Live-bait Options for Ice Anglers
By: Matt Johnson
Ice anglers have a wide variety of bait available to them, and
each type of bait has its place and time. Maggots come in all
different shapes and sizes, and recently, even colors.
Minnows are a very broad category, and are used throughout
the ice fishing season and for almost every species.
Determining what type of live-bait to use can dictate the
reaction and success when out on the ice.
Maggots and panfish often times go hand in hand, and rightly
so. Maggots can imitate what panfish feed on during the
winter. When water temps drop and ice forms, a fish’s
metabolism begins to diminish, and smaller baits are
preferred. Maggots are generally smaller in scale and are very
productive throughout winter. Waxworms, Eurolarvae, spikes,
mousees and mealworms are the most popular choices for
Waxworms are larger maggots and are typically milky-white in
color. Waxies are a very productive live-bait option during the
winter, and for a variety of species and conditions. Waxies are
great for tipping on both vertical and horizontal jigs, as well as
Eurolarvae and spikes are smaller maggots. These maggots
can come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow,
blue and white. Eurolarvae and spikes are another productive
option during the winter, and are often times more valuable
than waxies come midwinter. These maggots stay alive for
long periods of time when properly hooked, and have some
excellent action and wiggle. Another big advantage of
Eurolarvae or spikes is their color. There are days when a red
maggot will out produce all other colors, and same with blue
or white, and this can make the difference in your success on
the ice some days. Eurolarvae and spikes are one of my
preferred live-bait options throughout the winter months. I use
them on jigs, spoons and swimming lures.
Mousees are very similar to other maggots; except for
mousees have a small tail. Mousees are rarer than other
maggots, but still seem to catch fish day after day. The tail
can act as an added finesse feature on negative days, and
can trigger a lot of fish into biting. Often times it’s the tail that
seals the deal.
And than you have mealworms. Mealworms are more popular
during open water than they are in the winter, but don’t let that
fool you; they are still producing fish out on the ice.
Mealworms die quicker in cold temperatures, and this is the
main reason they are more of an open water maggot.
Minnows are a very versatile live-bait option, and are
constantly considered a top fish catcher. Minnows are a
desired food source for a number of species under the ice.
Walleyes and pike rely heavily on a minnow diet, as do
crappies and perch from time to time throughout winter.
Minnows come in a variety of sizes and can play an important
role in both attracting and triggering fish under the ice.
Crappie minnows, fatheads, redtails, shiners and suckers are
the most popular type of minnows during the winter. All of
these come in different sizes.
Crappie minnows are a very common choice for ice fishing.
Crappie minnows are generally the smallest type of minnow
available. There are different sizes of crappie minnows,
ranging from small to large. Every once in awhile you might
find “pin-nail” crappie minnows, these are very small minnows
and can be very productive. Crappie minnows can be tipped
on just about anything and can be used for most species one
time or another.
Fatheads are slightly larger than a crappie minnow, and
sometimes are mixed with larger crappie minnows. Fatheads
are an excellent choice for walleyes, perch and pike. And like
crappie minnows, fatheads will come in different sizes as well.
Redtails are a type of chub, and actually have a red tail which
can make the difference in your success. Redtails have
become more and more popular in the last couple years, and
there are days where redtails are the desired bait by both
anglers and fish. Redtails are another popular option for
walleye and pike.
Shiners are your larger, shiny minnows. These minnows are
similar to a cisco or tulibee in looks, but are smaller. Shiners
also come in a variety of sizes and are good choices for
walleyes and pike. Shiners work well on jigging rods,
deadstick or bobber rigs and on tip-ups. Shiners are a very
lively minnow and will stay alive for long periods of time once
Suckers are generally your more popular, larger live minnows.
Suckers range anywhere from about 4 to 15 inches. Larger
suckers are used for decoys often times. Suckers are used
quite often for pike, although walleyes, bass and other fish will
take them too.
Live-bait options for ice fishing can seem endless at times,
and sometimes there is no magical bait. Having a variety of
live-bait options available is nice, and having those options
out on the ice can make your job easier once you find the fish.
One day the fish might want a maggot, and the next day a
minnow, so we need to be prepared for whatever curveballs
are thrown at us. Regardless of what you choose, live-bait
has proven to be a valuable tool to have when out on the ice.