Fish Differently for Different Fish

By Bob Jensen

An angler new to ice-fishing and I were having a conversation recently about ice-fishing. He had some questions, and I tried to answer those questions. When we got to the topic of various fish species and how different fish species need to be approached differently, my new friend got a little suspicious. He wanted to know why we would use different line for different fish, why we fished for some fish with small baits and others with big baits, and on and on. His thought: A fish is a fish. Why do we fish for different species differently? This is where the conversation got interesting and maybe confusing. Here is what I shared with our new ice-angler. I hope the conversation helped.

We talked about the basic differences in fish and how they’re built. Bluegills have small mouths, crappies have larger ones. If we were to compare an eight inch bluegill to an eight inch crappie, you would see that the crappie, even though it’s the same length, would have a larger mouth. This means you would be better off going with a smaller bait if you’re after bluegills. They can just handle smaller baits better than crappies. Small difference that makes a big difference.

How about walleyes and crappies? This is one of those usually but not always things, which is what much of fishing is. Walleyes usually live near the bottom in most bodies of water. Crappies often suspend in many bodies of water. Not always, but often.

For this reason, we’ll often use a technique called “pounding” for walleyes, and perch too. “Pounding” is when you use your jig or spoon to get the attention of a fish. You pound the spoon on the bottom: You either let the bait fall on a slack line so it hits the bottom with as much force as it can, or you keep a tight line and just bounce it off the bottom several times. This pounding stirs up the sand or sediment or makes noise as it pounds into rocks or whatever the bottom is made up of. Pounding attracts perch or walleyes from a distance. After pounding your bait for a few seconds, lift it off the bottom a foot or two where it will be more visible.

When crappies are on the bottom, they will also respond to pounding, but because they aren’t near the bottom much of the time, pounding won’t do much good. For crappies and bluegills, it usually works much better to keep your lure above them. Make them come up to get it. By keeping it above them, you’ll get the aggressive ones to move away from the school to take your bait, and this usually prevents the school from getting spooked. You’ll often catch more fish from a school if you keep the bait above them.

And then there are those times when walleyes act like crappies and crappies act like walleyes: The crappies are on the bottom and the walleyes are suspended. In those situations, you put your bait where the fish is, and this is when you recognize the value of a depth-finder. Vexilar makes depth-finders that show the entire water column and a close-up look of the bottom at the same time, and this feature can be invaluable for seeing and catching more fish.
When we understand that fish are different and that we need to fish them differently, we will become more successful anglers, through the ice or open water.