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By Pete Rosko
Although my ice-out experiences have primarily been limited to Lake Erie marinas and its wester basin reefs, these techniques are highly effective in marinas and on its walleye pre- and post-spawning reefs. Here’s what I look for the maximize my success with the Sonic BaitFish (SBF) after ice-out.
Marinas and docks, in protected waters, are prime habitats that enable me to successfully vertical jig a 1/16 or 1/10 oz. SBF. Prime structures include metal docks, with moored boats, to absorb the sun’s warming rays. Combine this with 4- to 6-feet of quiet water. By early afternoon, on a sunny day, this warmer water acts as a magnet for crappie and largemouth bass. Even a couple of degrees of warmer water pockets can attract large numbers of fish.
I vertical jig the 1/10 oz. SBF tight against any vertical structure that enters the water. Jigging closer to land is better because of the warmer land mass. Larger structures, such as metal or wood posts supporting docks, hold more radiant heat and attract more fish. Remember, most of these fish are fairly sluggish from the cold water.
Jig accordingly with short twitches of the SBF as if you were jigging through the ice. Never snap-jig in this cold-water environment as this will only spook the fish. Most of the time, I fish with only a tail hook in place. However, the advantage of a top-of-the-back line/snap attachment on the Sonic BaitFish permits the use of a nose and tail hook to maximize the hooking efficiency. Fine wire hooks, attached with #1 light split rings, work best to secure the hook(s) to the SBF.
Glow white or glow chartreuse are great Sonic BaitFish finishes for this ice-out fishery as most baitfish are pale in color. I do not recall ever adding scent, or bait, to the SBF to achieve consistent high levels of success. “Run and gun” until you locate active fish. Once you locate a productive spot, I find that same spot will consistently produce every season, as long as no major structural or environmental changes occur. Oftentimes, a vertically-jigged SBF will out-fish a live minnow. That’s because a fluttering and vibrating SBF on the fall mimics an injured baitfish even better than a real live minnow.
My usual spinning outfit rigging includes 6-lb. test Suffix braid mainline with two feet of 6-lb. Suffix fluorocarbon leader attached to the mainline with a double uni-knot and no swivel. I always have a wide bend snap attached to my terminal leader to maximize the lure’s action and for quick lure changes. Especially for the smaller sizes of SBF, never tie your leader directly to the SBF as this will adversely affect the lure’s action. Conversely, the wide bend snap, which is provided in the SBF package, wil permit the lure to function more freely.
These shallow rock piles are magnets for springtime spawning walleyes. On calm days, casting a 1/10 oz. Sonic BaitFish should provide almost non-stop action. The technique is to cast to the rock pile and let your SBF settle until it contacts structure. Then, retrieve your SBF in a rhythmic life of your rod, followed by one full turn of your spinning reel handle. I call this “jig casting.” The rod is worked between 11 and 12 o’clock. Repeat this sequence until the SBF is complete retrieved.
It's the fall, not the lift, of the SBF that triggers the strike. Generally, your rod lifts depend on your rod tip. Vary the speed of your rod lifts until the first strike occurs. Error on the side of being slow and methodical, especially in colder water. Then, duplicate that that same presentation until the “bite” dies. If done properly, this technique will catch fish under difficult conditions.
It is critical for you to be able to feel the Sonic BaitFish working in structure where the fish are located. You will not be consistently effective if you have no idea what the SBF is doing!
Tip: An option to jig-casting is to slow-retrieve the SBF in a straight line without jigging. The jigging action is replaced by a swimming action. As mentioned in my previous articles, I like to add a small Colorado or Indiana spinner blade to the tail split ring of the SBF when I’m trolling or retrieving. This creates extra flash and vibration for the lure. However, the 1/16 and 1/10 oz. sizes are an exception. Adding a blade to those two micro-sized lures would affect their delicate balance. As a result, adding a blade is not an option for me on the 1/16 and 1/10 oz. Sonic BaitFish.
As always, be safe on the water and handle your catch-and-release fish with loving care. Thank you for subscribing to the Mack Attack Magazine and join us next month for the May issue.
— Capt. Pete