Two-Rod Ice Fishing Strategies
December 22, 2011
The giant flat-screen in the newspaper ad looks amazing, and the price almost seems too good to be true. So instead of staying home and shoveling snow, you head for the store, intent on bringing home a bigger-than-life picture for your living room. Faced with the reality of making the purchase, though, you think about the sales tax, the extended warranty, and the set-up fun that would follow your acquisition. You decide against the TV, but while you're in the store you notice that a Blu-ray player you had once considered is also on sale, and that price tag seems more manageable. You bite.
The same sort of thing can occur with fish under the ice, if the angler is properly equipped. Sometimes it takes something big, flashy, noisy and animated to get a fish's attention and to draw it to a spot. Getting the fish to actually commit to such a big bite, though, can be a different story, so that's when you have to be prepared with an offering that looks easy and unintimidating. The more subtle bait actually produces the strike when dropped among the fish, but each bait is equally important to the catch.
Keeping two ice rods rigged and ready (at times, where legal, with both lines in the water) provides a host of advantages for many hard-water fishing scenarios. In addition to allowing you to present two contrasting styles of lures or baits, doubling up makes it practical to jig one offering and keep another still, to experiment with two mostly similar offerings in order to refine a pattern or simply to double your odds by keeping two baits in the water.
Along with adding numbers to many days' catches, rigging contrasting offerings on two different rods enhances the opportunity to catch multiple kinds of fish. Multi-species appeal is one of the greatest virtues of ice fishing, but much of that appeal is lessened by a bait that's too big for most yellow perch or too small for many walleyes. And at times it's not a simple obvious matter of size. Often fish of two different kinds will use the same area, and one will favor a spoon, while another will prefer a tipped jig, possibly based on the forage that each has been eating.
Whether you fish two rods simultaneously or simply keep a second rod rigged and ready to drop in a hole relates in part to your broader strategy. If you're fishing from a house or using some other stationary approach, you might want to drill two holes and double your opportunity to catch fish at any given time. If you are moving more frequently and fishing open ice, you might prefer to use one rod at a time, but to keep a couple or rods rigged and switch offerings on a regular basis.
The best approach also depends on personal preferences and on the way the fish are biting. Some anglers simply don't like to keep up with two rods at the same time, preferring to give dedicated attention to every fish that shows up on the flasher. Also, when bites are really light, running two rods at the same time can cause you to miss a lot of fish that you otherwise might have caught. A final reason to fish one rod at a time and to make regular switches is that at times it's the sudden switch that triggers a reaction, and presenting the same two lures side by side wouldn't have the same effect.
All that said, fishing two rods side by side with lines in adjacent holes will produce more fish overall much of the time. The simple overriding factor is that there are two baits -- usually two different baits -- in the water at one time, and that can tends to increase that chances that one of them gets bit.
Big and little, loud and quiet, erratic and still, flashy and subtle... Contrast comes in many forms, and some of the best pairings provide multiple contrasts. As an example, a Lindy Darter and Techni-Glo Genz Worm make a great combination. Even the smallest Darter (which comes in three sizes), has a bulky profile compared to most ice-fishing lures, and lifting and dropping a Darter creates an erratic action and sends out a lot of sound. A Genz Worm, in contrast, is small, sleek and silent. The normal action is subtle, and often the best presentation is a total "dead stick."
Rattling hard baits have gained major popularity in recent years. The trend began with bold anglers dropping lipless crankbaits designed for open-water fishing through holes in the ice and ripping them upward, drawing the ire of game fish and pulling them in from broader areas. Ice lure manufacturers like Lindy took note and began designing rattling lures like the Darter specifically for ice fishing.
As the name suggests, a Darter darts as it rises and falls. Both its darting range and the erraticness of the darts vary by the length and sharpness of each lift of the rod tip, but even a "subtle" Darter presentation sends out more than a little sound and vibration and tends to call fish from a distance. Aggressive fish attack, and in those cases the Darter is all you need.
Other fish will come and look and then swim off, and you'll see them appear and disappear on your flasher. That's where that second rod, rigged with a smaller and more subtle offering, comes into play.
The second rod can be used in a couple of different ways. One is a true bait and switch. When fish show up on the screen but wont' quite commit, pull up the Darter and drop something smaller that is tipped with fresh bait to the same depth. Often the strike will be nearly instantaneous. An alternative approach is to drill two holes close together and fish big and aggressive with one rod and subtle with another. The second rod can be kept in hand or parked in a holder. Just make sure the two holes are sufficiently close to one another that the noisy, flashy bait doesn't end up drawing fish away from the other offering -- and so that you can get to both easily at all times!
Attractor baits, of course, aren't limited to Darters and lures like them. Some days, the flash of a flat-sided spoon or the sound of a rattling spoon will draw fish from far away, and other days there's no substitute for the strong scent of a big minnow head or some other meaty offering. The same principles apply. If a subtle offering isn't attracting fish at all or if an attractor is drawing them near but isn't getting bit, it's probably time to double up with some sort of a big-little combination.
An important final note about contrasting combinations, by the way, is that the relationship occasionally works in the opposite direction. Given cold-front conditions, especially, the fish may not come to the big and gaudy offering and might only be lured close with something subtle.
When such fish won't quite commit, suddenly dropping a Darter among them and ripping it a time or two can prompt a reaction strike.
TIME TO REFINE
When you've already located the fish and have a pretty good idea what kind offerings they are most inclined to eat, there's no need to offer a major contrast. That doesn't mean you don't want two rods rigged, though. Whether you fish two lines together or alternate which one you drop through the hole, having a couple of rods rigged allows you to refine a pattern and find out exactly what lure/bait combination and presentation will attract the most attention from the fish.
When you work with two rods it's easy to have one lure tipped with a minnow head and another with a waxworm, one bright-colored perch pattern and one drab minnow imitation or two baits that are essentially the same but are made by different manufacturers and therefore move a little bit differently in the water. Those seemingly small details make a huge difference some days, and if you're working with more than one rod you're much better able to experiment with variables and pay attention to which approach attracts the most strikes.
Using the right presentation can be as important as choosing the right bait, which you've mostly likely seen evidenced while fishing beside a friend with the exact same lure and having caught all (or none) of the fish.
If you have the coordination and mental make-up to do something different with each hand, working two rods at once allows you to experiment with two different jigging cadences/motions at the same time. Of course, at times, the best presentation involves no motion at all, and a good way to test that is to jig one rod and fish the other as a dead stick by placing it in a rod holder.
Often the truth lies in-between the extremes of the heavily contrasting one-two punch and two highly similar offerings that are used to refine a working strategy. Presenting two offerings that are clearly distinctive in profile or action but not necessarily opposites can improve your chances of identifying the look and sound that will appeal to the most fish. This sort of combination also enhances the multi-species appeal of your approach and helps you catch fish that are in different "moods."
A combination of a Northland Puppet Minnow Jig and Buckshot Rattle Spoon offers a good example. Neither is notably larger or more "in your face" than the other, and they appeal to the same types of fish.
That said, they are totally different in shape and in their specific appeals. The Puppet Minnow is big in action, gliding in broad circles and covering a big area with each lift of the rod.
The Buckshot Rattle Spoon calls fish with its namesake rattles. Fish that won't take the Puppet Minnow will take the spoon, and vice-versa, so doubling up allows you to give the fish two different looks.
In the case of these two baits, you need to either alternate or use a two-handed jigging approach. Neither lends itself to a dead stick.
If you want to keep one rod active and another fairly still, good active baits for a variety of species include jigs and spoons such as Buckshot Rattle Spoons, Live Forage Fish Fry Minnow Traps and Macho Minnows. Good baits to match with these on a stationary rod include a Creep Worm and Doodle Bug Jig.
Of course, the fish's response to different offerings will tell you a lot about how to adapt your offerings. If you have two different baits working, and the fish seem to be showing decent interest in both, trust that pairing to be working and leave it alone. If neither is producing, it might be time to move. And obviously if your flasher keeps showing fish and you don't get bites, you might need to try something totally different on one rod or both.
When one bait produces well and the other yields little, you have a few different options, and the best answer depends in part on what is biting. If your catch has consisted of, say, panfish, and that's what you want, downsize the non-producing line and try to maximize your catch. Otherwise, switch that one to something larger that targets a bigger fish and continue catching numbers on the other rod.
A final option when only one rod is producing well is to move into refining mode. Trade that non-producer for something very similar to whatever is attracting the fish and see whether a shift in color or size makes a good bait even better!