Hard-Water Rigs

Old man winter may slowly be weaving blankets of ice over our favorite fishing spots, but he can't shut us out of the angling action for long. As soon as safe ice forms, fishermen across the North will take to the hard water with auger in hand, drilling holes and dropping lines through the lake's armor plating. At the end of those lines will be an array of rigs developed specifically for fishing under the ice. These rigs are simple but can be very productive for a variety of species, if fished correctly. Here's a closer look at the best rigs for five popular species. Click 'next' for more.Outdoor Life Online Editor
PIKE For northerns, which are difficult enough to catch when you're retrieving plugs in fluid water, the best setup through hard water is the tip-up. What to Use: Michigan fisheries biologist Tom Goniea employs a tip-up rig that includes a 36-inch, 12- to 15-pound-test monofilament leader attached to a shorter steel leader with a round hook. The hook is then threaded under the dorsal fin of a 4-inch shiner or 10-inch sucker. A split shot can be attached to the monofilament just above the steel leader if weight is needed to get the rig to the bottom. If you're fishing waters known for trophy pike, consider making a large sucker your standard bait.Outdoor Life Online Editor
How to Fish: Keep your bait near, but not directly on, the bottom. "Because pike generally look up when they feed, I start most baits about three to four feet off the bottom," says Goniea. "But you shouldn't be afraid to work baits higher in the water column."Outdoor Life Online Editor
WALLEYE One of the best methods for walleyes is to fish brightly colored jigs near the bottom of a lake or river. What to Use: Goniea, who pursues walleyes on Michigan's Saginaw River, capitalizes on their need to feed during the winter by dropping a No. 5 Jigging Rapala tipped with a minnow.
"In the winter, more strikes are due to eating behavior than to aggression. Tipping that jig with a minnow adds the taste and smell of fish," says Goniea.
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How to Fish: To properly rig the jig, put the treble hook through the lip of the minnow and add a single trailer hook through its tail to increase hookups. "I fish the rig eight to fifteen inches off the bottom, slowly raising and lowering the combination," says Goniea. "Walleyes usually take the bait on the drop, so you won't feel the fish until you raise the rod tip." In turbid waters, you can use line as heavy as 10-pound-test, but go with 4- or 6-pound-test in clear waters.Outdoor Life Online Editor
PERCH When it comes to perch, numbers are the name of the game. There's one rig that gives you a huge advantage: a perch spreader. What to Use:Relatively unknown outside of the Great Lakes, this rig is a great way to double your hookup odds. It consists of a thin horizontal wire approx-imately 13 to 16 inches long, with attachments that allow you to tie snelled hooks on each end. With a swivel in the middle, you can add a 3/4-to 1 1/4-ounce weight. The wire spreads the two snelled hooks apart so that you can dangle two shiners or minnows without fear of their tangling.Outdoor Life Online Editor
How to Fish: The key to successfully working the rig is determining where the fish are located and keeping it in front of them. Typically, winter perch will hug the bottom, but occasionally they'll suspend in the water column. "Lower the rig to the bottom or to the depth at which you see fish on your graph. Then slowly raise and lower it," says Ohio fisheries biologist Chris Vanvergoot.Outdoor Life Online Editor
CRAPPIE The beautiful thing about crappies is that hard-tugging slabs can be tempted with both live and artificial baits. What to Use: Iowa fisheries biologist Martin Konrad uses a size 6 to 12 teardrop jig tipped with a minnow. Chartreuse is his favorite color, but anything bright will do.
In addition to jigs, Konrad attracts slabs with a minnow on a light wire hook. Place a 1⁄32- to 1⁄64-ounce split shot 6 to 12 inches above the hook for weight.
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How to Fish: Konrad starts his bait about 12 inches off the bottom and works toward the surface until he finds fish-which may be as shallow as 12 inches beneath the ice. "A slow, steady jigging action will catch fish most of the time, but there are days when no action is needed," says Konrad.Outdoor Life Online Editor
BLUEGILL
Diminutive bluegills can also be taken with teardrop jigs and bait. What to Use: While the same bright colors that are effective for crappies will work for bluegills, it's best to use smaller jigs in size 10 and 12, and to tip them with wax worms or mousies.
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How to Fish: A slow jigging motion will produce bluegills, but sometimes a still presentation works best. Adding a small bobber will help hold the bait relatively motionless in the strike zone.
"A lot of anglers will have more than one hole, so they can fish a jig in one and leave a bobber and jig in the other," says Ohio district fisheries supervisor Larry Goedde. "When you tip with a wax worm, you'll get some wiggle action from the bait, and sometimes that's all it takes to trigger strikes."
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We've compiled the best rigs for pikes, walleyes, perch, crappies, and bluegills.