Throughout history, there have been plenty of famous dynamic duos. Batman and Robin, Roy Rodgers and Trigger, and the list goes on. When it comes to ice fishing, the dynamic duo is an aggressive jigging lure that serves as the “attracter” followed up by a regular old jig that is the “closer.” Remove the attracter however, and the jig itself is typically useless.
This system is very similar to an open water salmon fishing bait and switch presentation. Salmon charters often troll as many as fifteen rods and often have a rod “down the pipe” that carries an oversized dodger and fly rig. This fly rig only catches a few fish in an entire season for most guides. Why is it there? Simply put, remove this oversized rig and watch the number of fish caught on the other rods reduce significantly. Much in the same way salmon anglers use an attractor rig, walleye anglers on hard water use a lure to attract the walleyes in and another to actually catch them.
In open water, a boat can drift or troll to “happen” onto fish. In contrast, ice fishing only allows an angler to cover just a few feet of territory at a time, making it much more difficult to locate fish. Therefore, anglers need a way to draw these fish in, and the most common “call in” baits are horizontal swimbaits, rattle spoons, or blade baits. It is not that any of these highly effective lures will not catch fish on their own, they’re just more efficient at triggering them on a better “closing” lure. The “call in” lures are most effective when worked very aggressively and FLW walleye pro Tom Keenan of Hatley, WI knows a thing or two about this technique. “We’ve been pulling a bait and switch on walleyes through the ice for more than twenty years. We rip aggressive lures such as Rapala Jigging Raps or rattle spoons so hard you nearly hit the roof of your shack. But that is what it takes many days to call fish to your hole.”
Once you rip your “call in” lure for a short period of time, pause the lure for a few seconds. Much like sharks moving into investigate an easy meal, walleyes will often be visible on electronics after the pause. After these marks are present on the electronics, a more normal jigging technique (slow) is required. It is at this time that observing how the walleyes react to both baits on your electronics is extremely important.
If a mark that comes in also leaves very quickly, you likely need to slow down the jigging cadence. Use this as a gauge as to what to not do the next time. The good news is that they are likely walleye, as they often come in and exit quicker than almost any fish. Marks that hangout, and often more than one, that move up and down with your lure are typically perch.
Keenan has three simple steps that he uses once a walleye is drawn to his hole and has shown interest in his jigging lure.
- Simply give him a few seconds to hit it. The lure sitting their motionless for a few seconds is all it takes many times for a walleye to aggressively take the aggressive lure.
- Shake slowly and begin to rise upward. The key when shaking the lure is to not put too much vertical movement in it. Anglers often do not realize that moving the rod just a few inches often translates into much more when fishing through the ice. Instead, try different and more subtle jigging tactics as you attempt to move the fish up from the bottom. The key being, do not lower the lure, always working it up.
- When a walleye quits following, hold the lure still for a few seconds, followed by a somewhat aggressive pop upward six inches to a foot. This is the last ditch effort with the aggressive lure. Realistically, most anglers that have mastered this technique will not even attempt step three, but instead rely on the “closer”. When the walleye shies away from the “call in” lure, they often will go straight to the “closer” to investigate. It is at this point that you put down the aggressive lure and pick up the “closer” in the next hole.
The aggressive lure’s job is simply to put walleyes underneath you. Any fish that you catch on it is just icing on the cake. But in most situations, having a closer already down and ready to go will allow you to catch walleye that would otherwise be spooked and long gone by the more aggressive presentation. Much like any other fishing technique, geographic location will dictate what ultimately works best for you. On the Great Lakes, a great closer is a 1/8 to 3/8oz plain lead head jig (size dependent on current and water depth). On most inland lakes or those without much current, a long shanked 1/16 oz jig is best. In areas known for spooky fish or where a smaller grade of fish is present, a simple oversized panfish jig may work best. However, make sure that the hook on the panfish lure is sufficient to hold a walleye.
Much in the same way a dog will drop a toy to look at a new toy that you drop near it; walleyes will completely lose interest in the jigging lure and quickly move over to the “closer”. Do not think, however, that you can eliminate the jigging lure from the process. Not only does the jigging lure draw them in, but it also holds their interest. Personally, I have never seen a walleye caught from Lake Erie on a tip up, it is almost like they need to be entertained. Keenan has seen this in other parts of the country as well. “Over the last ten years, lakes such as Leech, Mille Lacs and Winnebago rarely have a tip up bite for walleye as you need to jig them.”
At the point where the walleye has keyed onto the “closer”, Keenan has his eyes glued to the electronics. “Subtle little moves are all it takes to get a walleye to commit. This is not a time to do anything fancy.”
Again the three simple steps come into play, with just a few minor changes to accommodate the more subtle approach.
- Give it a few seconds. Very frequently a walleye will swim over to the suspended jig and simply inhale it and all you need to do is remove the slack and set the hook. If after a few seconds the fish refuses hit, move on to step two.
- Slowly shake the jig and minnow, and begin to raise it up. Make sure that the shaking of the jig is ever so slight as a small jig will move great distances in the water with even a slight pop. In many circumstances, at this point a pop will cause the walleye to vacate the scene immediately. Instead, with slight pulses, try to get the walleye to follow the jig upwards and the farther you can get him off bottom the better. Each lake seems to have a different personality as to how far a walleye will swim off bottom before either committing or being spooked away. On places like Erie and Bay de Noc, bringing them more than ten feet off bottom is very common. As you continue to raise the fish up, two things will happen. At some point, it will all of a sudden hit the jig or you will start to see more separation between your lure and the fish on your electronics. When this separation starts you only have a few seconds to change things up providing a short window where the walleye will quickly spook away for seemingly no reason or respond to the next step.
- Pop the rod abruptly from six inches to a foot and hold if he quits following and shows separation on the electronics. This is a last ditch effort to make the fish commit. At this point, you will either have an almost immediate hookup or watch the fish spook off out of sight.
In most circumstances, you have your jig in close proximity to your aggressive jigging lure. This typically takes place close to bottom. Another trick that Keenan employs allows him to cover more of the water column. “Certain Lakes seem to have small percent of the population that will swim suspended in the middle of nowhere and a lot of times they are the real donkeys”.
In order to catch these roamers, Keenan simply leaves his second rod suspended about half way down. Fish will often commit to this bait almost instantaneously; all you need to do is set the hook. Some days this presentation trick will not work, as the fish following the jigging presentation below will spook away before you can lower the suspended rod down.
The 1,2 punch is a deadly technique for walleyes all across the country. A little modification to the system will be required on each individual lake. Once you find what the best “call in” and “closer” lures are, you will turn spooked fish into hookups.
Keenan’s 3 Tips
- Turn your sensitivity up slightly higher than normal. This allows you to see fish that are on the outside of the cone and suspended higher. These fish will typically not mark with less power.
- Use a small Jig instead of a bare hook. The weight of a small jig is just enough to slow the minnow down, allowing the walleye to more easily catch it.
- Always work up. The moment you drop a jig down you have lost the battle, as walleyes often seem to lose interest. Follow Keenan’s steps so that walleyes follow you upward until it either commits or spooks.
To Bobber, or Not
When fishing inside of a shack, it is often advantageous to try a rod with a bobber, particularly after a cold front. This allows you to hold a lure nearly motionless and know that you are shaking the bait and in fact not moving it upward. This normally does not work when fishing outside, as the bobber quickly freezes. When fish are exhibiting a more aggressive attitude forging a bobber is usually best, as it is much easier to adjust the depth without messing with the bobber and stop.
Rapala Jigging Rap –An ice fishing classic, it swims in a semi circle when jigged. When fish shy away, downsizing is a good way to get fish to commit.
Silver Streak UV & Glow Rattle Spoon – A highly visible and loud spoon proven to bring fish in from long distances. The unique finishes and rattle give fish something different to look at.
Northland Buckshot Spoon – A rattle spoon that can both bring them in and act as a closer. A somewhat do little action seems to work in both neutral to aggressive moods.
Acme Kastmaster Spoon –Another classic lure with a slightly larger profile that has been proven to attract walleyes in lakes all across the country. Its unique fluttering action allows it to act as a closer at times.
Reef Runner Cicada –Widely not thought of as ice fishing lure, its curved blade design can draw fish in when others fail. The smaller sizes are a secret closer for those “in the know.”
Fin-Tech Knuckle Ball- A unique lead head jig that is available in sizes from 1/32 to 3/8 oz.with fluorescent, glow and metallic color options.
Lindy Genz Worm- A compact jig that hangs vertical. This is the ultimate jig when fish are finicky. It is available in five sizes and six colors. The XL model features a 1/0 hook that is perfect for larger eyes.
JB Lures Gem-N-Eyes- A large flat jig with an oversized eye makes its action very unique. A split ring on the nose gives it a little extra action when shaking the bait. It tends to glide on slack line. Available in 1/32, 1/16, and 1/8 oz. sizes and more than a dozen colors.
Lindy Slick Jig– A unique jig with a weight forward design that tends to make it glide almost similar to a Jigging Rapala. Available in six sizes from 1/16 to 5/8 oz.and ten colors.
Northland Whistler Jig– A long time favorite of open water fisherman, this prop jig can trigger walleyes, particularly in stained water. When pulled upward the prop creates vibration and noise like no other. Available in seven sizes from 1/32 to ¾ oz. and 16 colors.
Lindy Fat Boy– A jig that was designed to show up well on electronics and fish heavy. The Fat Boy XL model features a 1/0 hook for larger fish. Available in five sizes and six colors.