force the walleye to bite up. Another approach is to drop the rod tip down to create semi-slack line and let the fish chew the minnow for a few seconds. Stinger hooks are a last resort, though I try to avoid them. Finally, be sure your hook gap is wide and hooks are sharp!

Q: How do you hook minnows under bobbers for ice crappies? And what about size?!

“Tackle” Terry: Place your hook parallel to the dorsal fin point-forward for a natural look. Hook it near the tail to imitate an injured baitfish for reluctant biters. Pin minnows (1-inch long or less) usually are my best producers. That said, always keep crappie minnows, small fatheads, and shiners in the bait bucket.

As for size, that really depends on mood, water clarity, light levels, and “matching the hatch.” Always replace the bait after you catch a crappie. Likewise, use a new minnow after 8 to 10 minutes to refresh scent and movement.

Q: Where should I cut off minnow heads and how often should I change them in ice fishing scenarios?

“Tackle” Terry: You’ll see an excellent  increase in scent and taste by changing heads every five to 10 minutes, especially for non-aggressive walleyes. This may determine whether a fish bites or not. Always pinch off the head between the dorsal fin and gill plate instead of cutting. That added “meat” and jagged skin edge boosts the scent, flash and movement factor, which intensifies the strike response!

Q: How do you adjust when marking ice sunfish on electronics but you can’t get them to bite?

“Tackle” Terry: Raise or lower your lure to the fish in water column, then try subtle jigging, hold, or draw it up 2 to 3 inches above band to coax bites. Do not waste more than 30 seconds working these fish. Target different ones.

If this reoccurs, change lure size, drop speed, color, or design. Experiment with one, two, or three spikes and waxworm size, too. These fish are curiosity seekers and not active eaters. Fish usually are negative to neutral if change-ups produce, assuming you started with legitimate bait and lure selections.



by Bob Jensen


Across the ice-belt there are several species of fish that anglers have the opportunity to catch from under the ice. Walleyes, northern pike, perch, crappies and other types of panfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass and even catfish can be caught by ice-anglers. The thing is, our presentation needs to change for the different types of fish. Different species of fish respond to different presentations. Walleyes like spoons, panfish like tiny jigs, and pike like natural baits. If you’re targeting a particular specie of fish, you need to employ a technique that that specie is most likely to respond to.

However, there are some basic principles of fishing that you need to keep in mind regardless of what fish you want to catch. Following are some of those basic principles.

The most important consideration is finding the areas where the fish are most likely to bite your bait. Some community holes will hold lots of fish, but fishing pressure makes those fish very selective. And, after awhile, those community holes get fished down. Take some time to search out other areas away from the fishing pressure: Those fish will be more likely to bite your bait, making them easier to catch.

Once you find the fish, you want to keep your bait above them for a couple of reasons. First of all, fish see up better than they see down. If your bait is above them, they’re more likely to see it, which makes them more likely to eat it.

The other reason for keeping your bait above the fish is to possibly prevent spooking the other fish around them. If you see fish on the sonar, drop your bait but stop it when it’s still three or four feet above the fish. Active fish will come up and take the bait. Catch the active ones first. If they quit rising to the bait, then allow it to get closer to them. If you drop it into the group of fish right away and catch a couple, the rest of the school might spook. Make the active ones move away from the school to prevent spooking. I use a Vexilar FLX-28 in the Zoom Mode much of the time. This unit enables me to “zoom” in on a particular zone, so the definition is really good, and I’m able to position my bait exactly where I want it to be.

Another important thing to keep in mind for more ice-fishing success for any specie: If they’re not responding to what you’re doing, do something else. If you chase panfish when you’re ice-fishing, you probably know how productive some of the different baits in the Bro’s Bug Collection can be. These are baits that were designed for ice-fishing. They’re all very small, and each has its own distinctive quality. The differences may not be that much, but the fish can tell the difference and at times will favor one over the other.

Last thing: As the ice-fishing season proceeds, don’t sit on one hole too long. I know lots of ice-anglers that move constantly. If they’re on a big structure, they’ll put an auger, sonar, and anything else they need into a portable shelter and just keep popping holes until they find the fish. The Otter Pro Cottage is perfect for this plan of attack. It can seat two anglers, but I like plenty of room, so I use this unit even when fishing alone.

Now is when you need to be ice-fishing. If you employ the tactics above, you’ll catch more fish more often when you go ice-fishing.

PHOTO CAPTION—Mr. Walleye Gary Roach with a jumbo perch. Gary is one of the pioneers in the fishing industry who taught us how to catch more fish through the ice.

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