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Winter 2009 Feature Article





Swimming with Early Ice Walleyes
by Ron Anlauf

 Swimming baits can be the big ticket to solid early season catches and are always a good option for icing heavy duty walleyes.  Some may argue “the always” point but when given a fair chance I’ve yet to find water where they don’t produce.   

An accepted rule of thumb has been “clear water only” and that they really don’t work on darker bodies of water.   The fact is that particular rule of thumb is simply wrong.  It takes some initiative and an inquisitive nature to go where none have gone before but that’s where it’s at when it comes to uncovering the next big thing.  Anglers that have been willing to experiment and use baits where they’re not supposed to have found that they can sometimes more catch fish (and maybe even bigger), than what conventional techniques can deliver. 

Tom Ahlman of Isanti, Minnesota is one of those experimental types and has found that a minnow style bait can be the perfect companion to a jigging spoon.  He uses the spoon to get the attention of hungry eyes and the minnow bait to close the deal.  His technique consists of setting a trap by lifting the minnow bait off of the bottom five or six feet or so and letting it set perfectly still while working close to the bottom with a spoon.  When walleyes come in and won’t hit the spoon he’ll try and work them up until they’re just under the minnow and then give it a twitch.  More often than not walleyes will give up on the spoon and gobble up the minnow lure.  Better yet he does a lot of “trapping” on Lake of Woods in northern Minnesota where swim baits aren’t supposed to work because the water is too darn dark.     

Typical ice fishing presentations include dropping a swimming bait like Northland Tackles 3/8oz Mini Airplane Jig to the bottom and lifting it up just off the bottom and allowing it to rest a moment before starting with an upward sweep or pull of the rod, followed by letting the bait freefall back to the beginning position.   As the bait is pulled upward it kicks out a foot or more, and then turns back and glides into the stationary position.  This is accomplished by a set of swimming fins attached to the rear portion of the bait, and sets it apart form any other so called jigging bait.  The kick out is an attention getter while the glide back in can trigger a positive response.  Because the bait covers a wider range than directly below the hole and that it creates an aggressive action the bait can draw fish in from greater distances than other lures.  As the bait glides back to it’s starting position watch the line as it get’s pulled off the surface of the water to be sure that the slack is pulled out and it hasn’t stopped short.  If it stops before it gets all the way down it’s been picked up and is time to set the hook.  With all those hooks there’s no better time to rip some lips than right than right now. 

The sweep and kick out is the aggressive part of the presentation, while the glide and settle is much more subtle.  Even when fish are in a positive feeding mood; subtle may be the key to tripping their triggers. 

Walleyes for example will often come in and eyeball a bait for quite awhile before deciding either to accept or reject the offering.  If it doesn’t get hit and you’ve got a fish following on the flasher let it set for a couple of seconds and then give it a very slight twitch.  That little twitch accounts for the lion’s share of my on ice ‘eyes and is a real closer. 

Although the lure can be extremely effective on it=s own the Mini Airplane Jig is most often tipped with some form of live bait and usually includes a minnow or piece of minnow, or even a wax worm, depending on the size and species of fish you=re after.  Tipping the bait is accomplished by attaching the live bait to one or all of the hooks.  Typically the bottom treble hook is used and has little effect on the action of the bait as long as you don’t overdue it.  That means using a whole minnow only if it’s small enough not to restrict the action of the lure.  Minnows that are too large can keep the bait from doing what it=s supposed to do which is swing out and settle back in.   A better option may be simple using the head of a larger minnow which gives the lure added scent and flavor and can make a real difference when the going gets a little tough.  When it’s good; the lure itself is all you’ll need and it can pay to experiment. 

If you decide to give swim baits a go be sure to tie in a small swivel a couple of feet or so above the lure.  All that swimming and turning creates a ton of line twist and you’ll end up with a real mess if you don’t heed this seemingly minor piece of advice.  See you on the ice. 
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