The cool weather we've been feeling in recent days reminds me that it's time to get the ice-fishing baits ready to go. However, I won't be using them for ice-fishing just yet. Many, many years ago, probably sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, a group of us started using spoons that were thought of as ice-fishing baits in open water in the fall. And we caught fish: Mostly walleyes, but when we got on a school of crappies, we caught them as well. Ice-fishing baits have come a long way in the past few years. More and more anglers are using ice-baits year 'round now. Here's why and how you can catch lots of fish right now with baits designed for ice-fishing.

When you go ice-fishing, you're fishing straight up and down, no cast and retrieve. Baits designed to be fished straight up and down need to be designed differently than baits that are to be reeled in or trolled. Ice-fishing baits need to wobble as they fall. Open water baits need to wobble as they move horizontally.

Puppet Minnow Bait

The Puppet Minnow is a bait that swims as it falls. It was designed for ice-fishing, but does a great job in open water as well.​

For a long time spoons were the primary ice-fishing lure. Some spoons wobbled a lot as they fell, others had a very tight falling wobble.

Then the Air-Plane jig came along. It was a jig with wings that circled as it fell. More recently the Puppet Minnow entered the picture. The Puppet Minnow also swims as it falls.

Some anglers are always looking for a better way to catch more or bigger fish. The thought was, when the walleyes or crappies are tightly schooled in deeper water like they are in the fall months, and we're sitting right over them in our boats watching them on our sonar, why wouldn't they take a bait designed to be fished straight up and down? It's just like ice-fishing except we're in a boat instead of in an ice-shelter, and the water is soft, not hard. We started dropping ice-fishing baits on those open water fish, and we started catching them. Lots of them. And sometimes we caught them better in open water with ice-fishing baits than we were using open water presentations. The fish had been seeing open water baits for the past few months and maybe the ice-fishing baits were just more appealing. Fish certainly do become conditioned to lures, and lure color and presentation. We don't know why fish prefer certain baits at certain times, but they do.

Dakota Grills

Baits designed to be used on the ice will catch open water fish year 'round.​

There are times when spoons will be good fished vertically in open water. Just last week I caught fish in 25 to 27 foot depths on Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons. But, day-in and day-out, it's the Puppet Minnow type of bait that is most productive. A while back in South Dakota we caught jumbo perch and nice walleyes on the Puppet Minnow in 15 to 17 feet of water. Again, we fished the bait vertically for the deeper fish, but we also cast it in shallower water with good success. Most of the time though, we're locating schools of fish in deeper water and hovering directly over them, fishing the bait straight up and down.

Some anglers fish these baits as-is, but I like to add a little bulk to them, either a tiny minnow or a minnow head, or an Impulse Bloodworm: Just a little something to make the bait more appealing.

If you're going fishing in the next few days or couple of weeks, and if you have some ice-fishing baits, be sure to take them along. Right now is a great time to catch open water fish on baits designed for ice-fishing.
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