BEMIDJI, Minn. – It’s that time again—time to prep ice fishing gear for coming hardwater. Along with that, a close study of tackle boxes is certainly in order to make sure you have everything needed to catch fish. To help with your preparations, we talked with Northland Fishing Tackle® pro Joel Nelson about his top five walleye baits.
“I think if you’re setting up a tackle box, you have to look at lures that match the depth ranges you’re fishing. For winter walleyes, that’s typically 1/8- to ¼-ounce baits. That’s bread and butter,” says Nelson. “You need matched rods and line to fish those baits well, too.”
The first bait Nelson makes sure is in his box for winter walleye fishing is Northland’s Buck-Shot® Rattle Spoon.
1. Northland Tackle’s Buck-Shot® Rattle Spoon
There are lures that leave lasting impressions on fishing. And then there are transformative lures that forever change the sport. In ice fishing, Northland Fishing Tackle’s trendsetting Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is the latter.
The iconic jigging spoon is predicated on its audible, fish-drawing brass Buck-Shot rattle. A first in the industry, Northland fuses the signature brass rattle into a formed depression on the lure body. Maintaining visual realism, the rattle is then color-matched to the back of the spoon.
“The Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is a staple. It’s a building block bait. It’s the basis for any walleye or perch tackle box,” Nelson says with conviction. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with two or three tackle companies over the past 25 years and could fish anything I wanted. In and amongst all that I always had Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons. Always. Dating back to 20 years ago you’d go to Minnesota’s Mille Lacs and look at all the tackle shops around and the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon pegs were just cleared out. It was the clearest indication that not only are these things popular with anglers, they’re popular with walleyes. It’s one of the most copied and popular spoons of all time.”
He continues: “The cool thing about the Buck-Shot is there’s really no wrong way to fish it. For finicky walleyes, I tip it with a minnow head or a half minnow. And then you’ve got the brass rattle. It calls in fish from the sides. A lot of lures don’t have the capability of doing that. You can drop it down and kind of pound it in the mud and stir things up and get that rattle going. It definitely creates attention, and then the meat seals the deal as you slowly lift it off the bottom.”
The Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is cloaked in Northland’s proprietary, highly reflective “holographic” Baitfish-Image® outer skin. The stunningly realistic treatment not only demands attention, the detailed scales, multi-tone color schemes and 3D eyeball yield exceptional realism, which is vitally important through the ice.
Available in 1/16-, 1/8-, ¼-, 3/8-, ½-, and ¾-ounce versions, choose from a host of patterns, including Silver Shiner, Gold Shiner, Super-Glo Perch, Super-Glo Firetiger, Golden Perch, Super-Glo Chub, Super-Glo Rainbow, Super-Glo Goldfish, Clown, and Super-Glo Redfish. And you can accentuate brightness and visibility by adding any of the six UV patterns to your Buck-Shot collection.
2. Glo-Shot® Fire-Belly Spoon
The Glo-Shot Fire-Belly Spoon relies on its proven exposed light-stick that beams impressively for up to 8 hours. Available in red, green and chartreuse, the replaceable and interchangeable light-sticks give you the flexibility to choose color depending on light levels and water clarity. From a scientific position, florescent green light travels the farthest underwater, making it a great choice for summoning fish from distances. In exceptionally clear water, however, it might be too bright, making chartreuse, and even more so red, better choices. Overall, red is a universal producer, and proves to be the most intense at short range. Red has a storied history of producing beneath the ice.
The body of the Glo-Shot Fire-Belly Spoon is forged from lead-free Z-alloy (Zinc), which cuts through the water column to quickly reach hot marks on your flasher. Z-alloy yields weight without bulk, too, producing speed minus the intimidating sizes of most heavy spoons.
The Glo-Shot Fire-Belly Spoon is offered in 14 fish-catching colors inside and outside of the UV color spectrum. Speaking of UV, the specialty pigment refracts more natural light than traditional paint. The result is a lure that maintains its color deeper, in lower light, and in stained water.
The spectrum of 14 color patterns include the same colors tested year-in and year-out in the most popular waters throughout the U.S. and Canada, making the Glo-Shot® Fire-Belly Spoon an instant classic. Add the fact that anglers can purchase individual glo-sticks to mix and match colors, and you have an endlessly customizable bait to address any situation on the water.
Nelson remarks, “The Glo-Shot, like a rattle, attracts fish from a distance. I’m a big fan of using them at night when everything’s dark and the environment can be challenging. It’s kind of like a secret weapon lure. You’ve got all these ways to entice fish—with smell, sound, and color, the added burst of light covers all of a walleye’s feeding senses. I look forward to using them a lot this winter.”
3. Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow®
New for 2020, Northland has put a twist on its ever-popular Puppet Minnow®. The breakthrough introduction of rattles to this already incredible bait now offers an attractive option to bring in fish from a distance with sonic cues.
The Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow brings the noise with a glass rattle and acoustics that carry through the water, all without killing its famous action. Anglers have long noted the benefits of vibration and additional sound in their baits, as fish home in on auditory clues to help them locate and smash prey of all kinds.
Nelson remarks, “It’s a riff off the original Puppet Minnow with the addition of a strong rattle. You’re bringing in fish from the sides and getting them interested. And then you’ve got all that darting and reaction strike capability that the Puppet Minnow always had. I really think of it as a one-two punch bait.
“I’ve always got someone in my house jigging an aggressive rattling lure, ringing the dinner bell. We might have set lines down, we might be watching bobbers, but you’ve always got to have one person with a bait like this. And this is the kind of lure that not only draws fish in, it hooks them. And there’s no hook on the nose to get hung up on the bottom of the hole.”
The Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow still sports its trademark action, darting and swimming like a dying minnow, which triggers predatory responses in the form of reaction strikes.
The Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow yields the finest performance, both visually and audibly, in what promises to be a best-selling bait. No longer are anglers forced to choose between an aggressive whizzing lure that targets a fish’s visual acuity, or a loud and proud bait that calls them from a distance. Having both advantages in a single lure gives anglers an edge in a variety of conditions.
The Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow features some impressive upgrades as well, with its wide gap back hook for better sets and hooking retention. Its weight-forward gliding action is superior to similar styled baits, too.
The Rattlin’ Puppet Minnow comes ready to fish, one bait per card, in 12 UV and non-UV colors for a variety of species from panfish to walleye. The bait is ¼ ounce and features a #10 treble and 2/0 back hook.
4. Eye-Ball Spoon™
The Eye-Ball Spoon perfectly mimics the real thing, with bling. The backside of the spoon offers an array of colorful glow patterns for all scenarios, providing both attraction and realistic seduction. Northland’s Eye-Ball Spoon’s lead material and compact design means you’re getting to fish fast and able to fish various sizes in a range of depths, for a wide assortment of species. This makes the Eye-Ball Spoon an incredibly versatile bait that’s perfect for panfish and hungry predators alike. Eye-Ball Spoons are available in 3 sizes (1/16-, 1/8- and ¼-oz.) and 10 different fish-catching colors, including glow and more natural metallic patterns.
Nelson comments, “When I was younger, we made our own teardrop jigs. We would solder gold hooks onto small willow leaf blades. And I was always taught by my grandpa that every bait has to have an eye on it. The eye is the head of a baitfish. And after years on the ice, I truly believe that walleyes focus in on that. There’s no more realistic-looking eye out there than the Eye-Ball Spoon. You’ve got to touch it to make sure it’s not a real fish eyeball. There are a number of eye-looking spoons out there with a single hook system meant to be fished on set lines. The Eye-Ball sports a treble hook for better sets.”
“Eye-Ball Spoon is a great jigging spoon, as well as a great stationary-type baits that you can put on a rattle reel or deadstick. No tackle box is complete without several Eye-Ball Spoons.”
5. Forage Minnow® Spoon
Northland’s Forage Minnow Spoon is a great example of a smaller spoon that pays big dividends with walleyes. Its unique minnow design flashes and flutters to mimic a crippled minnow, perfect when not too little, nor too much action is the recipe for success. A proven winner in larger sizes, it now comes in miniature 1/32-, 1/16-, 1/8- and ¼-ounce models as well. And it’s available in 6 lifelike holographic Baitfish-Image® forage patterns, including 4 neon Super Glo colors.
Nelson is a big fan of the diminutive Forage Minnow Spoon and calls it a “pretty simple bait to fish.” He recalls, “I have a buddy who doesn’t ice fish much, barely knows how to read a flasher, and literally outfished me three to one with the Forage Minnow Spoon. They just plain catch fish. There are times when a smaller spoon just outperforms everything. The colors are really cool, too. Northland has done a great job of upgrading their colors in recent years. What I’ve noticed over the years in clear water systems—on Mille Lacs a million times—is color really does make a huge difference when fish scream up to a bait. Northland has a bunch of perch-looking options, and I’d even include firetiger in the assortment. The UV colors have really changed the game in clear water situations where it’s common to mark fish on the graph but not always easy to get them to eat. I’d recommend an assortment of Forage Minnow Spoons in different colors for your winter walleye box. Again, they just plain catch fish.”
Nelson knows walleyes. Nelson knows what trips their triggers through the ice. And Nelson knows what quintet of Northland lures make up ice fishing’s dream tackle box.