Rigging Plastics

We have had several requests on how to rig plastics for both hard and soft water conditions. I took some time today to quantify my plastics stock and snap some photos of presentations possibilities. Just because this is how we do it doesn’t mean it is right. There are times when fish will eat a bare hook and others when the presentation has to be tweaked just right or else they won’t even touch it. The best strategy is never to settle in a groove. By constantly adjusting color, angle, and size you can keep the fish guessing and possibly find a better option.

One of my biggest problems with jigs is the length of the hook shank. The shorter the shank is the easier the plastic will fall(or rip) off. I began fishing plastics on Diamond Jigs and Gill pills. Both are made by Custom Jigs and Spins. These hooks offer long hook shanks and come in various sizes and colors. I prefer using size 10 and 12 but have both 8 and 14 in my boxes. I like smaller presentations for hardwater because in general the search image for a fish is locked in on small bites. During the spring, summer, and fall months a slightly larger bait is nice because the baits are a bit larger.

I begin the majority of my days on the water using a presentation that allows my plastic to be as straight as possible.

To set up your bait straight, you run the hook through the tip of the bait and then thread it through the center of the body. I like to go a length equal to the length of the straight hook shank. It may take a few tries but I like to snug the plastic right up to the base of the jig. Many micro ice fishing plastics are thin and require hooks with a slim shank.

The bait style below provides the fisherman with several options on how to fish it. Because the body on the plastic is so small it important to hook it right through the middle to prevent it from being easily ripped off.

When the fish bite is very light, I like to rig this bait with the middle tail facing upward. The tail is just long enough to fold over under the water pressure when jigged. Drives the fish nuts!

As with any other bait, it can also be rigged horizontally and is normally equally effective.

A good option for rigging plastics is on sickle hooks. Some companies are starting to sell jigs equipped with these hooks. You can find some on Sportsmans Direct. Because of the multiple angles on these hooks, you are able to adjust how your plastic is set. At times, you can entice more fish to bite by setting the plastic in a slightly more vertical mode than plain horizontal. Another benefit to these hooks is they are less likely to be spit as you are reeling the fish in because of the angle. It wedges in better because of its sharper bend.

Another good option for fishing plastics through the ice is on a dropper chain below a Hali or some other kind of flasher. If you don’t like using a chain, you could tie up your own mono leader. The plastic below is the equivalent to a “senko” but for perch.

Many times during the summer months I find that bass get accustomed to a weedless rigged straight worm. So what do I do under these conditions? Well I rig it “whacky” of course. This method means simply to hook the bait directly through the center. When in action, the bait flaps and creates quite a disturbance.

It is still possible, even with a larger bait, to rig it horizontally. The bite will determine which strategy I use for the day. When running a larger bait below the Hali, I will often tie on my own hook in larger size for a better hook up percentage.

Sometimes I fish baits that are much larger than what I can match up with any hook size I have. In these cases I will still rig the bait in a horizontal position but I will hook more towards the center than through the head like I normally would. This method comes in handy when the fish are biting the tail of a bait as it puts the hook closer to their mouth. Below, is a good example of the options on rigging a larger bait.

This is a plain horizontal rigging. Works well when the fish are committed to biting. I have had luck using this bait during the summer months for trout in streams as it resembles a stonefly.

By hooking the bait more towards the center, you bulk up the head of the bait and put the hook closer to the fish. This has been a very effective method in deep water situations such as the glory hole.

Probably my most productive bait this winter was anything vertical by Caty Jigs. I used willows, tears, rodents, and rockers with great success. I went through phases where I like using maggots but the majority of the time I was running plastics.

I did find that the fish were more picky as to how the bait was positioned on the hook when rigged on a vertical jig. It needed to be perfectly horizontal or else the bite was slower and only the really aggressive fish bit.

Lately, through the open water, the two baits below have been the most productive options in my box. Rigged just how you see, they have caught just about every fish within the past two weeks. Quite possibly the best colors as well.

When I open up my tackle box for plastics, the majority of what I own is made by Maki Plastics. The selection below offer just about every option you could need for both hard and soft water. Although I have just about every bait pictured below, I find myself using mainly a few. As a starter kit, I would suggest purchasing: Maki, Jamei, Spiini, Guppi, Spiiki, and Mini Draggi.

Don’t be afraid to tip your baits with a maggot! Sometimes the fish want a combo of both.

3-25-12 – First Time Seeing the Glory Hole With Open Water

So this winter we were lucky enough to stumble upon a great little spot that held huge amounts of crappie.  The fish were stacked up all winter in a deep hole on a bend.  Deep water crappie excite me but we had a lot of learning to do.  With all the warm weather up here last week, I was excited to take the drive and see if the ice was out at the hole.  We were on ice there a week and a half ago and there was still a foot and a half of ice, so I was not sure what I was going to find.  Well just before the spot there is a small lake that was still completely iced over, my excitement soon shrank.  A few more miles up the road it came back again, the spot was iced out, Game On!

There is no boat launch to this spot so I was forced to bring my small little row boat and Mark to help me get it into the water.  The temps were cold, 40 degrees when we got there in the morning and raining.  With my Clam blue suit in hand, I grabbed my Vexilar and loaded up the boat and slid it down the bank into the water.  Row Row Row we did to the hole where we were successful all winter.  As soon as we got there Mark snagged a nice little Crappie.  I decided to run a Fat Boy made by Lindy under a bobber  7-8′.  From what I saw this winter, most of the larger fish were caught 6-8 feet down cruising the channel of the deep water.  I knew I would catch less fish but I also knew that if I did hook one then it would be a dandy.  It didn’t take long to watch my bobber disappear and I had a decent 11″ Crappie.

We found one spot where I was marking a ton of fish on the Vexilar and so I decided to take the bobber off and vertical jig some “big reds”.  It was tough because in my excitement to load the truck the night before I forgot to throw in my anchor. Our biggest dilemma of was the day was that we were unable to stay right on top of the fish.   I did manage to also pull up some really nice river perch in the deep water that were schooled with the crappie.  The most effective method was a Fat Boy tipped with a white Mister Twister rigged under the bobber 7-9  feet.  “This did make for interesting casts, Mark was on the look out all morning!”

Once our clothes were wet enough that we were shaking from the cold damp March day, we decided to do some exploring.  Since this spot always produced we had never really seen what the rest of the setback had to offer.  We loaded up the boat, sat in the truck for a bit to warm up and took a walk.  To my surprise we found some of the best spawning habitat I had ever seen.

The ice was just out here as I could tell since the crappie were still in their suspended holding pattern so this spot had not warmed up enough to draw the fish in.  You can bet that I’ll be there next weekend to learn more about these Glory Hole crappie!

Here are some pics of some of the days catch.

3-24-12 – It’s Cold Again

Bobby and I trailered his boat to the Lake Champlain today and were fishing by 8am. The weather has turned and we were no longer spoiled by temps in the mid 70’s. Damn! Today was in the mid 40’s with a slight breeze but fortunately no rain while on the water. I guess this is more like normal spring weather conditions as we both did our fair share of shivering! Its funny to think that only a few weeks ago we were trudging around on the ice happy as can be in single digit temps, not the slightest bit phased by the cold!

The fishing was slow but we still managed fish. The water temperatures we experienced today ranged from 46 to 56 and that was just in one bay. Other places fit within the spread. It seemed like we were in pockets that contained only smaller crappie and largemouth bass. I think that the cooler temps either shut the larger fish down a bit or pushed them out to different structure.

The surface of the water was active all day by larger fish chasing bait. Everywhere we looked made the slow bite even more frustrating! Throughout the day we changed our bobber height but found that when we got too deep we picked up green slime and no fish. The best depth of the day seemed to be between 10 and 15″. In that depth range we picked up lots of gills, seeds, bass, and short crappie. Catching some fish is better than no fish! We called it an early day and headed back to the boat launch around 2:30pm.

We messed around with plastic colors today. The best producing color was a smoke with black flake Mister Twister. The jig head color didn’t seem to matter much as I tried bright, dark, silver and gold with similar results with all selections.

After packing up the boat we took a few casts from shore to see if we should have stayed closer. The gills were on fire and I got three crappies that were 8-9″ in maybe 20 minutes. Just goes to show that this time of year it is possible to be effective even if you don’t have a boat.

3-21-12 – A Quick Limit

Because we had found a solid spot on Lake Champlain the night before, we delayed our departure time until 7am. I ended up arriving 15 minutes late because I am not use to driving with traffic on the way to the spot! Usually we get going much earlier in the morning… After a few minutes of harassment, we cruised in the boat to our morning spot. Driving in, the crappie were breaking the surface in an attempt to get a meal. They would soon get it!

We tied off on a log and began fishing. From the start we were tossing back fish that were 10-11″ because we knew we could be picky. We fished for about 1.5 hours before getting our limits. The larger fish kept repositioning their spot in the area we were fishing as we caught them. It was easy to know when to fish a new side of the bay because you would start catching smaller fish. It was consistent pretty much all morning. At one point we were talking about how often we were catching a fish. We all made a cast at the same and and in a fast count 12, we were all hooked up with slab crappie! Amazing!

We started the day using bobbers with 2-3′ of line below. Although the fishing never slowed, we adjusted our techniques throughout the day. We found that the bigger fish went deeper so we removed the bobber and fished the bottom. We used many colors throughout the day but in the end we found that “electric chicken” produced the best.

We had some slammers that were over 14″ and many pushing 12″. The fishing was unreal and the temperature was close to 80. What more could we ask for? Is it the weekend yet? ha

3-20-12 – It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt Then It’s Fun Again!


Today was a two part day on Lake Champlain. I began the day in the islands ditch fishing for bullhead. The setup for this type of fishing is simple. I run a 1/2 -3/4 ounce bell sinker with two snelled hooks in line spaced out above the weight. The height of the hook depends on where  the fish are running but a good place to start is with the first being tied in 6″ up and the second 6-10″. We used worms and Powerbait with success on both. In general, we caught more fish on the worms. My first cast with Powerbait on yielded a good crappie that measured in at 12.5″!

The bullhead shut off early in the day as the sun came up and only bit sporadically for the remainder of the morning. Comparing this year to last, the fish seemed to be in fewer numbers (could be timing of the run in regards to my trip) and larger in size.

We caught some huge sunnies and loads of perch. The numbers of perch were unreal! We were all pulling doubles throughout the day! Just being there for the sunrise made the trip with it.


For the afternoon part of the trip, I met up with bobby for a ride to southern Lake Champlain chasing crappies from a boat with Jamie. We left the launch around 2:30pm and headed to a spot that had been producing. We quickly got into the fish but found a lot of smaller sized between the keepers. We spent a few hours picking through the before it slowed down. During the excitement while in a run of big fish I stubbed my toe. The nail got jammed back and is completely black and blue now. I think it may have broke. Didn’t stop me from fishing the rest of the day though! This spot in particular is very tight as it is surrounded by low hanging trees and with just enough room for a boat to squeeze in. Because of the space limitations, we were using our ice rods by Austin Custom Rods for much of the time. It is a blast pulling in a slab that can run where ever it wants to!

On the way back to the launch, we decided that we should try another spot that had given up a few fish in a past year. It was a slow bite producing only pike, bass, and bluegill. The fish were exploding everywhere chasing bait. Even though we were all ready to go we motored a short distance to a third and final location. This spot had great results. For an hour, we pounded slammers. We were throwing back 11″ crappies because those were the “small” ones! We all ended up with some nice bags to take home for supper.

Some fish for the freezer.

3-19-12 – First Day In The Boat

I got to check out what it is like to fish for crappie on Lake Champlain from a boat for the first time this year today. What a blast it was! We hit the water around 6am but didn’t get any production till much later in the day. We checked a few spots early only to catch several bluegill and bass. The fishing is much different than that of a normal spring setting… The water is low and warming up very quick. I think we hit a max of 48 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was lots of activity on the surface of the water from the bait being chased but it proved difficult to catch any of the fish. We determined quickly that we were in a bad spot so onward we went.

The next spot we were on got off to a slow start. We had several fish nibble but not commit. We worked up and down the shore line with little success. We checked on one more spot on the way out of the bay and found good news finally. It took only one cast to know we were on a pile of spring crappie.

We sat in one spot for maybe the next two hours and each pulled around 200 crappie. It was a mixed bag of blacks and whites that heavily favored the blacks. It didn’t matter if we vertical jigged them or were casting with a bobber. If the bait was in the water, there was a fish about to bite it. The hot bait today was a Bobby Garland in any color. Probably one of the best bites from any species that I have ever had part of! We left early because of prior commitments but it was difficult to leave when the bite was picking up and the size was increasing! I went home with a limit to cut for fish feeds throughout this summer.

Here’s the bag from today. Some slabbers for sure!

This is the set up we used

Apparently this was on the menu for lunch today!

Looks like a senior picture right?

3-18-12 – A Bit Slower But Still Productive

The weather provided us fishermen of Vermont with another spectacular day on the water! Blue skies, a light wind, and a long spring day graced us with ideal conditions for landing some some nice crappie and bluegill on Lake Champlain. Although the fishing wasn’t as good as yesterday it sure beats the hell out of work! I am going to struggle when I actually do get back to work. For now, the time is ticking and I’m not wasting it… I’ll be back out the next two, maybe three days!

I was set up for fishing around 6:30am and there were already good numbers of people around. The fishing only provided a few good runs of crappie for the entire time I was there but it was possible to pick them throughout the day. It is a blast when there is a good run going on and people are swarming to the action. Seeing like 10 bobbers fighting for real estate in a hula hooped sized area is a riot. Its amazing there aren’t more big knots tied across the water. I found myself catching a lot of fish in the 8-9.5″ range but saw some real slabs get pulled.

The set up today was pretty much identical to yesterdays. I ran a bobber with 12-15″ of like under it. I switched between maroon and white tungsten jigs a few times today. I used both Powerbait minnows in black and white and Mister Twisters in yellow and white all day. I never found a time when the fish wanted it deadsticked at all. Yesterday it went in phases for what they wanted. Most of the fish I caught today were gills and seeds. I did catch a few large hybrids that are always neat to see!

Cleaning my fish tonight, I took some pictures showing how proceed. I till try to get it up within the next few days. Ideally, there will be some video to go along with it as well! Check back tomorrow for more action!

3-17-12 – First Day On Open Water

We hit the shores of Lake Champlain today fishing for staging crappie. The water is low for the time of year but considering the weather conditions this past winter, there isn’t much water for a “spring runoff.” The water we were fishing was 3′ or less and warming up fast. The bite this morning for us was slow but as the day warmed so did the water and it turned the fish on. We noticed an increase in size of the fish as the day progressed as well.

We left with our limits around 2pm after about 6 hours of fishing. We discarded many of the fish that were of “keeper” size as the bite was decent enough. We found the best pockets of crappie to be in the shade but were most willing to bite on the fringe of the sun/shade area on varying colors. Mister Twisters and Powerbait minnows that were black and white placed about a foot under a bobber seemed to be our best options. Sometimes the fish wanted the bait moving while others it had to be still. It took time to get fish but when they came through it was very will possible to pull a few!

Other species we caught were perch, pike, pumpkinseed, and bluegill.

A Look Back At The Season

Now that I have officially called it quits for the ice fishing season I am wondering what I will do with myself until my summer work starts up. I began the unpacking process of all my gear today. Mainly, I had to bleach my buckets and cooler to stop the spread of the horrid fish stink before putting them in storage until ice up in the fall. Hopefully, that is in November but I’ll settle for mid December. Ha! I have been dreading this day for the last couple of weeks but with the temps we are experiencing and seeing how fast the ice has been going, it didn’t come as a surprise. So that helped!

One of the first big tasks I have to tackle is my vehicles. I know that both of my cars need a serious scrub down – inside and out, a wax, and a few days with the windows down. The stink of fish has worked itself further and further into every corner possible with each trip. The last few weeks of warmer temperatures have produced some near gagging car rides home; especially, in the forester with everything only a few feet away from me! After that, in no order of importance, I need to load up my open water gear, check on trail cameras, get the bow set up for the fall, and even out my ice fishing tan (look at my hand below). I sound like a woman right?

So, I knew throughout the season that I was putting some hours in but up until now I didn’t realize the quantity. I was on the ice fishing for 524 hours and spent 145.5 hours in a vehicle. Lots of trips to the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain! Fortunately, for me and both of my rigs, I didn’t have to drive every trip. Each trip out averaged just under 9 hours on the ice and a round trip drive time of 2.5 hours. I think if you were to add up the time spent preparing, talking, and thinking fishing over the last 3 months, you may find a few minutes that were fish-free. I hate to admit it but I think that might be the definition of an addiction…

I learned some great stuff this winter, caught some fish to be proud of along the way, and made some new friends. I was able to get a good grasp on the basics of “panfishing” through the ice and gained a huge appreciation for the little guys of the lakes!