Bait selection for ice fishing can be as simple or complex as you want it to be—but you should want it to be complex. When it comes to fishing (like so many other pursuits), the more thought and effort you put in, the greater reward you’ll often receive.
“You can’t use exact same baits for different sized fish,” Miles said. “The brook trout are smaller, and the burbot are much, much bigger.”
For brook trout, as well as many other small, light-biting fish like perch, bluegill, even walleye in certain places, you want to use a rig that will allow the fish to get the bait in its mouth while transmitting the soft strike. For this situation, Miles selected braided line for the increased sensitivity it provides, followed by a barrel swivel and fluorocarbon leader. He tied on a flutter jig separated with a short chain from the small hook baited with a chunk of worm, which give off a lot of scent. This rig functions to attract little fish without scaring them, and a terminal end small enough to get in their mouths. If he were targeting a more finicky species, like perch, he might select maggots instead.
On the other side of the coin, burbot are not exactly delicate in their eating habits. Also known as ling, lawyer, eelpout, or cusk, these slimy, delicious cod relatives attack with gusto and fight hard. And they can grow very large.
To target burbot, Miles switched gears to a ¼-ounce jighead with a significantly larger hook, dressed with a chartreuse tube skirt. The additional weight will drop faster and allow him to knock the rig on the bottom to stir up silt and attract fish. He tipped the rig with sucker meat, which is very durable bait and more appealing to scavenging fish like burbot. Lacking the need for sensitivity, he went with a heavier rod and straight monofilament line, which is less prone to freezing up than braid.
The bait you choose for ice fishing is likely less significant than why you choose it. Consider your options, experiment, and take mental notes of the results. It will pay off in the long run.
Make sure to watch the latest episode of The Fur Hat Ice Tour as Janis Putelis and Mark Norquist spear pike and whitefish in Minnesota.