When people joke around and say it’s not the size of the jig, but the wiggle that counts, aren’t quite giving you the whole picture. The size of your panfish jigs you use can be the difference between having a really good day on the ice, or one in which you struggle to get a couple of good fish. Size really does matter, and bigger is rarely ever better.
If someone was going to ask me what the best all around sized jig to use for bluegill and crappie through the ice, I would say the one “go to” size would be a 4 mm or #14 hook horizontal tungsten jig. It is the one time that the tweener size might actually be the most versitile size to use in a variety of situations.
I like rigging a 4 mm up when hitting a new lake with a piece of soft plastic. Call it my search rig, if I mark and the fish take the bait, it’s all good. If I mark fish on my Vexilar FLX-28, but they aren’t interested in that particular combination, then my next option is drop down another 4 mm, or perhaps downsize to a 3 mm. In either case, I would rig with live bait, most often being a spike (maggot).
Why drop down in size you might be asking at this point? There are several reasons for doing so, three come to mind right away. Pressure is one, fishing pressure that is. The particular lake might be getting hammered by other fisherman, so if you drop down a smaller presentation it can look a little more desirable to the target below. Another type of pressure is of the barometric kind, and the fish can go into a neutral or negative feeding mode with either a sudden rise or drop in air temperatures. These quick changes have a direct effect on panfish feeding habits. Really finicky fish are another reason for downsizing, sometimes you can’t direct a good reason for their feeding habits, but when you see them on the screen, and they just aren’t interested in your presentation, then down sizing can be your only option to salvage your day. Favorite sizes for the “go small” approach are either a 2.5 or 3 mm, or size #18 and #16 sized hooks. One helpful hint when going this route, on the smaller jigs, often the hook gap is too tight with the shank of the hook. You can actually feel the hook pull out of the fish’s mouth when this happens. Your solution is to take a pair of forceps, and gently widen the gap. This will increase your hook up rates considerably.
Can you ever go big and have a good day on the ice? Yes, to be sure, having a bigger jig on your line can be just as effective in situations as going small in other instances. I like a 5 mm jig (size #12 hook) when the fish are feeding aggressively, the key is to get it back down in the hole and to where the fish are at as fast as possible. Another time to break out the 5’s is when you are fishing over deep water. Not only do you want a good sink rate, but you need the weight to transfer the jigging action created by your ice rod down through the water column to your jig.
Is that it, three, maybe four sizes? Not entirely, there are times where I will put on a 6 mm jig, which has in most cases has a size #10 hook. It can be effective in deep water also, but I also like dropping this bigger size down in locations where there is a current going through the area. Without a doubt, jigging through the ice is most effective when keeping your presentation as vertical as possible. There are times when this is only possible by dropping down the biggest jig in your arsenal.
Key point, all the jigs talked about in this piece are of the tungsten variety, and in most cases they are horizontal jigs. Can you use lead or vertical hanging jigs, yes you can, and in some cases they can be just as effective. It has been my experience though, nothing fishes like tungsten, and I have far greater success with baits that hang level versus straight up and down.