Well it’s hardly new, but the use of plastics for ice fishing has been a recent trend. I still remember vividly my first exposure to the use of plastics for ice fishing. It was on Upper Red Lake February of 2000. I had very good crappie bite on small jigging spoons tipped with minnows earlier in the day but by the afternoon the crappies just wouldn’t bite on this set up or a deadstick set up either. Some other guys I was fishing with starting using small jigs and plastics right next to me and started pounding the crappies. I couldn’t believe it even though I was seeing it with my own eyes over and over again. They didn’t even tip them with a waxworm!
Since then I’ve been using all sorts of plastics and other soft baits like Berkley Gulp for all kinds of fish through the ice. I’ve gained so much confidence in these baits that I often hit the ice without any live bait depending on how I plan on fishing that day. If I’m running and gunning like I usually do I don’t mess with live bait. If I plan on setting up on a spot then I will bring some minnows for my second rod.
Using plastics give you so much more control over your presentation. You can work the bait aggressively or very subtlety. Watch your Humminbird flasher or camera closely as each fish will give you hints as to what it will take to get them to bite. You can switch size, color, scents and profiles. It’s a bit more difficult to do this with a bucket of minnows.
Then there’s the convenience and efficiency of plastics. Plastics are easy to store and fit nicely in your coat pockets. They don’t freeze & die. In the long run they are far less expensive to use than live bait. I can generally catch dozens of fish on a single plastic bait before losing or needing to replace it. This means more time fishing in the water rather than digging for a minnow in a bucket of it. Sometimes recovery time makes all the difference in catching a few or many fish.
Most modern plastics seem to be used to target panfish due to their documented effectiveness in ice fishing competitions. Plastics can catch anything that swims and I do mean anything. So far I’ve caught crappies, sunfish, perch, tullibees, whitefish, walleyes, sauger, bullhead, channel catfish, northern pike, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout and even a sucker on various plastics through the ice.
There are many finesse plastics designed specifically for ice fishing by many different manufacturers. Companies like Lindy, Little Atom, Mr Twister, Northland and Berkley make plastics or soft baits for ice fishing. Don’t leave those plastics that you use in the summer months at home. I have had excellent results with plastic tubes, minnow baits, insect baits and twister tails as well. One of my favorite plastics for large crappies, walleyes and perch is a 2” Berkley power minnow. Not what most think of as a mainstream ice fishing plastics.
So pick up a few plastics and keep an open mind while on the ice. The alternative is to sit next to someone else who has figured it out and wondering why you’re not getting bit while they catch them one after another. Been there done that…
By Jeff Borchardt