…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.
…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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org … just copy and paste it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
….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.
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.
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.
My staff order from Clam Outdoors came in yesterday to the house from Minnesota. If you are Facebook, you probably saw me go “Live” showing the features of the new Stealth Spearfisher hub shelter. One of the other items I picked up was the Large Deluxe Spoon Box that Clam introduced last year.
The Spoon Boxes come in two sizes, small and large. With my spoon arsenal for big water walleye, there was no way I was going to be able to fit everything into the smaller box. Even with 81 slots in the large box, I had to pick my very best spoons to fill the box.
Why get the spoon box? Two main reasons that come to mind right away deal with protecting your investment. Tackle isn’t cheap and you want to fish with these lures for as long as possible. My first concern would be the paint jobs, when you have them loose in a plastic case, they bounce around which leads to paint being chipped off the lures. I like loud baits, which means a lot of my spoons have rattles attached to them. The best way for your rattles to come off is for them to be bouncing around while traveling to your best holes.
The spoons stay secured in their slots, protecting both paint schemes and rattles. Of course the obvious reason for protecting your gear in the Spoon Box are those nasty tangles that will steal precious minutes of fishing time while you try to get that one spoon you really want to use out of the mess. Also, another reason to purchase the box is for protecting the fins on your swimming/jigging minnows and perfect for sizes that are 2.5 inches or smaller.
If you are looking for that one item to enhance your experience on the ice this season, or wanting to get something for the ice angler in your life for Christmas, I suggest the Spoon Box from Clam. Just about every retail location you can think of has the boxes in stock right now.
Protect your gear with the Spoon Box!
Last month I shared that using my Vexilar sonar/flasher was an integral component in my success while fishing a walleye tourney on the Saginaw River. Proving yet again, your winter equipment can really be used all year-long to enhance your fishing experience. But what if I told you another tool in the tackle box could be used for something more than just fishing?
That’s right, your underwater camera! Of course you can use it on your boat, or even off of a dock, making it extremely useful all year-long, but that is not what I am talking about. Across the Ice Belt there is another season happening right now, deer hunting season!
Whether in a tree or on the ground, you can use your underwater camera to your advantage. Without the camera, you can see everything in front of you, you can even turn your head a little in either direction and see what is to the left or right of you. It gets a little tricky though when it comes to seeing what is behind you. This is where the camera plays a pivotal role.
This works really well on the ground in a ground or hub style blind or in a raised structure. In a tree, you can hang it from a hook, and there is plenty of cable to reach the ground and place the camera there. On the ground, place the camera on the in front of you, someplace out-of-the-way, but still visible. Run the camera cable out the door and zip it down, placing the camera in your blind spot. If you do not have a floor, just run the cable under the blind or over the wood you constructed your hideout with.
Now you are able to see what is coming up behind you without getting a sore neck, or making noise while sitting in a chair. You can say that inside your blind you have a swivel type chair and don’t need the camera, but I promise at some point that chair will squeak!
You can choose the Vexilar FS 8OO or if you like to see things in color, you can use the FS 2000 or the Fishphone. The Fishphone allows you to make use of your smartphone and connects to the camera system through its built-in wifi. If you aren’t too worried what is behind you, but you want to take video of that trophy buck that comes into your blind or stand you can record the action on your phone, or get the DVR accessory and with use of the remote, start your video when the deer come in. This is a great way to keep your hunt alive over and over again, or perhaps record your young hunter’s first time out in the woods!
Either way, making a video of the hunt or checking out what is making all that noise behind you, your Vexilar underwater system isn’t just for ice fishing anymore!