Jigging is the ultimate ice fishing technique, and as we wait for the water to harden, it’s time to revisit this tried and true method. While apparently no more complicated than dropping a lure through a hole in the ice and giving it a bit of a twitch, the difference between fishing and catching this winter will depend on how well you understand the ins and outs of making a bit of plastic and metal come alive to sluggish fish.
Don’t be fooled–as any hard water veteran can explain, jigging is a delicate art that depends on finesse presentation and the right lure choice.
That’s because frigid water lowers a fish’s metabolism, inducing a state of near torpor. This survival mechanism renders them less active and less likely to feed, so to entice your quarry into a bite, you’ll need to think carefully about lures and technique.
To help you strengthen your jigging game, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite lures and some of our best tips and tricks to make them irresistible to everything from crappie to pike.
Top of the Line Ice Fishing Lures and Jigs
- Acme Kastmaster
- Bay de Noc Swedish Pimple
- Bait Rigs Oddball Jigs
- Celsius Panfish Assorted EC5C-5A Jigs
- Dynamic Lures HD
- Eagle Claw Glow Ice Kit
- Rapala Jigging Rap
Tips and Tricks: Deep Knowledge for Deep Jigging
Color Choice is Key
Color is always a hot topic among anglers. More than a few conversations on the water turn quickly to discussions of the advantages and disadvantage of chartreuse versus yellow–or whether red glitter in a green, soft bait gets more strikes than blue.
And while it’s true that lures are meant to catch fisherman as much as fish–any avid angler knows exactly what we mean!–it’s just as true that color choice can make or break a day on the water. We’ve all seen our ‘luck’ take an immediate turn for the better by doing nothing more than selecting a different color from the available options.
But of course, color choice isn’t completely a matter of guesswork.
- Assess clarity – The clearer the water, the better the fish can see. Most species of fish see pretty well, and in clear water, they’re looking for what they usually see in prey items. For anglers, that means that more realistic, subdued colors are the best bet to attract a bite. On the other hand, in murkier water where visibility is limited, brighter hues can make your lure stand out, triggering a predatory response.
- Observe the light – On overcast winter days where the sun is little more than a bright patch in the sky, or when thick ice is covered in an even thicker blanket of snow, not much light is making it into the water. In these conditions, brighter–even day-glo–colors can help trigger a strike. Glowing jigs are also an excellent choice in these conditions, and we’ve reviewed some below. By contrast, on bright days, gold and silver are great choices, as the light will make them flash like small fish.
- Color disappears at depth – Water absorbs light differentially, allowing some colors to remain visible at depth. Red is the first to go, followed by orange, yellow, green, and blue. Does that mean lure color doesn’t matter? Not a chance!While depth–and distance–will affect color, and while it’s true that your blood red lure or hook won’t appear red in 60 feet of water, expert jig fishermen hunt the water column from top to bottom. The more light, the more color. For really deep jigging, you might want to give a luminescent jig a shot.
Increasingly, ice anglers are taking to the hard water with ultralight rods, 2 pound test, and small jigs. The reason? Sluggish fish are more likely to hit a lure that’s fished with finesse and a delicate touch.
We recommend thinking small in two ways.
- Use small lures – Small lures tend to have a more delicate, life-like action. That doesn’t mean that the big boys should be left at home, but rather that one solution to a biteless day is to move down a few sizes in your lure. This doesn’t necessarily target smaller fish–large muskie and pike will strike a small lure, too. But it will enhance the action of your jig, making it more enticing to fish. Remember that fish use their lateral line to detect motion, offering them a powerful sense of ‘touch’ that can detect the vibrations of wounded prey. The more your lure moves in a manner that mimics these subtle motions, the more attractive it’ll be.
- Use small movements – Ripping can be an effective technique, but more often than not, it’ll only draw out the most aggressive fish in the area. A much more productive technique involves the use of gentle movements.
Try twitching your wrist very, very gently to set your jig shimmying, while slowly raising your rod tip. Every few seconds, stop and dead stick for a five-count. You’ll be surprised how many fish strike!
There are many other finesse techniques. Study as many as you can and add them to your jigging arsenal.
Ripping for Pike
This is a trick I learned from Gord Pyzer at Outdoor Canada.
When ripping, you’re trying to excite a large predator like a big pike to make a forceful strike. To attract this response, you jerk the snot out of a large lure, causing it to move erratically before your line slackens and the lure slows. You reel in the slack and repeat this action, working your way upward in the water column.
This technique works especially well on super-aggressive species, but if you’ve ever used it, you know the trouble: most ripping jigs feature a large treble hook suspended midway between single hooks mounted on either end. That erratic motion sets that treble dancing, often catching your ice fishing line and fouling the jig.
The solution? Replace that treble with an even larger one, sheathing its shank in heat shrink tubing. When you shrink the tubing, you’re looking to stiffen the shank to prevent the hook from fouling. Extra credit if you can get bright red heat shrink tubing!
Swap Your Hooks
The hooks that come on your lures may seem plenty sharp, but they’re usually a budget option to keep costs low for the manufacturer.
One tip you can pick up from the pros is to replace your treble hooks with premium quality alternatives like Gamakatsu. Subtly different in shape, premium hooks improve set and keep fish locked to your line far better than the bargain options.
Flash and Flare Matter
If you take a close look at a Swedish pimple, you’ll notice that most wear a tiny red flutter near the hook. That’s a detail that matters, and while small, that flash of red excites fish to strike, improving the performance of that lure.
If you’re going to change hooks, why not try red? Once a staple among the bass pro world, red hooks are making inroads on the ice, too. Many anglers find that simply switching hook color increases bites, adding a bit of flash and flare where it counts.
Sweeten Your Jigs
If you’re fishing naked jig heads, that’s a tactical mistake.
Jig heads are just colored bits of metal with a shank that ends in a single hook. That shank is designed to grip and hold a variety of ‘sweeteners,’ from live to soft bait options. All of them will attract fish better than a naked head!
We’ll recommend a few easy choices when we review our favorite jigs heads below, but the range of possibilities is nearly endless. Try anything from maggots to minnows!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xpvxia_HYo0 how to rig a jig head with soft bait
Our Favorite Ice Lures
If you don’t have an Acme Kastmaster in your tackle box, you should. This asymmetrical bit of metal is an engineering marvel, sinking quickly and creating an appetizing vibration as it’s jigged. That’s because of to the slender end attached to your line, which wriggles to mimic a struggling minnow.
Designed for ultralight tackle, these lures are best fished with 2 to 4 pound test on light or ultralight rods. The Kastmaster is available in weights ranging from 1 ounce to 1/32 ounces, offering lots of options in size and action.
Many anglers swear by gold, and it’s always a good choice of imitating the flash of small fish. But the Kastmaster is available in a huge variety of colors., including fluorescent options for low light.
Machined from solid brass, this spoon is deadly when used as an ice jigging lure, especially if it’s worked with finesse. We recommend a premium red hook, particularly if you’re jigging in shallow water.
Bay de Noc’s Swedish Pimple is a jigging staple, as its name suggests. “Pimple” is actually a corruption of the Swedish “pimpla,” or “to jig,” and that’s what this lure does best.
Available in weights from 1/10 to ⅓ of an ounce, this spoon drops like a brick. As is the case with the Kastmaster, it’s machined from a single piece of metal and offered in a rainbow of colors and textures. Gold and silver are always popular, but day-glo hues and dark colors are options as well.
Like most pimples, Bay de Noc’s lure features a tiny red blade near the treble hook to attract strikes to the business end. Here, too, a premium red hook’s a good idea.
Like the Kastmaster, this pimple is best fished with finesse on ultralight tackle.
Bait Rigs Oddball Jigs may look funny, but you’ll stop laughing when the fish start biting. Available in crazy mashup colors like Purple Demon and Firetiger Glow, these jig heads are designed to rock and twitch when jigged. That special action mimics injured minnows, signaling an easy meal to nearby fish.
Offered in three weights–⅛, ¼, and ⅜ of an ounce–Oddball Jigs feature premium hooks set at a unique angle to allow weedless rigging. And you absolutely should rig these heads–don’t fish them naked!
Berkley Gulp Minnows are great options to consider. These life-like, split-tail, soft baits are available in many colors, some of which include contrasting glitter to imitate the shimmer of tiny scales. Offered in 2 ½, 3, and 4 inch lengths, Berkley’s Gulp soft baits are proven performers.
Celsius offers a pack of jig heads that has you covered, whatever the conditions. With an array of shapes, colors, and designs, you’ll be sure to find a jig head that’ll trigger strikes from crappie, perch, and bluegill.
These are small lures, best fished with the lightest tackle. But don’t underestimate them–they can catch real monsters, too!
As part of the production process, these jigs are dipped in colors, filling the eye with paint. Use a stout needle or a small nail to clear those eyes before their first use.
We like to fish these little guys with soft baits, like the Berkley PowerBait Power Honey Worm or the Strike King Rage Twin Tail Menace Grub. Berkley’s honey worms are well known on the ice, and these tiny soft baits are made to look like insect larvae. Alternatively, Strike King’s soft bait is a twin-tailed, ridged grub that’ll pair perfectly with these heads, presenting a centered hook with an irresistible action. Available in a a variety of glitter-enhanced colors, you can experiment to see what gets the fish excited.
Dynamic’s jig lure is designed and colored to simulate a tiny fish in distress. To help draw-in hungry fish, it features a hollow cavity and rattle to create vibrations that drive predatory fish wild.
These tiny guys are 2 inches long, weighing in at ⅕ of an ounce. Pike love them, but so do walleye,
Dynamic offers this lure in a variety of bright colors, ranging from day-glo to natural hues. We like “Silver Blue” and “Gold Orange” for clear, bright conditions, but would try “Bubble Gum” and “Glow” for low light.
This lure’s eye is central, providing life-like action as you jig, and it sports two treble hooks. We’d swap these right away with premium replacements. Here again, having at least one of these in red isn’t going to hurt!
On dark days where the light just can’t filter through the clouds, snow, and ice, the water’s dim and colors barely have a chance to shine. Even the brightest lures will struggle to attract fish in these conditions, but this presents the perfect opportunity to go with the glow!
Eagle Claw’s Glow Ice Kit is no joke. Packed with a variety of shapes of jig heads and a special flashlight to charge them, these lures will fluoresce in the water, attracting curious fish. Like the Celsius jig heads, these lures are dipped, and you’ll need to clear the painted eyes before you can tie them on your line. Eagle Claw provides a tiny needle for just this purpose–a thoughtful touch.
On the horizontally rigged heads, we’d sweeten the shank with something like the Berkley PowerBait Ice Swordtail in “Glow White.” This soft bait features a tail that wiggles irrestably, magnifying the gentle action you give your jig. You might also try Seanlure’s soft baits in either fluorescent “Glow” or “Yellow” for your vertical jigs.
Last, but most certainly not least, is the Rapala Jigging Rap. If you only buy one lure for the ice, this is a good choice. Its performance on the hard water is the stuff of legends.
Designed to simulate a wounded minnow, this Rapala lure offers two single hooks at either end and a ventral treble. We’d swap out those hooks with a premium replacement. If you’re planning to rip this lure for pike, you’ll probably want to sleeve the treble’s shank, too.
Available in a wide range of colors, our favorites include “Glow” and “Glow chartreuse,” especially on cloudy days. Walleye and crappie love these colors. Be sure to use a very strong terminal knot–pike love to eat these bad boys, too!
Rapala makes these in a variety of sizes, and we recommend one of each. It’s also worth sweetening that treble with a mealworm, especially on the smaller lures when fishing for panfish and crappie.
Ice season’s just around the corner, and with these lures in your tackle box, you’ll be well-prepared. From Rapala’s Jigging Rap to Oddball Jigs teamed with a quality soft bait, make sure you have plenty of options, colors, and sizes near at hand. Every lure we’ve recommended is a winner if you present it with finesse, understand how to match color to conditions, and experiment with upgrading your hooks and sweetening your jigs.