This time of year, about the only ice anyone worries about comes in cubes. Except in Fenton, Mo., where a BBZ outpost comprised of Steve Brightwell and friends has posed the following question:
"On page 175 of the Big Bass Zone (print edition) is a picture of Bill fishing a Rapala ice jig (Jigging Rap), but no explanation as why he chose that lure to fish. On page 273, he's fishing a white Roboworm (Kickin) Craw, again with no explanation as to the why of it. So what was going on in the environment that led him to those two lures?"
For those of you who have yet to get the BBZ book, the Jigging Rap photograph was included in the chapter "Sight Fishing with Sonar."
Since Rapala's Jigging Rap was originally designed for ice fishermen, its real strengths come in confined, vertical presentations. For bass fishermen, the worst feature of the lure is its name. When you hear the words "ice jig" – which is its common nickname – the natural response is to reserve a special tray for these jigs in your winter tackle box. This would be a mistake.
What you're missing is this: An ice jig isn't so much about temperature as it is about precision.
What the ice jig brings to the BBZ is a target lure – one that can be fished at very precise depths. It allows you to use sonar not as general reference, but as a real-time catching tool. What the ice jig does is enable any angler to catch the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack fish.
For instance, how many times have you moved down a bank and seen (on your sonar) isolated fish and baitfish below? Most anglers write these fish off as uncatchable, suspended loners. They've also given up on finding lures or techniques that can target these "needles" in the haystack.
Yes, they could quite possibly be trout, carp, catfish or crappie. But you'll never know if you don't try.
To answer the Missouri BBZ Mafia's questions, this is exactly how Bill Siemantel originally discovered the power of the ice jig. It was late winter/early spring and, while positioned over 25 feet of water, Bill noticed marks down at the 12-foot level. These were definitive big-fish marks directly beneath his boat.
Instead of ignoring the arcs, Bill decided right then and there to find a high-percentage lure that could do three very important things: 1. Be seen in the cone angle of his sonar, 2. Be kept in the cone angle of his sonar, and 3. Not foul-hook.
While most anglers would opt for a conventional spoon, Bill realized that most spoons were not the answer. They foul-hooked too much and were difficult to control in a cone angle that often measured in mere feet.
In contrast, the Rapala Jigging Rap was designed for this very application, albeit in a wintertime mode.
What the Rapala Jigging Rap delivered was a lure that could be combined with a more conventional pattern. For example, if an angler sitting over 35 feet of water, throwing a jig up to points, noticed isolated fish suspended below, why move the boat? Why not pick up the ice jig, drop it down to the right level and track its movement on the sonar screen?
In these situations, the fish are showing themselves, so why not seize the moment? Instead of guessing if a lure is in front of fish, in this situation you can see it. Like a real-time videogame, the movements of both lure and fish can be observed.
Moreover, such situations are not controlled by temperature or weather. Suspended fish around bait is something that happens throughout the calendar year.
For comparison, Bill employs a Lamiglas Senko Special rod – a 7-foot, 2-inch, 4-power stick that offers great line pickup - one capable of small hops or heavy rips, yet still able to handle a big fish on the line.
While there's no one correct way of presenting the ice jig – a lure capable of sweeping arcs and even full 360-degree turns – the overwhelming doctrine of this sight-fishing-with-sonar method should be obvious: Experiment with moving the bait, but always maintain your primary focus on keeping the lure within the "visible" confines of the sonar cone angle.
By doing so, you'll be able to not only track the lure movement, but the movement of bass as they respond.
Available in weights of 1/8- to 3/4-ounce and measuring from 1 to 3 1/2 inches, the Jigging Rap can be adapted to any region of the bass-fishing world.
But, if you have to choose only one, start with the 2 3/4-inch, 1/2-ounce No. 7.
For a more in-depth discussion of sight-fishing with sonar, get the Big Bass Zone book, or pull up our January 4 article, Horizontally Vertical, from the BBZ BassFan archives.
The second part of the Missouri question relates to a photograph on page 273 showing Bill Siemantel with a substantial bass taken on a 4-inch Roboworm Kickin Craw (white).
In this chapter, we were discussing bed-fishing and the importance of identifying the "hot zone" – a place in or near the bed where bass just will not allow the trespass of an intruding lure. While many anglers focus on the bed itself, this elusive "hot zone" may be feet or yards away from what appears to be prime real estate.
The Roboworm Kickin Craw is just one of many baits used by BBZ anglers who realize that the same concepts applied to big baits also hold true in bed-fishing situations. Even over beds, you must still identify top-middle-bottom. In other words, where does a bass react to a presentation?
In this instance, Bill recognized that bedding bass responded to the kicking action of the craw not on the bed, but above it. The lesson here is "don't stop thinking" just because the pattern seems to be so obvious.
Even in bed-fishing conditions, there's more to it than simply plunking a jig to the center of the bed and waiting.