Come ice-out in March, my fishing buddy may trade platforms from which to fish, but the go-to lure remains the same until well into spring. Whether vertically snapping his blade baits below from atop the ice or the bow deck of his boat, he knows the simple, shiny slivers of metal will catch the most fish, in the greatest variety, for his effort this time of year through long past ice-out. By the end of a successful outing of blade bait jigging, my friend may stand surrounded by everything from crappies and walleye to yellow perch and bluegills flipping on the ice or on the snaps of a stringer.
What’s A Blade Bait?
Blade baits consist of a metal head or body molded to a thin metal blade that is stamped into the profile of a baitfish, and have proved especially appealing to any gamefish species—large or small—that preys on minnows. Larger blades are designed to fool walleyes, pike, bass and trout; smaller versions are deadly on crappies, smaller trout and yellow perch. Blade baits are particularly productive in cold water periods, such as those experienced in autumn, winter and early spring.
The metal lures are heavy for their size, and can be cast and retrieved or even trolled with some success, but most blade bait fishermen prefer to jig them vertically. Successful blade runners employ everything from a slow lift-and-drop motion to violently “snapping” the lures up off the bottom with quick, animated flicks of the wrist or arm, depending on the situation, to trigger fish into striking. Some anglers slow the blade’s fall, interrupting what would be a “natural” drop by adding action on the way down, or controlling the speed of its plummet by keeping the line tight and dropping the lure at a slower-than-normal pace. I have found simply letting the metal blade drop at its own pace on a limp line to be the most productive jigging motion for me, whether fishing through the ice or from the deck of a boat.
Some anglers tip the hook of their blade bait with a minnow, minnow head, or piece of worm to add some real meat to the presentation. Unless I’m using the slowest of jigging presentations, I’ve found that adding anything to a bare-naked blade presentation affects the ‘shivering’ motion and resulting vibration that makes the lures so appealing, and I will shift to a traditional lead-headed jig when a live bait ‘tip’ is required to tempt a bite from a finicky fish.
Many of the popular gamefish pursued across North America are in pre-spawn or spawning mode this time of year, staging near or atop the shallows that will host their annual mating antics. Positioning your boat above those locations and dropping a blade bait into the fishes’ midst may be the simplest, most productive tactic to try before going the traditional live bait route this spring.