Tag Archives: Plastics

6-1-13 – First Day of June

With a frustrating and unsuccessful turkey season in the books, I decided it was time to get back to the fishing.  The weather in Vermont had been about as predictable as the fishing.  Last Sunday, we hit the water passing snow plows and wearing our Clam Blue Suits. This week we saw record setting temps getting up into the 90’s in some areas of Vermont.  I decided to go and spend a few hours on a  crappie pond to check and see where they were at with the spawn.  The body of water isn’t very big and I was able to cover most of it in a short time.  Last weekend we were experiencing water temps in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s but it was also snowing, on this particular morning, I arrived to a water temp of 71 at 6 am!  What a difference a few days can make.

Being able to start fishing right at the launch I grabbed my bobber rod rigged with a Live Baby Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures and started to make some casts.  My focus for the morning would be the shallows hoping to catch a few fish still in spawning pattern, targeting weed edges and wood.  My first spot and also the most productive in the past was a bust, one small perch was all that I was able to get.  I went to work searching.  I was able to connect on one decent crappie along side a tree, but nothing after that.  I made a big move and headed for the far side of the pond.

The shoreline on this part of the lake was similar in design but the drop off was a little steeper.  I was able to locate a few fish but they were spread out for sure, no concentration.  I would guess that the fish are at the tail end of their spawn with many having already done their business and had slid back into a little deeper water.  All in all it was a good day on the water, any day on the water is a good day!

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Lake Fork Trophy Lures

Artificial baits have come a long way in recent years, especially when it comes to baits designed to catch panfish.  Many companies are producing baits with new designs and technologies, these baits have become an essential part of our fishing arsenal for both hard and soft water. There are many benefits to using plastics over live bait including: cost, durability, castability, and re-rigging time after a bite or hookup. Don’t get me wrong, live bait will still have times when it will out fish plastics but in general I will always choose plastics. The market for plastics has numerous options that can make one feel overwhelmed but here is a review on one company that has provided us with with some great success recently.

The bait this review will be focused on is the “Live” Baby Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures. It is a patent-pending design, 2 1/4″ swim bait, that provides a fisherman with ample action from its combination of “swim slots” and a pintail to entice all types of gamefish”, not just crappie like we usually target. This bait was spawned after requests from many of their customers to slim down their popular “Live” Magic Shad. The bait currently comes in 35 different colors to meet just about any of your fishing needs.

The normal set up we fish for pan fish with is an ice fishing jig under a bobber with a length determined by water depth and the active zone for the desired fish species. The variety of jig we use depends on where we are fishing but a long hook shank with a wide gap is the best option. There is a lead ban on the Connecticut River, so our main choices are limited to tungsten or to meet the 1″ minimum jig length for all lead products. In general, when fishing tungsten, we run jigs made by Bentley which usually have short hook shanks and a narrow hook gap. Fishing anything but micro plastics with these hooks can be difficult at times but I still have very good hook up ratios unless targeting bluegill and pumpkinseed. The next best option is to go to just about any sporting goods store and buy lead heads. They come in a variety of sizes but 1/16 of an ounce is our hook of choice and is very common to be 1′ or greater in length. We know that there are other options for jig head composition but when fishing structure and brush we burn through quite a bit of terminal tackle… Lead is just the best option for the price!

At first, looking into purchasing plastics seems expensive. You can buy a 15 pack of “Live” Baby Shad for $2.99. When you count the number of fish that can be caught on one single piece the number of fish possible per bag can grow very quickly making the price seem far more reasonable. When you look at it this way, cost and durability go hand in hand. Unless you are catching toothy critters or having fish that are just biting the tail, it is hard to ever notice a bait getting beat up. Catching 50-60 fish per bait or more is not out of the question.

For instance, check out the two pictures below. Fishing for crappie, we find that the majority of the time the bait is inhaled so far that the bait isn’t even touched and is stuck in the roof of their mouth. That means no tearing of the bait and the tail is left untouched. Most issues that evolved with this bait, as with any swim bait, is tearing around the head of the bait where it was stuck initially with the hook. When this happens, depending on the severity, I just bite off as small of a section to get rid of the tear in order to halt its progression further.

Another benefit to fishing plastics is their ability to cast out with very little concern about the bait falling off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fished live bait and been limited with what is in my range for a cast because I can’t whip my bait. For all the times I’ve fished plastics, I have never whipped it so hard that my bait flew off other than when due to a faulty knot.

Now lets think about times when fishing live bait. Most bites result in stolen bait or a hook up. When you reel it in, chances are you will have to re-bait. This means getting into the live well, scooping out a minnow and hooking it while its flopping. With plastics its a matter of pushing the bait back up onto the bait holder and you are back in the water. If it is time to put a new plastic on, you don’t have to mess around with anything but a bag and they won’t die on you!

The action these baits by Lake Fork Trophy Lures have is amazing. The swim slots allow more side to side and vertical action than other similar styled “shad baits” because of their ability to twist more freely. When coupled with the pin tail and ball at the end, it makes twitching your bait even more effective because of the bit of added weight. Being that the sliver of plastic between the sections in the body  of the bait are so thin, you would think that it is a weak spot. This is not true. We found no issues with the segmented body. There was only two places that the bait that ever ripped. The head of the bait around the hook shank as we mentioned before and only a few tails were bit off.  During the period in which we fished this bait exclusively, the fish were very lethargic so a quick retrieve was most productive.  This swimming action of the Lake Fork Lure only added to the triggering effect of the retrieve.

One of our favorite fish to catch is the bluegill. I’m sure that anyone reading this has caught or at least seen a bluegill up close and the size of their mouth. The area where the majority of this baits testing was done was loaded with giant gills so as our baits were being stolen it wasn’t too hard to figure out who the robber was. The difference between a feeding gill and crappie is only a matter of their ability to fit the entire bait in their mouth as they are both very aggressive.

The main drawback for us with the “Live” Baby Shad was the number of baits lost due to bluegills. When the fish were feeding aggressively, the size of the bait was no issue and the fish would steal far less plastics. When the bite was slightly negative, I found that the baits were being ripped off because the fish were grabbing just the tail. I have watched this over and over during the winter months on my underwater camera when the fish are only sucking on the baits. When I have a situation arising like this, I try to come up with a way to counteract the downfall. The solution to this was to bite off a section of the head before threading it on the hook. Also, I found some success in waiting a bit longer before setting the hook to allow time for the fish to actually take the bait. At times, a quick reaction is necessary though to get the hook setbefore the fish spits the bait realizing it isn’t actual forage.

When all is said and done, the “Live” Baby Shad flat out catches fish.  The swim slot action gives the bait an extra degree of eat-ability.  We highly recommend that you look into these baits if you want to catch more fish.  The customer service is top notch and this company really cares about their product.  You should check them out.  Lake Fork Trophy Lures

Here are some other notable fish caught on “Live” Baby Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures

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.

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I went fishing on Lake Champlain yesterday from 7:30 am to just before 5 pm. The bite was never hot and heavy nor were the fish of quality size. The picture below was my only seed over 9″. The weather report was far from what was called for not that I am complaining. The wind was suppose to blow 15-20 mph all day but luckily it didn’t pick up till later in the day. It was also suppose to be a sunny day but that never happened either. There was actually a fair amount of precipitation throughout the day. That’s ice fishing in Vermont for ya! As for the crowd, there were quite a few people out there fishing until the wind picked up. I think the lack of fish and deteriorating weather pushed people out early.

For the most part, every hole I fished had fish but the majority of them were filled with dink perch. There were a few areas that were replenished throughout the day though so I tried to get back while still searching around for better schooling areas. I found one spot that offered a good deal of snow coverage on the clear ice.  I punched maybe 2 dozen holes in a small area that was about half clear ice and half snowpack ice. My first few drops produced decent seeds so I kept pounding the area. I was getting pretty frustrated with how frequent the little fish were stealing my bait so I changed up my presentation to a larger profile that included a plastic by Maki Plastics.  Because the fish were still showing on the flasher, I put on the first plastic I found. It was a previously used red Maki that had turned to a maroon in my coat pocket. I then started having a lot of fish following from the bottom to just below the ice but not taking it readily like before while fishing meat. Three holes later, I landed my first crappie of the day. Over the next two hours I iced a dozen crappie and a good pile of gills and seeds. About the time the fish stopped showing on my flasher people started to clear out so I was able to move to other areas and not punch holes the rest of the day. The rest of the day was fairly consistent but still not a great bite.

I try to analyze my day after every trip. I think that if I don’t try to learn something from every fish I will never get any better. Some fish want it fast while some want it slow. Some want it put right in their mouth while others want it taken away so they have to charge. Figuring out what the fish want can make the difference between landing chips all day or catching a limit of quality fish especially on Lake Champlain where the fish are abundant. Some days it doesn’t matter though… You can do everything right or everything wrong and it could be the best or worst day on the water. My grandmother had a sign above her kitchen doorway with a picture of a cow in a green field on a beautiful bluebird day with its foot in a bucket with the quote: “someday’s you step in it, someday’s you don’t”. Not everyday can be a great day on the ice but one thing that I have learned is that it is better to work on new tactics and techniques and not catch fish than to go home early without a meal and twiddle your thumbs.

So looking back at yesterdays trip I ask myself, what did I learn? Well to start, don’t throw out your used plastics! Maki Plastics are durable and you can hook them anyway you want and still catch fish. Also, sometimes a new color can be made inside your pocket that is just what the fish want for the given day! When I switched from using spikes to a plastic not only did I weed out smaller fish but I started catching an entirely different species that was already in the area but I just didn’t know. Secondly, I changed my mind set that when there is clear ice, look for ice that has texture or snow to break up my silhouette. I caught more sunnies on clear ice in an 8″ hole than anywhere else. Lastly, get out on your own. When I caught my crappie I was away from everyone else. There were no holes and no one withing a short distance of me.