Barbs and Backlashes

Hang time by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
February 1, 2010, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: , ,

I am old enough to remember when every jigging bait we used for ice fishing was called a “tear-drop”.  Many of those baits were tear-dropped shaped, but even “back in the day” there was a variety of those baits that were usually tipped with a wax worm, mousee or maggot and jigged vertically below an ice hole.  As with most fishing lures on the market “tear drops” have always come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

Back in those days almost all of the ice fishing baits were baits that were presented in a vertical fashion.  Sure, we maybe used a small jig of some kind on occasion, but there used to be few, if any, ice-fishing jigs that were presented in a horizontal fashion.  Nowadays there are a host of both vertical and horizontal ice fishing jigs on the market and in fact, many anglers never even consider using some of the old-school “tear drops”.  Let me break those baits down a little bit and tell you why you should include both vertical and horizontal jigging baits in your “tool box”.

The "old style", "tear drop" on the left, and a home-made "horizontal" jig on the right.

One important detail to keep in mind about fishing is that it is not good enough to just find the fish, you also have to make them bite.  An understanding of predator-prey relationships and what the fish are eating is critical to being a consistently successful angler.  So, why would fish eat tear drops?  What do the tear drop style baits represent?  Well, as of today I still have not figured out a way to communicate with the fish (when I do figure that out, you will be the first to know, well the first after I quit my job and catch a billion fish), but here is what I think . . .

What does a fish think this is just before it sucks it in?

There are a variety of zooplankton that live in all of our Nebraska waters.  Zooplankton are small animals that “float” or drift around in the water.  Some zooplankton are microscopic, but others are large enough to be seen with the naked eye.  Food habits studies have shown that zooplankton can be an important food item for a variety of fish.  In fact some relatively large panfish may rely on zooplankton as an important food item.  Zooplankton can be a particularly important food item during the winter!  Bluegills, crappies and yellow perch may cruise the deeper, off-shore habitats of Nebraska waters sipping on zooplankton during the winter.

Now there is a great diversity of zooplankton, so it is difficult to say that “tear drops” are a good imitation of a particular zooplankton.  But take a look at this next picture . . .

Daphnia, one type of relatively large zooplankton that can be a very important food item for fish.

There are a variety of Daphnia and related zooplankton that fish will eat.  Yes, they are small food items but there can be billions of them in the water.  Given the typically clear water of winter, fish may see and consume lots of them.  The view in the picture above is a “frontal” view of Daphnia. In particular notice the egg sacs, those darker-colored dots especially on the middle Daphnid.  Less visible in this view would be the eyes which when viewed from the side also appear as dark spots.

I’ll be!–those zooplankton are tear-drop shaped and have dark spots–just like the tear drops we use for ice fishing.  Real zooplankton are a lot smaller than the baits we use, but the shape is the same and the dots are very similar.  No, zooplankton do not come in every color of the rainbow like tear drops, but tear drops are a relatively good imitation of the shape and appearance of zooplankton.  The larger size and variety of colors may not be an exact imitation, but the fish probably are not smart enough to know the difference.  They see the tear drop, it looks like a zooplankter and they eat it.  A maggot, wax worm or mousee on the hook also detracts from the exact imitation, but those baits that are used to tip the hook provide scent and taste that will help trigger the fish to bite.

Also notice the appendages that you can see in the previous photo.  Those are “arms” that the Daphnia use to “sweep” food particles out of the water and to propel themselves.  The movement of many types of zooplankton in the water is a “bob” and fall motion that is duplicated by the jigging movements employed while ice fishing with tear drops.  Imitate shape, appearance, behavior, taste and smell of the actual food items and BINGO–fish on!

Now, consider the ice fishing jigs that are so popular now, those that sit horizontally in the water.

A homemade horizontal jig with a segmented body and some rubber legs.

This bait is likely a poor imitation of zooplankton, but its horizontal position is a much better representation of other important food items like . . .

Juvenile bluegill

, or . . .

Aquatic insects

Again, the exact imitation of the real food item is likely not as important as having something of similar shape, size, behavior and maybe color.  The horizontal jigging baits that are so popular among modern ice anglers are much different than the vertically-presented tear drop-style baits.

My point is not that one bait is better than the other.  The tear drop baits and horizontal jig type baits both work very well.  No bait is magic, nothing catches fish all the time.  Depending on what the fish are eating, one style or the other may be best on any given day, but some days the fish do not care, they will eat them all!

There is a lot more to talk about presentation and bait and lure theory; I will save more of that for later.  Be versatile and “use the right tool for the job”.  If you are “old school” and rely exclusively on the old “tear drops” that will cost you fish on some days.  Likewise, reliance on the contemporary horizontal jigs will also cost you fish some days.  Often you have to experiment and let the fish “tell” you what they want, and at times that can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day.  The process of figuring it all out is one of the things that makes it so much fun; I never get tired of it!



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