Barbs and Backlashes

Mid-winter slump by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
January 13, 2010, 5:07 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: , ,

First ice and late ice is usually some of the best fishing of the year.  It seems like there is a slow-down during mid-winter when the fish get tougher to catch.  We are probably into that period right now.  The fish are not talking, so I am not sure I can tell you why that is; I suspect it may be related to water temperatures, reduced light penetration as snow piles up on the ice, and in extreme situations dissolved oxygen levels that may sag.

As we get into that mid-winter slump, here are some things I try to continue to scratch a few fish.

  • Generally fish movement is towards deeper water as the winter progresses.  You can catch fish in or near shallow water, especially early and late in the ice season, but during the middle of the winter you will likely find the biggest concentrations of fish in or near deep water.
  • Tackle down.  Down-size to smaller baits.  If the water is crystal clear, drop down to lighter lines.  If losing a fish in a snag is not a concern, you might drop as light as 2-pound test line or even 1-pound test line.  Fluorocarbon lines are best in clear-water situations.
  • Besides using smaller baits, use more natural baits and more naturally-colored baits.  Some panfish will feed on zooplankton that bob around in open water during the winter.  Those zooplankton are barely big enough to see without magnification, so if the fish are keying on those prey you might have to use the smallest ice-jigs that you have in your tackle box.
  • “Dead-sticking” live baits may be the best way to scratch some fish (as long as you can legally fish with live baitfish).  Consider slowing live baitfish by fishing them on a jig-head or by trimming some fins off of the baitfish.
  • Dead baits work too and offer the slowest, subtlest, presentation.  Generally, freshly-dead baitfish will work better than the rotten, stinky stuff used during the summer.
  • Try to identify the best spots and make sure to fish them during prime times.  If the bite is tough you only may be able to scratch some fish during the morning and evening and perhaps after dark.  At those times make sure you are set up on a good spot and make sure you are prepared to take advantage of any short feeding activity that occurs.


If you read this previous blog post, you will know how I feel about big bobbers.  Let me return to that topic and “turn it up a notch” for ice fishing.

We fish for a lot of panfish through the ice, and during the winter all fish can be less agressive when they bite.  A big bluegill, perch or crappie can suck a small ice-fishing bait in and then spit it out in the blink of an eye with barely a twitch in your line.  One of the biggest challenges simply can be awareness of when a fish has taken your bait and when it is time to set the hook.  Yes, I use spring bobbers and in some situations those are the best tool for detecting light bites.  Spring bobbers are especially effective when jigging baits and when fishing deeper water.  But at times I still prefer a fixed bobber on my line.  At times even though I am jigging baits I believe that a bait that is sitting completely still is most likely to trigger a bite.  Jigging a bait and then sitting a bobber on the surface is the perfect way to accomplish that presentation.

I said all of that to say this–I have a variety of bobbers in my ice-fishing tackle box.  When I decide to use one of those bobbers I pick the smallest one that will still keep my bait suspended.  I have used a number of different types of bobbers for ice fishing, but have found some of the “strike indicators” that fly-anglers use work particularly well.

I love those floats because they come in a variety of sizes and colors (I prefer the reds and oranges for ice-fishing), they are slotted so you can immediately place them anywhere on your line (no need to thread the line through the bobber), and the rubber insert in the middle holds them securely in place.  I will admit that those floats are fixed on the line and that can be inconvenient when fishing deeper water, but every winter a lot of the fish I catch through the ice come from ponds, small reservoirs and sandhill lakes where I am not fishing in dozens of feet of water and a bobber that is fixed on my line is no problem at all.

I pick the size of float that will barely float my ice-fishing jig and bait.

Of course we all know what this means,

Gramps would tell me to "Jerk his eye-teeth out", set the hook!

But using a float just barely big enough to float your bait is critical because sometimes you will see this . . .

Now that might mean your bait is resting on a sprig of aquatic vegetation, but it also may mean that a big ole bluegill has just eased in and sucked your whole jig into its mouth!  The fish is sitting there at exactly the same depth or maybe it sucked in your bait and rose a few inches; either way, that is a bite, put the steel to ’em!

No-Spin Zone

A variety of jigging movements will attract and catch fish when fishing through a hole in the ice.  Each day you may have to experiment to see what jigging sequences work best.  But I can guarantee you that there is one thing that will almost always result in a refusal of your bait.  When you finish your jigging sequence and then pause for the fish to eat your bait, if your bait starts spinning due to line twist, forget it–game over, fish swims away, you were REJECTED!

Spinning or spin-casting reels naturally create some twist in fishing lines.  That twist may work its way out of your line when your bait is just sitting in the water, but I have stolen another product from the fly-anglers that will speed that process and straighten your line.

Leader straightener

The leader straightener is basically a leather pad and rubber pad.  You place your line between the pads, pinch the pads together, and pull your line through–this will straighten your line and take the twist out of it.

I hope those are some ideas that might work for you.  They work for me, but I still only know one thing for sure when it comes to fishing–you cannot catch anything sitting at home on the couch.  GO FISH!

5 Comments so far
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There is no winter slump here. We catch fish most every time out. Keep your ears open and your network tuned in! Fishermen talk and if you stay in touch with each other you can keep up with the “bite”. We fish in a group and punch a lot of holes. When we find marks, we are not unlike a group of vultures, we gang up on the targets. We fish a lot together and get along, so we share the wealth when we find it.

Comment by Steve Trybus

Steve knows exactly what he is talking about. He brings up an excellent point and one that I always tell folks who are ice-fishing–DRILL LOTS OF HOLES! You can attract fish to your hole, but when you are ice-fishing you are basically fishing one small area right below your hole. If there are no fish there, well, you can’t catch ’em where they ain’t. Keep moving, keep punching holes and when you find them, you will know.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

[…] not necessarily less sensitive, you can rig them with spring bobbers too, or use the right floats (Mid-winter slump Barbs and Backlashes ). If I was jigging larger, heavier spoons for relatively aggressive fish like some white bass, […]

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[…] thinking about buying one of those leather straighteners myself. Do they work pretty good? Yep, Mid-winter slump Barbs and Backlashes Daryl […]

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[…] the winners will recieve are minnow style, and two were made with Darryls recent blog in mind…. Mid-winter slump Barbs and Backlashes In his ramblings, he mentions downsizing to smaller baits, so I made some of the jigs smaller! So […]

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