There’s nothing more thrilling than being out on a chunk of ice in the frigid cold with your line in the water waiting around to see what bites. Ice fishing tests not only the stamina of the fish, but the durability of your body. You’re out in the frigid air with nothing around you but ice and an endless expanse of dark blue three feet beneath you.
Making the most out of this edge of the world experience is all about bringing the best tools for the job. Having access to live bait while ice fishing will make a world of difference in what you bring in. But which live bait should you bring along?
Top Three Live Bait Options for Ice Fishing
While ice fishing might be one activity that requires the most patience to properly do, bringing the right bait along will certainly decrease the amount of time you spend waiting for a catch. There are many factors you must consider when selecting the right bait for the job. For one, you’re typically fishing in a rather frigid climate and much of what your typical bait would be won’t survive in those conditions. Many bait fish specifically wouldn’t last when going ice fishing for example.
Not all hope is lost! There are plenty of live bait options that you can bring along that tend to do well in these colder conditions. Many anglers agree that these bait options are some of the best choices for ice fishing and should be brought along each time you go out. We have compiled a list of our three favorite choices, but there are countless others that you can choose from. Ice fishing doesn’t limit you as to what bait you can bring along, it simply presents a different set of options.
TakeMeFishing.org also highlights a similar list for the best live bait options.
1. Wax Worms
These little bee moth worms are some of the most popular when it comes to live bait. The fish go wild for them and the anglers reach their limit within a couple hours. One of the biggest draws that wax worms have for ice fishers is how easy they are to store away. Most live bait, when brought out into the cold, will quickly perish and won’t be as successful in the water. As long as you have a way to keep wax worms at a mild temperature, they will last for months at a time.
Store them in a room temperature container between 55 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so they can last up to 2 months at a time. Hooking the wax worms is simple as well. Simply place a few of them at a time on your hook or your jig and let the fish go wild. They aren’t native to the region, but fish can’t help but go for these larvae and you’ll find pretty quickly that your line is being tugged on by some interested parties.
Wax worms are by far the most popular type of live bait for ice fishing and many anglers would highly recommend you have a tub of them on you at all times. Finding them is easy, especially in ice fishing season as nearly any basic tackle shop will have them on hand.
Spikes are bluebottle fly maggots and are considered a delicacy for many types of fish you’d encounter in the frigid north where ice fishing takes place. They are another type of larva and are even smaller than wax worms. Keeping a spike alive is a little more difficult than a wax worm as they love the cold. They’re easy to keep active while out fishing, but when you’re back at home, you need to have a super cold section in your refrigerator.
There is a sweet spot for keeping spikes alive – you don’t want them to freeze, but you want them to remain cold. If you warm them up too many times, they could still die out so only take the amount you need for a day of fishing. If properly taken care of, the spike should be able to last the whole ice fishing season – sometimes longer.
Spikes are best used for very specific fish that you know you’re going to encounter. When fishing for trout, bluegill, or sunfish, the spike is one of the best live bait options out there. Whitefish also seem to love spikes and you’ll find yourself bringing in a decent amount while out ice fishing. Though spikes might be much more difficult to preserve than wax worms, they are still quite effective and are better suited for specialized fishing for the above mentioned fish.
Another amazing live bait option for ice fishing is minnows. These small fish are some of the most popular grub that will grab the attention of any fish within the area. The problem with minnows is that they are much more difficult to keep fresh and alive than wax worms or spikes. With minnows, you should have a spare tank ready to hold them at the right temperature. Otherwise, you can simply purchase them fresh the day of your trip, and they’ll be good to go.
Hooking them can be a nightmare as well as they are much more difficult to place correctly. Some spots like the mouth can restrict breathing and kill the minnow if hooked. Your best bet would be to hook just below the dorsal fin and let it move and twist under water. You want a hook that will keep it alive and promote active movement to grab the attention of the local fish. Minnows are some of the best live bait you can use if properly prepared and hooked.
Though keeping them alive is difficult, you can take a breath knowing that fish will still go for your dead minnows. Living minnows are better as fish prefer live bait, but many fish will still go for the dead minnows believing they are simply left over scraps. With this method, you won’t catch as many fish and the average size of the catch might be lower as well, but the minnow is still a useful bait living or not.
Non-Living Bait Options
Each of the options listed above are great for ice fishing and tend to bring in the catches in masses. However, you don’t always have to choose live bait to bring along. Ice fishing is fantastic because there are specialized non-living bait options available as well. Though the living bait is much more popular amongst anglers, the success of the non-living bait is not much lower than the living bait.
If you’re going to use non-living bait, it’s important you bring the right stuff. If you come with your typical backyard pond bait, you might not have too much success. However, by coming prepared with bait that is popular amongst the fish that populate the frigid regions, you’ll reach your limit rather quickly. The two options we’ve listed below tend to be pretty popular amongst ice fishers and will net you a decent amount of success for non-living bait.
1. Cut Bait
The biggest benefit you’ll encounter with cut bait is the scent it puts off. Cut bait is simply chunks cut from larger fish which are used to lure in other fish. When ice fishing, it’s a popular method to use whitefish or shad as your cut bait. If you cut a chunk of another fish right before you cast out the line, the scent will be fresh and will be more likely to draw in other fish. The issue with most live baits is they don’t have that open smell that cut bait offers you.
By using cut bait, you’re able to use fish from the region. This means that instead of bringing in wax worms or minnows that are foreign to the waters you’re fishing in, you can utilize some fish that you catch while ice fishing. This will entice your prey to come check out the possible meal. They might not be as excited to see a chunk of meat as they would a live specimen, but many fish won’t mind and will still go for the fresh snack.
2. Salmon Eggs
This bait tends to make fish in colder regions go wild. The issue you’ll have to focus on is offering enough movement to catch the eye of the slow fish you’re searching for. Luckily, one thing that makes salmon eggs so useful is their bright colors which can stand out in the colder regions. Many fish love the red salmon eggs, but you might find more success with other variants depending on what species of fish is most active below the ice on that day.
Salmon eggs are an easy bait to ice fish with. All you have to do is use a small spoon to get them closer to your target and let them run wild. Once you have their attention, it’s all down to whether the fish likes the eggs or not. Fishing with dead bait like salmon eggs and cut bait won’t be as yielding as live bait, but the preservation process is much simpler.