Yamaha Outdoors Tips — No Bait, No Problem

Bob Humphrey photo

Bob Humphrey photo

By Bob Humphrey

Up to camp for the weekend and you forgot to pick up bait?  Did you plan a last-minute ice-fishing trip, after the bait store closed for the night?  Are you heading out early the next day, before it opens?  Or maybe you just learned the lake you planned on fishing now has an artificial lures only rule. 

Fret not.  Live, or dead bait is often an integral component of ice fishing.  But it need not be.  Whether by design or accident, you can still have a very successful and productive day on the hard water by jigging artificial lures.

In some ways, jigging is actually easier and less complicated than bait fishing, particularly when it comes to the equipment you need to take along. 


Poles - what you hold in your hand - can range from a rudimentary jigging stick to your regular open water spin-casting outfit.  Jigging sticks come in several variations but basically consist simply of a handle or grip, something to wrap on (which can be as rudimentary as a couple nails or as fancy as a spool) and a short section of (fiberglass or graphite) rod with one or more eyes or line guides.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can use a conventional ultra-light to light spinning rod and reel, shorter rods generally being a better option.  Or, you can put an ultra-light reel on a jigging rod - essentially a miniature (1 - 2-foot long) fishing rod.  Line weight varies with species sought, and it’s generally a good idea to go a size or two heavier than you would for the same species in open water.  A couple poles should be sufficient.

Terminal Tackle

Your choice of terminal tackle can vary widely depending on type of water, species fished for, and local or personal preference.  In general you want something shiny or flashy that will attract the fish’s attention, usually a single-hook jig or spoon of some type (check regulations if you’re using treble hooks to make sure they’re allowed). Another option is soft baits, like rubber minnows, grubs or worms.  And, a rubber minnow on a lead-head jig makes for a double-deadly combo. 

In this case size most definitely matters.  Big jigs will catch big fish, but some species are very finicky, and even the larger specimens will only take smaller terminal tackle.

If you’re not sure of what to use, check with the local tackle shop, or ask the locals what they would recommend.


Technique can vary almost as much as your choice of terminal tackle, and for all of the same reasons.  Basically, you want to add movement to your lure to attract fish and elicit a strike.  Whether you do it fast or slow, shallow or deep, seldom or often again depends on the species you’re after and often what your experience has taught you works best.  

You can sometimes employ a little mechanical or electronic assistance.  For example, there are devices that use the wind to move your lure, freeing you up for more important tasks.  Or, you can simply fashion your own.  Out of desperation I once tied a handkerchief to the tip of my jigging pole and the action created by the wind was enough to entice a fat salmon.

Depth sounders-fish finders can also be an asset, particularly when fishing for schooling fish like perch, walleye and sunfish.  Once you determine at what depth the fish are suspended, you can raise or lower your jigs accordingly.

Even if you do fish traps with bait, it’s not a bad idea to have a jigging stick or two along.  Jigging gives you something to do while waiting for your traps to trip.  It sometimes works when bait won’t.  And if you miss a fish on your trap, you can drop a jig down the hole a lot faster than re-baiting and re-setting your trap.