Don't Be Afraid to Upsize at First Ice

News & Tips: Don't Be Afraid to Upsize at First Ice...


Try a 2 to 2.5-inch jigging minnow, like this Rapala Jigging Shad Rap, to pique the interest of perch or crappie during the beginning of winter.

Ice fishing season is here! Given our winter so far, it's likely there's safe ice in close proximity to your favorite fishing grounds no matter where you are within North America's ice belt. This said, always tread cautiously and regularly check conditions as thickness will fluctuate within a lake and heavy snowfalls can impact ice quality.

The good news is that because it's early in the season, many species are still aggressively feeding, continuing their autumn eating binge. This is the time to use average-sized to large baits. Case in point, I regularly rely on 2 to 2.5-inch jigging spoons or jigging minnows, like the Rapala Jigging Shad Rap or Northland Puppet Minnow, to pique the interest of jumbo perch and slab crappie during the initial weeks of winter.

While there are always exceptions, the strategy of sidelining micro baits until mid-winter and tying on larger lures at first ice routinely helps me catch more and bigger fish at the start of the season for a number of reasons.

A bulkier bait will call-in fish from a wider distance, which helps cover more water in a day when hole hoping and searching for fish. Using a chunky offering is also frequently more intriguing to the largest specimens in the herd, a trick that works well to bypass pint-sized customers.

When employing this upsized-inspired strategy be careful not to overwork a lure. Less is often best when it comes to lure movements beneath the ice, even with big baits. Quick snaps and steady raises can be used to attract fish, but always pause a bait and let it come to rest so an onlooker can launch a quality attack. It never hurts to add a scent-loaded soft-bait, like Berkley Gulp!, or some real bait to sweeten the deal.

Electronics play a pivotal role in this approach as well. The instant feedback a sonar provides on a fish's activity and interest level will help you customize jigging movements as required until you dial-in the best lift-fall-pause recipe to evoke a strike.

The time for bulky baits is fleeting when it comes to ice fishing, but using them will produce incredible results during the initial weeks of the season. Be sure to give it a try on your next outing.