While some anglers pack up their fishing gear in the winter, ice fishing fanatics are just getting started. Ice fishing can result in some of the year’s greatest catches, like walleye, northern pike, perch, and much more.
Ice fishing does present its own challenges, however: withstanding the cold, finding fish through thick layers of ice, and getting fish to bite when they are less aggressive in the cold waters. It’s important to use the right bait when ice fishing, as some baits and lures will work significantly better than others. Bundle up in your ice fishing shelter and use the best ice fishing baits to make your next great catch through the ice.
Best Live Bait for Ice Fishing
- Wax Worms
- Cut Bait
Wax worms are a favorite live bait among ice fishermen. Also called waxies, this popular bait is the larvae of a bee moth. While fish wouldn’t naturally encounter wax worms as prey, they work extremely well when ice fishing. These small white larvae are typically only an inch long, and they are often used when targeting panfish. Larger species will also bite at wax worms on occasion.
While maggots are totally unappealing to us, fish eat them up. Spikes are the most popular kind of maggots for ice fishing, but other larvae work as well. Spikes are mainly used for catching panfish as well, but can also successfully lure in steelhead or trout. To target bigger fish, add a few maggots to your hook at once.
Worms are versatile, and are used in all styles of fishing with decent success. Ice fishing is no different, and a classic fishing worm can bring you a successful catch. Since they’re larger than maggots and wax worms, worms can often catch larger fish. Use worms when targeting trout, walleye, perch, or bluegill.
Live minnows are not legal to use as bait in every state, but where they are allowed they work wonders. Dead minnows can catch fish too if your state does not allow live ones. Minnows are great for targeting walleye, perch, pike, and crappie, some of the best catches when ice fishing.
Scent is a major factor when ice fishing, which is why live bait can work so well. Since fish are more lethargic and saving energy in the cold weather, they are less likely to strike at just anything. Scent can lure in a fish through the ice, which is why cut bait works so well. All sorts of cut bait could work, but popular options are perch, shad, or whitefish.
Best Ice Fishing Lures
Jigging is the most popular ice fishing technique. The most simple jig is a weighted metal head attached to a hook. There is often a silicone skirt as well to mimic baitfish and for a more realistic look. One reason why jigs are great for ice fishing is because they are already weighted, so they will sink into the water easily without having to add extra weight and tie more knots. Most anglers, especially those ice fishing, add live bait to their jig to further lure in fish. This helps to add scent that will attract fish.
When ice fishing, choose brightly colored jigs to attract fish. Aside from the standard jig, there are also tube jigs and swim jigs. Tube jigs are just like the simple jig, but with a plastic tube that looks more realistically like a baitfish. Swim jigs are another type of jig that resembles a shad or crankbait, with multiple treble hooks. All of these jigs work well for ice fishing.
Spoons are another classic ice fishing lure. Spoons are typically metal, with an elongated body and action that resembles a fish. Their movement can also cause light to reflect off of them to lure in fish. Some spoons even have a rattle to further attract a catch. Spoons are typically tipped with live bait as well for the added scent to attract fish in cold water.
Powerbait is an artificial bait that mimics live bait. Most powerbait is made with added scent, so it lures in fish the same way that live bait can. Powerbait even has a stronger scent at times. It is also more durable, so it can be used and reused, unlike live bait. Pick powerbait that mimics the top bait for ice fishing: maggots, larvae, minnows, and worms work well.
Use the Right Ice Fishing Bait
Make a great catch during your next ice fishing trip by using the best possible bait and lures. Choose from the top bait for ice fishing, and add live bait to lures for the perfect combination to attract fish and make a big catch. Remember to stay safe while ice fishing and bundle up so that you stay warm out on the ice!