It’s called the “one two punch” when ice fishing. Jigging one line and dead sticking or basically a live minnow under a bobber the other. The idea is the jigging line attracts walleyes and if they are somewhat active, there is a good chance they will whack whatever is being jigged. In some cases when walleyes turn to more of a neutral mood, the dead stick can be the hottest stick in the fish house. Success with a dead stick isn’t just about hanging a live minnow under a bobber. By really paying attention and knowing some nuances, the dead stick can be your liveliest stick.
Traditional dead stick
The most common set up is a plain hook or ice jig with a minnow hooked just under the dorsal fin under a bobber set at about a foot off of the bottom. This set up catches a lot of walleyes, but when the fish are not reacting very well to this presentation, mix it up.
Raise it up
After dozens of hours watching fish react to my presentations on my Vexilar, there have been numerous times I would set my rod down to grab something and often times my lure would be hanging three feet off of the bottom. And many times I would watch a red line rise slowly off of the bottom to eat my suspended offering. Walleyes are used to feeding up or even sliding up in the water column to catch minnows. Sometimes, it can be very effective and almost triggering to have your live minnow on your dead stick set higher up in the water column vs. six inches to a foot off, which is a normal starting spot for many anglers.
Color absolutely makes a difference and can change from hour to hour based on snow cover, cloud cover and the angle of the sun. When you are fishing with someone, try different colors until you figure out what the walleyes want that day. Details such as the color of your hook will make a difference. This came into play recently while fishing with a buddy. He was using a glow hook with a dead shiner, and for whatever reason, that was the ticket that day. That dead stick caught the majority of the walleyes and saugers that day. Something about the glow hook combined with a dead bait was the ticket. Paying attention to color will pay dividends.
In stained water, gold, glow and bright colors are good bets. In clear water, silvers and more natural colors are a good starting point.
Dead stick lures
In addition to plain hooks combined with a minnow, there are a lot of effective ice jigs for dead sticking on the market. A plain jig head with a minnow will work but there are other options. The Jig-O-Bit uses a Kahle hook attached to a lead head in a variety of colors. With a live minnow, it hangs nicely. The demon is a well known crappie bait but in larger sizes does well for walleyes and saugers. Something about that lure just works. The Danlure jig is a unique jig that has a swivel between the lead head and the hook allowing the minnow more freedom to swim and at a different angle. On some days, this nuance has been the ticket.
There are definitely a lot of options. Some dead stick baits have propellers, small spinners, UV glow paint, glitter, rattles, single hook, treble hooks, etc. Again, experiment until you find out the preference that day or for that particular body of water.
Good electronics really helps the process of deciding to change lures. If fish are coming through and not reacting positively to your offering, it is time to change things up. Without electronics, it would be hard to know if the fish are not reacting or the fish are not there.
Change the flavor
Walleyes can be particular. One day they prefer fatheads, the next day it has to be emerald shiners, on other days, a good rainbow will do the trick. The trick here is have at least a couple of different options of minnows and try and have both options down in the same fish house if you are fishing with a partner or two. The walleyes will tell you what they prefer that day and eventually everyone can hone in.
On a recent fishing trip on Lake of the Woods, a buddy tried hooking a dead emerald and caught a nice walleye. He again reached for a dead minnow vs. a live minnow and caught another. For whatever reason, the dead minnows that day combined with a glow hook was the ticket and caught twice as many as live minnows. It is good to experiment.
Size does matter
Size can relate to the ice jig you are using. At times, walleyes will prefer something larger as it is a bigger target, acts differently and makes more noise. A larger jig can also have a different action as the minnow cannot roam as freely. In other cases, when you jig it, you can bang it on the bottom which can cause the fish to become active.
Size also matters when considering bait. Some days the fish prefer a larger minnow. On other days, especially when in a neutral mood, they prefer a very small minnow. There have been many times when a crappie minnow is my most desired minnow amongst a bucket of larger minnows. The point is, experiment and figure out what the fish want that given day or even hour.
Hook that minnow
The most common way to hook a minnow is just under the dorsal fin. Another nuance is to clip off half of the tail of the minnow which changes the vibration of the swimming minnow. The minnow will also work harder to swim often enticing that finicky walleye.
Some anglers will hook the minnow through the mouth giving it a different look. Others will hook the minnow back by the tail but on the bottom or underbelly of the minnow. This causes the minnow to sit upside down in which they will work hard to upright themselves which can trigger a bite.
Remove the bobber
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was many years ago on Lake of the Woods and we were fishing the afternoon bite before it got dark. One of the anglers fishing with me was a long time guide. Instead of using a bobber on his dead stick line, he had a fairly flexible tip on the end of his rod and would lay his rod over a bucket with the minnow set at the desired depth and instead of watching the bobber which can be difficult to detect the light bites, the walleyes would lower his rod tip just the slightest bit. He would pick the rod up slowly, feel just a bit of weight and nail them. The thought process is when the fish are just breathing on the minnow, the bobber isn’t as sensitive as a flexible rod tip. He out-fished the other two of us in the house that day with his dead stick alone. It made me wonder how many times a walleye hit my bobber line and I didn’t notice. After that instance, I will lay my dead stick line over a five gallon pail or on a bench next to me where I can see the tip move when a walleye or sauger breathes on it.
Dead sticks often do not receive the attention the jigging line does. It’s one of those lines that are often set and left alone. However, there are many days when a dead stick can be the most productive rod in the fish house. Paying attention to details and trying a variety of presentations will increase the number of walleyes and saugers pulled through the ice hole. It may not be as sexy as the jigging line, but on any given day, a dead stick can definitely be as productive.