When fishing for trout, salmon, bluegills, walleye, or whichever species you prefer - whether they are monsters or little guys - many of them hit light under the ice. Sometimes the biggest fish of the day come from barely nibbling the jig tip. Sensitivity is key as well as technique. So I'm going to talk about my favorite technique for ice fishing.
Wherever I am when I'm out on the ice, I always use the maximum amount of lines allowed, which happens to be two in Colorado. For me, one will always be a jigging rod that I am constantly working and the other will always be a bobber rod. The bobber rod is what I will be focusing on.
Before I get into the descriptions and so forth, I want to ask you something. How many of you fish with a still rod? By still rod, I mean a rod that you have sitting next to you that just sits there, except for the quick jig you may give it every once in a while. If this is you, pay attention. How many of you use spring bobbers or wire strike indicators? If this is you, pay attention. I'm going to describe a scenario for you and picture this in your minds. You are in your warm ice shack - and for those of you that don't use ice shacks or have never been in one, either you're crazy or new to this ice fishing thing. Okay, you are in your ice shack, or on your bucket, and your still rod starts to get a nibble. Naturally, what do you do? Most likely, you drop your other rod and snatch up the still rod in anticipation for the next strike, right? Then what happens? Usually nothing. You set the rod back down and a few moments later, it's the same process.
This is a very frustrating way to ice fish because it's obvious you have something on that these fish like, but the second you touch the rod, they disappear. I'll tell you what happened, you scared it. I know this has happened to you or someone you know, it's inevitable. This similar situation can happen to those of you who fish without a shelter and it's windy out. You're just not sure if the line twitched or if the wind blew it. That could have been the big one, but you weren't quite sure. The solution to all this is using a slip bobber. Slip bobbers are extremely easy to use and absolutely deadly. They work for all species and work well on all line types. The rig starts with a bobber stop. There are a few choices when it comes to bobber stops; one of them is a string stop.
A string stop is a piece of plastic tubing with brightly colored string, usually orange or pink, wrapped around the tubing. Simply slide your line through the tubing, then slide the string off the tubing toward your rod and snug it down by pulling on the tags and snip the excess tags off. The trick to these types of stops is to get the perfect tension on the stop. You want to be able to slide it up and down the line to set the right depth of your jig without damaging the line. Too tight will damage the line, but too loose will make the stop slide down the line when a fish is hooked.
The other type of stop I use is a rubber stop. These small rubber stops come on a small looped wire. The wires are usually attached to a small yellow disc. You put your line through the loop in the wire and pull the stop onto your line. The only trick to these is buying and using the right size. I use size “SS” for all line types and weights. Neither the string and rubber bobber stops affect line sensitivity, nor do they weaken the line when a big fish is on. They both can be reeled up onto the spool without damaging the line either.
There are also small, plastic bobber stops with 3 holes in which you weave your line through, but I do not recommend this type of stop, because they will break your line at the rod tip when landing a big fish.
Now that we've covered bobber stops, next comes the bobber. The bobber stop goes on your line and the bobber clips on under the stop. The only bobbers I use are Ice Buster bobbers. There are a couple of reasons why I use these bobbers: they're easy to use and you can adjust them accordingly. They just snap on and off your line, which takes a half second to do. These bobbers are made of foam, so if you need a little more sensitivity, simply pinch off the tip, leaving a more sensitive bobber. What's nice about the Ice Buster bobber is the eye of the bobber sits under the water, so they won't ice up. Once your bobber stop is on, tie on your jig, hook, and bait, whatever you're using. If I use a light jig, I add a split shot. Once I have my rig put together, I then set the bobber stop to the level at which I want my bait. Most of the time, I'm fishing near the bottom and I use my Vexilar FL-18 to set my depth. If you don't use a Vexilar or any other type of flasher, use a depth finder (clips with a ball of lead on the other side, usually in bright colors.) To properly use a depth finder, clip it onto your jig and drop your jig down the hole. If I wanted to keep my bait about 6 inches off the bottom, I would attach my depth finder and make sure my bobber is snapped on my line, under the bobber stop. I adjust my bobber stop until the top of my bobber measures about six inches under the water. I reel up and take the depth finder off and when I let my jig back down, it will be placed precisely where I want it to be. I leave a little bit of slack line from my rod tip to the bobber stop. That is basically how this rig works. Now I will discuss the benefits of using bobber stops. The number one goal you're setting with the stop is being able to pick up your rod and never disturb your line. By leaving a little bit of slack line, it allows me to pick up my rod without moving the line under the water. Bobbers are also way more sensitive to fish biting than human touch and these bobbers allow you to heighten the sensitivity of the nibbles, so you will know if there's a fish for sure on the end of your line.
The last, and most important part, is that once you have your depth figured out and have your bait in perfect placement off the bottom, you can get your jig back down to the same exact depth every time. This is crucial when it comes to locating schools of fish in different depths.
The bobber stop is such a simple addition to your fishing line and doesn’t disrupt any movement or sensitivity in your line. This little feature will enhance your ice fishing experience 100%. Once you start using a bobber and bobber stop, you will notice immediately how effective it is just by how many more fish you will catch. Good luck out there and be safe on the ice.
© 2021 Nate Zelinsky
About the author, Nate Zelinsky:
Nathan Zelinsky is a full time professional walleye angler. He has fished the MWC along with many other tournaments. Besides tournament fishing Nathan is owner/operator of Tightline Outdoors guide service which is an all species guide service, fishing for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass,Northern Pike, Trout, Catfish, Carp, Perch, Tiger Muskie, Kokanee Salmon and Wiper. Nathan spends around 300 days a year on the water or ice. Nathan also runs a Ice Fishing School in the winter months. He is a frequent guest on ESPN Outdoots with Terry Wickstrom and also appears frequently on Angling Adventures, Fishful Thinker and Lip'em & Rip'em.
Nathan is also a member of ICE TEAM.
Nathan is sponsored by Lund Boats, Mercury Marine, JR’s Tackle, Interstate Batteries, JIffy Augers, Berkley, Fenwick, Phlueger, White Caps, Crowly Marine, Replicas INC, The Sign Guys and Gal, Ice Armor, Clam, Vexilar, Mr. Heater, Ice Team, Blue Quill Angler, Todays Tackle and Line-X.