Spring Jigging on Erie is around the Corner

With the current monsoon taking place in lower Michigan, I cannot help but think about jigging on the lake come springtime. Don’t get me wrong, trolling his highly effective and I will still get that rush of anticipation when the double action flag on my Church Tackle planer board gets pulled back. When it comes the spring season though, jigging on the lake is just a different ballgame, it’s going back to the basics and just a whole different type of thrill.

 

Whether you are a ripping a blade bait or thumping the bottom with a hair jig, the weight of a fish makes your heart skip a beat with anticipation of what will be at the other end of the line.  Each type of lure has a time and place, and generally speaking they can be used in all conditions, but I narrow them down to water clarity. In the muddy soup the blade baits really come through and they work well in that transition into cleaner water.  The hair jigs work for me during that transition area too, but really shine when fishing in clean water.  The muddier the water, the darker the presentation, transition zones are when I like a white based lure and then in clean water give me something natural or off the wall color pattern like those on the crankbaits when trolling.

When it comes to rods, I have tried a lot of the rods from St. Croix and really like the somewhat longer ones that have an extra fast action for the jigs. Some are medium light, but most are medium and they vary from 6’8″ to 6’9″ inches in length. The shorter 6’3″ MXF can be used specifically for the blade baits, but the longer medium action rods also excel with this method.  The one thing I do not want is a wimpy soft action rod, but want to feel the weight of the fish and drive the hook home on the set.

Whether you are fishing the reefs in Ohio, or dumping grounds in Michigan, jigging gives the angler the chance to get back to the basics.  The feel of the fish on lure, fighting it all the way to the surface and finally getting it into the boat. So, with the current monsoon weather currently in our area, its time to break out the gear, spool some reels and get ready for the fantastic fishing we have ahead of us!

Copyright, 2018

Posted in Lake Erie, Product Reviews, Walleye Fishing | Leave a comment

Hair Jig Nation: Jigging on Lake Erie

I am still in total ice mode, but things are starting to creep into my thoughts, like catching walleye on Lake Erie in the spring.  First thing I want to do is check the line on the reels that will go back on my longer jigging rods from St. Croix, and then getting back into the lab and coming up with new color patterns for the hair jigs I will be using.  Blade baits are great, and they have their time and place, but when the bite is on, hair jigs are what will be used most of the time on my rods.

 

What rods may be the next question, and truth be told, I have several rigged up in order to match the mood of the fish and depths of water I am fishing.  You can fish with one rod at a time, but I started using two rods through the ice decades ago, so I became pretty adapt at reeling in fish with either hand.  That said I also match up rods to my own strengths, a prime example would be when I break out the Avids, one casting for my left hand, and one spinning for my right hand.  These combinations include the models (2) AVC 69 MLXF, AVS 68 MXF and AVS 70 MLF.  These give me the hook set strength of an extra fast tip and for those light biting fish where I might have to finesse fish a bit, the slightly softer tip with the fast action.  When fishing deep water or really aggressive walleye, then I use my Legend Tournament Walleye Series rods in MXF action with the 6′ 8″ rods.  I use 10 lb braid on the reels, and if you are asking me why, my answer will be because I can!  I don’t see the benefit of dropping down to a lower rated line and from the action over the years, the walleye don’t seem to mind either.

Legend Walleye

Avid Spin

Now comes the part I enjoy the most, making the lures that will actually put walleye in the boat.

I enjoy making my own hair jigs, and creating new size and color combinations or kind of like that old cooking show “Almost Homemade”, taking an existing product and coming up with something new.  Two of my favorite examples are from Northland Tackle, the Whistler Jig and Thumper Jig.  I will use the Whistlers on a faster drift, and the lighter Thumpers when the boat is barely moving.

When I actually get up into the lab and pour my own jigs, I like using the Ultra Minnow Jig molds from Do-It.  I have both sizes because the first mold only goes up to 5/8 of an ounce, while the other will cover my 3/4 and 1 ounce needs.  Once this step is done, the fun begins and I break out the powder paint equipment from TJ’s Tackle, which is one reason I refer to all the work being done in a lab. Like a chemist creating new solutions, the new patterns being thought of are a result of my own experiments.

TJ’s Tackle Powder Paint

One of the paint schemes actually required some mixing and experimentation until the color came out just right and John Deere Green was created.  It was a combination of Bright Green and Dark Watermelon.  The JD Green combination works well in dirty water because it is a darker color, but also shines in clean water because of its resemblance to the perch the walleye are feeding on.

John Deere Green

 

There are so many combinations and with a little experimentation on your part, you will find the ones that work the best for you.

Give your jig some body by mixing the colors of the faux hair for some Eye catching patterns, or build them up while using a single color.  Think of this general rule; dark colors in really dirty water, white patterns in the transition water and in clear water more natural colors seem to work best.  Purples, blacks and browns work in really dirty water, combinations of whites with either white or lighter color jigheads, and then drop the greens, yellow and oranges in clean water.  Follow these guidelines and then create your own rules to follow!

Copyright, 2018

 

 

Posted in Lake Erie, Walleye Fishing | Leave a comment

A Collaboration Article for Ice Fishing…

…and helping anglers catch more panfish.  Below is a link that takes you to an article that I helped edit and co-author with  Jim Ahonen, who like myself, is also a member of Church Tackle’s staff.

Wisconsin Slab

ODUMagazine/Gilling Up

Copyright, 2018

Posted in Articles, Ice Fishing, Ice Products, Panfish Fishing | Leave a comment

BB Fishing; the Double XL Ice Reel

That iconic ice fishing reel made famous here in Michigan gets a “sizable” upgrade with the introduction of the BB Fishing ice reel. I sat down with owner Bronson Burch from Manitou Beach, Michigan…that’s Devil’s Lake south of Brooklyn where some of the biggest money tourneys have been held anywhere in the country!  I asked all sorts of questions about the product learned what went into starting his own company.  I think my best question was, “What made you produce this reel?”.  His response was classic, “Because I wanted a better reel.”  Doesn’t get any better than that, you want a product driven by anglers wanting a better mousetrap.

If you think this the same old same reel we have been used too, think again.  The reel itself is physically larger than the competition and the arbor is larger than what smaller reels would be with backing on the reel.  Why is it important, because the “gear ratio” is actually faster now and if you use some form of backing, it will only increase the speed in which the line is taken back in by the reel while you fight the fish. Hence the “Speed Reel” moniker being applied to the reel.

In the short time the reel has been available, veterans of the ice fishing circuits have been snatching them up to run them through the only tests that matter, catching fish through the ice.  Not only the pro’s have been using them though, the first production run sold out in a matter of days after being introduced for sale.  They sold out on Ebay and  messages sent on Facebook through the page BB Fishing and the website BB Fishing.us

Here’s the list of advantages that you get from using the reel.  I already mentioned the speed factor, the fish come in that much faster.  Also, you really do not need to use backing which has caused some issues on some smaller reels.  I like the handle!  For one it doesn’t pop off, and most importantly because of the size, it is easier to find when you first hook the fish.  This just allows you to start fighting the fish faster without trying to find it.

If you are interested in the new reel from BB Fishing, this is the weekend for you.  Bronson will be sharing a  booth with Lakeside at the Ultimate Fishing Show in Novi, Michigan with plenty of product for the whole weekend…maybe.  You can also find the reels on Facebook, just type in BB Fishing, or hit the link I highlighted above.  You can also visit the BB Fishing website or email Bronson direct at:  bbfishingllc@gmail.com … just copy and paste it!

Copyright, 2017

 

 

Posted in Ice Fishing, Ice Products, Panfish Fishing, Perch Fishing, Product Reviews | Leave a comment

My Twist on The Michigan Rig

Anglers in Michigan have been adding a small dry fly to their ice line set-ups for decades.  It consists of either a lead or tungsten jig at the bottom of your line and about 12 inches above that, the fly.  Normally this is rigged with the fly in a loop knot, and it works.

But like the commercial, and I am paraphrasing, I didn’t create the rig, I just made it better, at least in my opinion.

I have always liked using the upper tag end of a double uni-knot, which also is known as the back to back uni.  I came up with the idea because like the tightliners around Central Michigan, I like using bright-colored line to be able to see it in the water.  Unlike some though, I always use a fluorocarbon leader from the mainline to my jig.  You probably guessed it already, my favorite knot for connecting the two lines is the double uni. Once tied up, the fly umbrellas away, creating distance from the mainline and knot.

Through the past 20 years I have been privileged to meet some of the best anglers across the ice belt, many have become good friends.  Barry Williams of Brooklyn, Michigan is one such angler.  You may recognize the name through a couple of articles mentioning his products in In-Fisherman’s Ice Guide the last few years.  His Spooky Tungsten Jigs and Roadkill Flies have quite the cult following by ice anglers across the country.

Long story short, Barry is a good friend and we keep in contact.  A couple of weeks ago, another buddy and I go to Barry’s to pick up some tungsten and dry flies.  A week later he gives me a shout and asks me if I use the Michigan Rig at all, and how do I tie it.  Of course I say I do and tell him about using the tag end on the double uni.

He pretty much says that would be a “bear” to get the right length from the fly to the mainline.  I told I used to have the same problem, then I shared my trick to always get it the right length. The key is to tie the fly onto the leader before making the knot!

The second key to tying the Michigan Rig like this is to leave the upper tag end short to the end of the upper uni section.  This way when you pull the two wraps together to give knot its strength, the end with the fly will only be 1/2 or 3/4’s of an inch away from the line.  This gives the fly the perfect distance to help avoid tangles, and more importantly the ability to detect bites faster than you could with a longer tag end.

There is it is, my version of the Michigan Rig. As the fly umbrellas out, it gives the impression of a live bug. Plus while using the weight of the jig below the fly itself looks to be swimming through the water naturally.

Copyright, 2017

 

 

 

Posted in Do-It-Yourself, Ice Fishing, Panfish Fishing, Perch Fishing | Leave a comment

The Great Tungsten Ice Jig Debate…

First off, that is a waste of time, call this a size guide and when to fish them.

Secondly, not a word about the heater in the corner, it was cold that winter 🙂

Thirdly is actually a word and this has nothing to do with the latest debate about the effectiveness of lead versus tungsten ice jigs. In my opinion tungsten users cash the checks, and lead is for the fun fishing….in certain situations….OK I hardly ever use lead.

This debate is about what size of tungsten jig to use, and when.

2 mm:  The 2 mil, that hidden gem that most don’t even know exists.  It is a unique size for  calm waters and fish that have been pounded on local lakes. Perfect for rigging a single spike (maggot) or wiggler (mayfly larvae) in shallow water.  Use with 1 lb test line and let the jig drift down the water column to entice those tight-lipped bulls.  I said bulls, which is slang for bigger gills, and this jig is really more for bluegill, pumpkin seeds, redear …etc. Negative points, it is a slow falling jig and often the hook gap is pretty tight.  To remedy this, carefully take a pair of forceps and slightly open the gap up, while being careful not to pinch down on the hooks tiny barb.

2.5 mm:  The work horse of the tourney angler, fish it hard and fish it fast, or fish it slow and subtle in water 12 foot or less. Whether tipped with live bait or micro-plastics, the 2.5 mil is the jig used in most situations by anglers drilling 50 plus holes (closer to 100) through the ice each day. Tipped with a couple of spikes, a waxworm or some slightly bigger plastics, the 2.5 allows you to fish several styles or presentations.

3 mm:  The tiny jig of the “Average Joe”, that intrepid angler venturing into the sport for the first time that gets blasted by social media by only three sizes of jigs available by multiple sources.  The experienced angler uses the 3 mil for scouting or, as I look side to side to make sure no one is watching, for that honey hole you know absolutely no one else has found.  The fresh fish that just haven’t been pounded by the hoards.  The tourney angler loves to be able to fish a #3, because it usually means the weather has been stable for a few days and the fish are actively feeding up and down the water column.

4 mm:  The work horse for the “Weekend Warrior”, with its #12 hook it closely resembles those legendary lead jigs of days gone by, but with a smaller profile.  The experienced guy looks at certain situations where this size can shine above the rest.  That 12 to 15 foot depth of water, or shallower waters that might hold some current.  Pack on a few extra spikes or start fishing those larger tail type plastics.  The heavier body can be finessed in that deeper/current application, or fished aggressively with live bait and imparting a lot of action while using plastics. Careful now, there are actually two types of 4 mm on the market, and they work better with certain baits.  One 4 mil has a short shank hook and works best with live bait, and then there are some longer shanks that work really well bigger plastics.  The point here is that beware about the fact that some hooks will impede the action of smaller plastics, and you will want those bigger baits so the tail will still dance and entice those bites.

5 mm:  Hardly used by some, the experienced angler uses the 5 mil for the aggressive biting deep water crappie.  Tipped with a small minnow or just the head, three to four spikes or those bigger plastics that imitate minnows. These jigs with their #10 hook fall fast through the water column and are often met halfway up the column by hungry specs.  Another bite would involve deep water perch hugging the bottom. It should be understood that this is more of a niche application than the norm, but can be highly effective under the right circumstances.

6 mm:  The last installment of this piece, I could go even bigger, but since I have only dropped down a 6 mil three times in 14 years, I wont touch the bigger sizes.  That said, deep water, jumbo perch or big perch in a lot of current.  That’s it, are there other uses…yes, it can be a good size if you are fishing for whitefish, and rainbows in deep water…etc. Waxworms, minnows or jumbo plastics are the most commonly used baits used with the #8 hook on this jig size.

That wraps this article up, a common guide for using the different sizes available in tungsten panfish jigs.  I always say that general rules applied to anything fishing are just that, generally speaking.  You will always have exceptions, and I have even had a few…except the 6 mm, that one is pretty much written in stone for my uses.

Copyright, 2017

Posted in Ice Fishing, Ice Products, Panfish Fishing, Perch Fishing, Product Reviews | Leave a comment

Tightline, Free Fall, Spinning or Schooley?

Wisconsin Slab

This seems to be the big debate the last few years in the ice fishing world, so this is my take on it.

As far as spinning reels, love my Daiwa’s but when it comes to fishing for panfish through the ice they pull limited duty in  the arsenal. For myself, these get used in deep water while targeting crappie.  I want to get the jig down to where the fish are as fast as possible, sometimes they are hugging the bottom, sometimes they are suspended six or seven foot from the bottom.  That’s it, only application for me that fits in my methods.

Nice seed!

That said, I would tell a new person to the sport, that they are ok for one or two fish at the start of fishing, after that the line becomes too twisted….unless.  Don’t you just love these little stipulations that get thrown into my articles?  Its just because there almost always exceptions to the rules and I like to try to be fair and balanced without insulting folks.  OK, back to the unless….Unless, you pull the line out of your rod tip while fishing in shallow water bites, and for this point, I would call shallow water twelve foot or less.  Pulling out your line is a good idea for several reasons, for line twist which I think is on everyone’s mind, it helps the jig unwind the twist while slowly going down the hole. After a while it wont matter, the line is always going to spin your jig.  Another good reason for doing it is that the slow approach to where the fish are won’t be as likely to spook the fish.  Wind, that natural breath of ice, not only will will it make your neck cold, but will also blow light line off your reel and make a mess.

Schooley Reels

The Schooley Reel, made in Michigan and will cost you at the most six bucks. Add in a simple modification to make this hidden gem more functional (Schooley Modification) and it might cost you $2 for the Fuji eye and a buck for some crazy glue.  Read it, you will understand.  Now, to get away from that shameless plug, back to the reel.  The original tightline reel, and might add, the first choice of numerous tourney champions.  Again, I am using the method of pulling the line out through the rod tip, or if you prefer, spring bobber.  You can actually “undwind” a Schooley to let the line out, but when using really light jigs, the line can get wrapped around…well you name it. The spring, the reel itself or even the fuzz coming off your woolen gloves.  This does work for deeper water with a heavier jig, or when fishing inside a shanty.

Sidenote:  You can remove the spring if you really want a “free-fall reel”, but it will take some practice setting the hook, a bass fishing exaggerated hookset will be a catastrophe!

Am I biased in my addiction to these nylon reels, you bet.  There are less parts to screw around with, they work in any condition Mother Nature can throw at you and most importantly, they don’t add twist to your line.  Let all the fish do that for you!  There is a side bonus, you can get 15 to 20 reels for the cost of one of these new fab contraptions 🙂

Copyright, 2017

 

Posted in Do-It-Yourself, Ice Fishing, Ice Products, Panfish Fishing, Perch Fishing | Leave a comment

Greasing Your Ice Reels…..

….DON’T DO IT!

I had a customer ask me at our local outdoors type store, what was the best grease to use with his spinning ice fishing reels.  I told him none of course.  If your reels are dedicated to just ice fishing rods, meaning you either leave them taped up or on the reel seat all year, then for one thing, the grease that came in the reel originally will last for years.

Second point, it is really easy to “over” grease your spinning reels.  If you have ever over greased a reel,  and then tried to fish with it, you probably already know where I am going with this.  The grease thickens to the point it actually becomes hard to turn the handle.

If you think your reel is in dire need of some lubrication,  I suggest you either look around the garage, or run down to the local hardware and get some 3-IN-ONE oil.  Because of the cold weather on the ice there naturally isn’t has much heat build up on the bearing and gears.  Just a few drops of this lightweight oil will keep everything spinning smoothly and allow you to turn your hand, and fight the fish with ease for years to come.

Copyright, 2017

Posted in Do-It-Yourself, Ice Fishing, Ice Products | Leave a comment

Extend the Range of Your Vexilar

If there is one thing when it comes to ice fishing that I absolutely cannot fish without, it would be my Vexilar flasher.  After using every single model that Vex offers over the past 16 years and seeing the competition in tournament after tourney, nothing holds up to the quality of Vexilar.  Another reason I love my Vexilars is the ability to adapt my units to several different conditions.  I don’t just mean using my units on the open water either,  the company offers many accessories that will help you improve you catch rate on the ice as well.

One such accessory are the two different lengths available with their transducer extension cables.

They come in either a ten foot cable, or if you prefer it comes in a 20 ft length too.  Add the additional 6 ft transducer cable and you can now use a 16 or 26 foot transducer.  You can actually go up to 60 foot if you add three 20 ft cables together without losing signal strength.

Sounds cool, but you are probably asking what does all this mean when I am fishing?  For me, with the now 16 foot of transducer cable it means I can monitor a hole outside my shanty with one of my Vexilars.  Couple that with a tip-up, deadstick or slammer type setup I can see what is going on in that hole while I am either jigging one or two rods inside my Clam shanty or hub with my other Vexilar for those rods.

Cameras are really nice, but they can be a pain to get setup in the right direction to monitor your lure/bait, and they are water condition dependent on whether they are useful or not.  A flasher doesn’t need clear water to tell you there is a fish interested in your presentation and you need to get ready to quickly react to a bite.

So if you have a Vexilar already, you made the right choice.  If you want to really improve your catch rate on the ice whether you are fishing for walleye or pike (just examples), then think about getting a second unit with an extension to expand your ability to catch more fish.

Copyright, 2017

Posted in Ice Fishing, Ice Products | Leave a comment

Choosing the right Ice Rod for Panfish

Choosing an ice rod for panfish sounds easy, just walk into the fishing department of a store and grab a 24″ ultra light rod with some reel and go fishing.

If you really think that, then this is probably the article you need to read the most, more than any other ice fishing piece you may read while considering what rods to get this year.

My philosophy came about almost 20 years ago while fishing my first Ice Team Trap Attack on a lake in Brooklyn, Michigan.  At first I just wanted to have more than a couple of rods so if something happened I would not be wasting valuable time trying to retie jigs in cold weather while dealing with numb fingers.  Within a year or two of that, I looked at the multiple rods bass anglers were using on open water and how they were specialized for particular techniques.

Taking that approach I started looking at various rods and how they might handle my approach to catching more panfish.  By that I mean, the different techniques I use for …you know what, lets scrap the panfish moniker, and just pick one, and in this case lets center on Bluegill.  Why bluegill, because they taste the best of course!

Looking back at that 24 inch rod off the shelf, although it’s not ideal rod for gills there are some purposes where the rod will shine.  Here in Michigan we are allowed three rods each while fishing any body of water, so if you are fishing multiple rods, why not have at least one rod as a bobber rod.  By taking a small slip bobber large enough to balance out with the jig you are using below, you have used up one of your three rods.  It’s also a great presentation for getting kids involved in the sport.

Taking that same rod, you can add a quality spring bobber to the end to make it more versatile tool. Where to start on the spring bobbers is the next question, luckily you have many options.  Depending on how you want to allocate your “fishing” funds, you can have set-ups for 3, 4, or 5 mm tungsten jigs.  If you want to start out slow, in my opinion I would choose the 3 mm set up.   On the tourney trail over the years I have learned you can never go wrong with a 3 mm in all situations.  If you are fishing lakes that aren’t pressured on a regular basis, then you can jump up to the 4 mm, specially if you fish some deeper water.  Will a 5 mm catch fish, yes, but in my book this is a highly condition specific type of approach that will rarely present itself to someone not fishing some deep water bite tourneys.

One last thing considering that off the rack 24 inch rod, and I know I stopped at only discussing gills for this piece.  That said, they make excellent spoon and swimbait rods for crappie and perch.  For a clear translation on swimbait, I mean a Jigging Rapala type presentation.

For the ideal adjustable spring bobber already on a rod, that will be covered by the Legend Ice Rod from St. Croix Rods. It’s a 24 inch ultra light rod with a unique “light” spring that can be adjusted for the weight of the jig.  This is accomplished by carefully pushing the spring in for heavier jigs, or further out for smaller presentations.  If I had to give a percentage on what a bluegill bite will look like while using a spring, it would be that 90% of the time a gill pull the spring down.  5% of the time the jig will not move the spring, just straighten it out.  The other 5% of the time, although more common with fishing for crappie, the spring will jump up while fishing shallow water weedbeds where the gills come up to aggressively feed.

Some rods, specifically custom rods are made with different presentations already in mind.  I don’t need a rod that looks like its been designed to be hung on the wall like a piece of art, which is not to say they wont catch fish, just not my style. I do have some custom “noodle” rods from Minnesota that are very sensitive, and I don’t mean so much by the feel, but what the rod tip will visually tell me is going on below.  These rods are usually my scout rods when I am looking for fish with a multitude of presentations.  This way I can go big or small.

My sight fishing rods are SHORT, 16 inches in length, but no bigger than 18″ is where I would tell anglers to start with while looking for a good rod.  My dual purpose sight and spring bobber rods are 17 inch lights from St Croix’s Legend series.  For those not familiar with sight fishing, it’s a method where you look directly down the hole and watch the fish as they come in to take your bait.

Tightlining rods are usually 20-22 inches in length, and they designed, or used specifically for watching the line in your hole.  Michigan anglers came up with this method before the introduction of electronics like Vexilar. A common misconception is that you just watch the line at the top of your hole, but you are really watching the line in the hole.  What the line is doing will show an experienced tightliner whether you have a fish on or not.  Since one indication of a fish taking your bait might be your line showing some slack, it’s generally accepted that your rod be a stiff ultra light or light action rod in order to set the hook.

And that would be your starting guide for choosing a good rod for bluegills, many of the same rods can be used for perch and crappie though.  Once you decide on how you want to approach a lake, you can determine which set ups will work best.   Don’t be pigeon holed by what others are doing though, find rod that feels right for your methods, and don’t be surprised if you look at multiple rods to find the ones that will fill your arsenal and help you catch the most fish.

Posted in Ice Fishing, Ice Products | Leave a comment