Dropping a line below the ice in anticipation of a fish striking it doesn’t always give anglers the most confidence. In open water, anglers can survey the area and get a good feeling about what the fish want and where they’re located. When ice fishing, you’re limited to a small area and need to ensure the bait you’ve chosen is the perfect option for what the fish want.
To attract fish when you’re ice fishing, you need to make sure the fish know you’re in the area and can quickly locate your bait. To help fish discover your bait and realize you’re in the area, make sure you use baits with bright colors and noise-making features like beads and gel scents.
Fish are looking to feed in the winter, but their metabolism is slow, so you need to make sure your bait seems too attractive to pass up!
How To Best Attract Fish When Ice Fishing?
In the winter, fish are extra picky. They need to conserve as much energy as possible due to the cold water and air temperatures, so unless they see a perfect meal, they don’t bother trying to eat it.
Use the following methods to ensure the fish see your bait and are eager to eat it.
1. Use Noisy Lures
When you’re fishing in the winter, the water is dark, and fish aren’t always easily able to tell what food is around. Instead of having to hunt hard for your lure, a little noise will pull them directly towards your lure.
Their sheer curiosity and eagerness to feed is enough for them to take a long look at what you have on the end of your line.
Either you can purchase a bait that already comes with beads, or you can add some beads to a bait you already own. Brass beads or glass beads are best.
You want to make sure the beads have enough weight to hit against each other when you are jigging up and down near the bottom of the water column.
You should feel the line and your rod vibrate when jigging. It’s easy to rig your own beads on a lure with a piece of wire.
Put two or three beads above the eye of the hook and make sure they can move freely in order to clack together and make noise.
When the beads hit the eyelet of the lure, they’ll create those necessary vibrations.
2. Use Bright Colors
Perhaps the easiest way to attract fish is to use bright-colored lures.
Even if you’re using a small jig head and soft plastic, make sure the jig is a bright pink or a variety of different colors that contrast the usual dark water that the fish see.
You don’t have to overcomplicate this aspect of it. Anything the fish usually wouldn’t see under the surface is good enough.
Bright yellow, blue, orange, red, pink, green, and white are terrific options. Sometimes, fish will strike out of aggression, and bright colors can fire them up and make them want to hit your bait.
Some quick movements with the lures you’re using are enough to make them go crazy!
3. Bounce Bait on the Bottom
While changing your jigging method is essential, you must be sure to bounce your jig up and down on the bottom. Bouncing your bait on the bottom will create a dust cloud.
The dust cloud gives fish a perfect idea that something is in the area that could potentially be food! Also, if the bottom is filled with rocks, your bait will make decent noise.
When you combine these two things, there is no better attractant for fish!
4. Use Scents
Depending on who you ask, you may get a variety of answers about if it’s ethical to use scents on the lures and bait you’re using.
If it helps, there is nothing in the laws that say you cannot use scent on your lures! Some choose to use a gel scent you can get at any local fishing store.
Brands like Gulp, Dr. Juice, PowerBait, and Baitwaxx all offer gels that attract various types of fish.
Coat the lure with the gel scent and drop it in the water. The scent will immediately start spreading.
Some bottles you purchase will be spray bottles that make it easy to coat, and others require a soft rag; all you have to do is rub the scent around your lure.
If they’re selling the scent at a local bait shop, it likely will be natural and not cause harm to the fish or the environment.
When you drop your bait into the water, you’ll see an oily substance escape and fill the surrounding area! This oily sheen is precisely the result you want to see.
If it’s a scent that works, you’ll find yourself in great shape. One dip of your bait in the scent can work for upwards of 30 minutes! After this, you’ll need to recoat it.
Other companies like Pautzke and BaitCloud offer anglers a scent ball that they can drop directly into the water before they even begin fishing.
These are perfect for ice fishing since you know you’re going to be fishing in a similar area to where the scent ball was dropped into the water! It helps keep everything concentrated.
5. Change Fishing Style
Odds are, the fish within 15 yards of you have seen your bait and know you’re there. Your fish finder will also tell you this. If they know you’re there but aren’t attracted to your bait; it’s time to make a change.
A simple change of your fishing style could be all you need to attract the fish to your bait. If you choose a slow, methodic jigging style, you may change it to short bursts of quick action.
Or, you could do two slow jigs and two fast jigs. Simple changes could be all that you need. Too often, anglers are married to one style of jigging and don’t even realize they do the same things over and over.
Get creative and see what you can do. Another option is to change the depth that you’re fishing. If you’re jigging two feet above the bottom, try dropping your lure another foot and jig it just off the bottom.
This depth may be where the fish had been feeding all day, and having your bait suspended higher in the water column looks wrong. Or, choose to go higher in the water column!
It’s up to you and your willingness to try different methods. Be willing to go through trial and error. If you know fish are in the area and aren’t committing, you may have to try different methods until they do.
They will eventually eat what you have in the water, given a chance. It just needs to look good enough.
6. Cover the Hole
Another sneaky trick for attracting fish is covering the hole you’re fishing. Whether you’re fishing in broad daylight or have lights in your ice shanty, a random ray of light can be confusing for the fish.
They’re not used to seeing the light break through the ice completely. When they do, they know something is different and potentially wrong.
Seeing too much light could cause them to steer clear of you. Keep your bait and transducer in the water, but find a bucket cover or a small tarp and throw it over the hole.
You can still jig and move your bait around, but you won’t be too obvious with the light shooting through the hole you drilled. You’ll have to rely heavily on your fish finder when fishing like this.
Pay attention and see if you drilled other holes close to where you’re fishing! If possible, cover them all. Limiting the amount of light will make your bait appear as natural as it possibly can.
Remember to remove the hole covers when you’re ready to land your fish.
7. Change Lures
Sometimes the lures and bait you’re using aren’t working and will never work. As soon as your lure gets near the fish, you should start seeing movement on your fish finder.
Whether it’s fish moving to look at your bait or just an increase in activity, any slight movement shows you that what you have on is causing a reaction.
If the fish don’t move and do not seem interested, this is a dead giveaway that what you have at the end of your line is not attractive to the fish.
If you know the lure you’re using usually works, try a different color or size! Sometimes you don’t have to change the type entirely, and all you need is a slight change in features.
Start simple; if that fails, you may want to make more extensive changes to different lures or baits.
8. Use Other Rods/Tip Ups
Another simple solution for attracting fish to you is to fish with tip-ups or additional rods. A tip-up is an ice fishing tool that allows you to fish without needing to monitor your line and bait constantly.
Generally, each angler can use one or two of these on top of one fishing rod. Check your local rules and regulations before you set more than one.
If you choose not to use a tip-up, you can likely use one or two additional rods, depending on the local rules and regulations!
Some anglers prefer to “dead stick” another rod because it’s challenging to jig with two rods simultaneously.
To dead stick a rod, you’re putting a minnow or large worm on a hook and dropping it down to the exact location you want in the water column. Use a slip bobber to help you determine when a fish is striking!
Slip bobbers allow the line to go through them as needed but still bob in the water when you’re getting a strike. These are a perfect way to attract fish to you!
9. Attract Panfish
Getting panfish to surround your bait is a perfect way to attract other fish. With panfish come larger fish like pike and bass!
Panfish like crappie and sunfish are easily attracted to wax worms, minnows, or anything else with movement or scent. You can also use bright colors and baits with noise.
Panfish are naturally curious and aren’t always the most brilliant things swimming around in the water. A strong scent or noise will attract them even if they choose not to eat what you have.
The more action you can create, the smaller panfish will be there!
10. Move Around
Sometimes you choose the wrong spot. Even if you think you’re in the ideal location, you can overestimate and make a mistake!
You don’t have to move entirely across the rest of the lake, but a few dozen yards one way or the other can be an attractant.
Fish like to see bait in the water; if it’s all in the same general area, you can help yourself catch more fish.
11. Use Natural Baits
It’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of natural baits. Natural baits have everything that you need to catch fish. You have the scents, movement, and colors you try to accomplish with artificial baits.
Things like minnows and wax worms are the perfect option for anglers looking to attract all sorts of fish. Choose baits that are lively.
Dead minnows and worms aren’t as effective as a minnow that moves around and darts up and down in the water column. While it’s moving, it gives off a smell and even makes slight sounds.
These smells and actions will bring fish from around the area to your bait.
Worms that move have a powerful smell. If you purchase a few dozen wax worms, many bait shops will put them in a large portion of sawdust.
The sawdust holds a unique scent and keeps all the necessary oils on the worms. These oils continue to excrete from the worm even after you land several fish with them.
12. Small Line Twist
A small twist of your line will give your bait a different action that fish are not used to seeing. The line twist allows for the bait to swing back and forth as well as spin.
To accomplish this, take the line next to your lure and twist it in your fingers. Do this a few times! If you overdo it, you’ll find that the line gets weaker over time.
You’ll likely have to cut the line after a few uses and re-tie the lure. You don’t want to blow your shot at a large fish due to a weak line!
Snip the line around 10 inches above the bait, ensuring you won’t lose that trophy fish.
Attracting fish through the ice doesn’t have to be as complicated as many anglers make it out to be. Fish are eager to eat in the winter, but they aren’t going to roam all over looking for food.
However, if they know it’s an easy meal, they will make an extra effort to find your bait. Taking your time and using all the abovementioned tactics will give you a shot at any fish you would want!
As long as you’re not married to one method, you’ll find that it doesn’t take long to bring in fish.