For the northern United States and Canada, the upcoming winter season brings a new opportunity that anglers look forward to all year: ice fishing season. The legions of avid ice fishermen fish for various species, with panfish being a popular quarry with tiny baits and light line. Others, like popular Wisconsin fishing guides Josh Teigen and Troy Peterson, search for big walleye, lake trout, splake, and brown trout as they guide clients every year.
Although the Teigen and Peterson fish different waters and target varying species when ice fishing, they have a very similar approach to targeting bigger fish through the ice and rely heavily on vibrating baits to catch large predatory fish.
Northern Wisconsin guide Josh Teigen typically spends every day of the season guiding clients on the ice, starting with panfish, walleye, and bass on the hundreds of inland lakes around his home. Once the ice thickens on the big lake, Lake Superior, he switches gears and starts fishing Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands for lake trout, splake and browns.
His number one weapon is vibrating baits, both the Sebile Vibrato and the Acme V-Rod, because of the incredible drawing power and knack for catching big fish. He also adds scent to the baits for added attraction and quickly applies it from a Baitmate Bite Stick.
“These fish are always cruising and don’t necessarily sit on structure all the time,” Teigen says. “Vibrating baits are great at calling fish to the bait. I like to fish them aggressively and really rip them to bring fish to the bait. A lot of these fish will suspend too, so we’ll jig it halfway up from the bottom and you’ll see them flying up on the flasher to get it.”
Teigen will fish shallower water in Chequamegon Bay near the shoreline for browns and splake and venture to deeper water for the big lake trout that can reach sizes of up to 35 pounds.
“We fish near the shore because that’s where they stock the browns and splake and will be fishing anywhere from ten to 70-feet deep,” he says. “Vibrating baits that are 1/4 ounce to 3/8-ounce work best shallower and we fish them on 8-pound IceX fluorocarbon. It has incredible abrasion resistance and with your line popping on the edge of the ice so much, I was very impressed with how well it held up last season.”
He opts for a 25-sized Pflueger President spinning reel for the browns and splake and a 30” Beaver Dam Carbon Fiber rod.
When it comes to lake trout, Teigen and clients will be fishing over 150 to 200 feet of water with vibrating baits that weigh half of an ounce up to three ounces, depending on the current. His key areas include deep holes inside a flat, steep break and over rocky humps that rise from even deeper water.
“The current is powerful and you need a big bait to get down and a good, thin braided line like 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown is important,” he said. “The current pulls those baits so quickly that you can’t see your bait on the flasher unless you are using a small diameter braid that will cut through that current. I’ll add a six to seven foot leader of fluorocarbon since the water is so clear.”
Since he’s dealing with big fish in ultra-clear water, he opts for 25-pound Seaguar Gold Label leader. His rod and reel of choice are also beefed up and he goes with a 36- to 38-inch heavy or extra-heavy Clam Jason Mitchell Mack Rod with an Abu Garcia Revo Beast baitcast reel.
“You need a heavier rod to get a good hookset on a big fish in deep water,” he adds. “And, the bigger reel is crucial since it holds enough braid to fish that deeper water.”
Fellow Wisconsin guide Troy Peterson goes by the moniker “Mr. Bluegill” for his panfish prowess. But, he’s equally at home with other species and guides Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, the many glacial lakes west of Oshkosh, as well as the Fox and Wolf rivers for walleye. Like Teigen, he’s on the ice nearly every day of the season and reaches for vibrating baits for better odds at catching bigger fish.
Peterson likes metal baits like blade baits and spoons for the vibration and flash that calls fish in when ice fishing rivers.
“The rivers are generally much dirtier than the lakes and you want that added noise to attract the fish,” he says. “They also do well in current and cut through it nicely. Since walleye are reactionary, they will often tap your bait when you rip it up, so you have to be quick on the draw with a fast hookset. I’ll also have a deadstick rod with a live minnow down below and if the fish aren’t very aggressive, you can call them to your minnow with the lure.”
For ice fishing lakes, Peterson generally goes with a small lipless crankbait like a 1/16 up to a 5/8-ounce Eurotackle Z-Viber and will fish it like a blade bait with a lift and drop retrieve to achieve maximum vibration as it rises.
“These are great call baits and fish can hear them and feel them,” he said. “We mostly jig them in deeper holes on the lake in the top third of the water column since feeding walleye are most active there. But, they’ll also call less active fish up from deeper water.”
For both lakes and rivers, Peterson goes with 32-inch Rippineyes rods from Elliot Rods. He prefers either a 13 Fishing Freefall XL or Pflueger President reel with 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid paired with a leader of 6- to 8-pound test Seaguar Gold Label Leader that he connects with a small swivel.
“Gold Label pairs great with the small diameter of Smackdown braid and is super sensitive for detecting those light bites,” adds Peterson. “The thinner diameter of both those lines gives your bait a much more natural look underwater. That’s the ultimate goal: to make your bait look as natural as possible.”
The start of ice season is on the level of a holiday in some parts of North America and for both Josh Teigen and Troy Peterson, it means time to get to work as they stay busy guiding clients nearly every day. They both have learned that utilizing vibrating baits like blade baits and lipless crankbaits will catch bigger than average fish through the ice.
Seaguar IceX is available in 50 yard spools in 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- and 8-pound test.
Seaguar Smackdown braid is available in high visibility Flash Green and low visibility Stealth Gray. It is available in 150-yard spools in sizes ranging from 10- to 65-pound test.
Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader is available in twenty five-yard spools in 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-pound test for freshwater use, complementing the 15-, 20-, 25-, 30-, 40-, 50-, 60- and 80-pound test leaders available for saltwater.
As the inventor of fluorocarbon fishing lines in 1971, Seaguar has played a prominent role in the advancement of technologies to improve the performance of lines and leader material for both fresh and salt water anglers. Seaguar is the only manufacturer of fluorocarbon fishing lines that produces its own resins and controls the manufacturing process from start to finished product. Today, Seaguar is the #1 brand of fluorocarbon lines and offers a full spectrum of premium products including fluorocarbon mainlines and leader material, 8-strand and 16-strand braid fishing lines. Visit seaguar.com for more information.