Colorado guide Bernie Keefe had been posting pictures of hefty lakers he’d pulled through ice with Lindy Watsit Jigs, and I knew from my own experience that trout always have a tough time snubbing a Fuzz-E-Grub. Therefore, I tossed several of each into my boxes as I packed for a Black Hills ice excursion.
Despite occasional questioning looks from veterans of the ice, grubs and other soft plastic lures consistently serve me well on ice trips, especially if I’m targeting trout. The trout-filled mountain lakes in the Deadwood area of South Dakota offered no exception. A Watsit Jig yielded multiple lakers, including a double-digit-weight beauty that attacked with conviction, and most of the fish I landed in three days favored my soft plastic offerings over actual ice lures (which I also fished plenty).
Dig through a typical ice box, and you’ll find almost nothing but hard stuff: jigs, heavy metal lures, fluttering and rattling spoons, ice plugs… With the exception of a few buggy tails for tiny panfish ice jigs, you’ll spot precious few soft plastics. Yet the same shapes and actions that appeal to trout during the summer produce similar results during the winter.
|A Fuzz-E-Grub offers a slow fall and subtle action that trout find irresistible--summer or winter.
Why Soft Plastics?
Subtlety is a giant calling card. While most jigging lures dart and drop decisively, many plastics provide hints of buoyancy and water resistance that temper the fall and soften the action. Between the clarity common to trout lakes and the fish’s fondness for eating critters that don’t do much self-propulsion, trout that won’t quite commit to a darting jig or wobbling spoon often can’t resist something soft and subtle.
A rattling spoon proved extremely useful for calling trout close at a couple of the lakes we fished in the Black Hills, but many of the fish that would show up on the flasher screen simply wouldn’t bite. When I’d reel up the spoon and drop a Fuzz-E-Grub to the same spot, they’d grab the grub almost immediately.
Added virtues of soft plastic baits include an angler’s capacity to more effectively match shapes of specific forage species, a different look for heavily pressured waters, and in many cases built-in scent and flavor.
|Many fishermen don't include plastics in their ice arsenal. Big mistake.
The best plastic bodies for most trout applications are 1 to 2 inches long (maybe a little larger for lakers or jumbo browns) and suggest an insect larvae or winter-slowed baitfish. A fluttery tail, tube tentacles or something else that keeps moving even with minimal motion of the bait itself adds value.
Most essentially, a lure must lend itself to strict vertical presentations. That, in fact, may be the biggest factor that has kept soft plastics out of the ice-fishing mainstream. Most popular applications of many soft plastic lures involve crawling, creeping, hopping or swimming, so that’s what anglers tend to think about. However, tubes and various grub-style baits look incredibly enticing when jigged, jiggled or even held motionless just off bottom.
|The author likes to use a rattling spoon to get the fish's attention. But when it shows up and won't take the spoon, he'll make a quick change to a soft plastic bait.
The best way to rig plastics for most ice-trout applications is also the most elementary. String the bait onto a jighead and tip with a minnow head, spike or waxworm to add scent. Ideal jighead sizes vary according to the size of the soft plastic body, the depth you’re fishing and the size of the trout, but 1/16 ounce is a good working average.
Use a jighead with a 90-degree line tie, if possible, and cinch the knot perpendicular to the jig. That positions the offering horizontally, which is the default posture for virtually everything trout eat in real life.
An alternative technique, given a need for extreme finesse, is to drop-shot a soft plastic lure, nose hooking the bait. This type of rigging maximizes the bait’s mobility, and you can get a highly fluid motion by barely moving the rodtip.
5 Plastics For Trout
Lindy Watsit Jig, 1/16-ounce, black with gold flake
Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub, 1 ¾-inch, pink and white
Bobby Garland Stroll’R, 2½-inch, midnight sun
Cabela’s Action Tail Grub, 2-inch, firetiger
Berkley PowerBait Atomic Pulse Tube, 1½-inch, glow chartreuse
Black Hills Trout
Several small lakes in South Dakota’s Black Hills offer easy access to outstanding ice-fishing for everything from beautiful-colored brookies to jumbo lakers. Terrain, character and species mix vary substantially from lake to lake. Spectacular scenery and plentiful trout are common denominators. Area information, Historic Deadwood; Fishing information: Dakota Dream Outdoors