I have always thought of myself as a panfish man when it comes to ice fishing. But over the last 3 seasons my growing love of catching splake (and the occasional Laker) is really starting to change my mind a bit. Let me clarify that..I still love to jig up a mess of gills, crappie and perch, but instead of setting up tip-ups in search of pike while jigging for panfish, Im starting to veer toward dead-sticking for splake!
When you think about laker/Splake fishing the first thing that comes to mind is probably heavy jigging in deep water, but that is not always the case. Both of these species often roam into shallower waters to feed, and Splake can be found quite regularly in as little as 12-15ft of water, and when they are.. they are prone to hammer a still bait just as often as they would an active jig. This is where Dead Stickin' comes in.
Dead sticking is just as it sounds, a still (dead) rod with a jig/spoon tipped with live or dead bait. The rod can be held, leaned, or set up in various slammers (the jaw jacker or automatic fisherman come to mind). The main objective here is to impart little to no movement on the rod and let the minnow do its thing. Roaming Splake will often come across what looks like an easy meal and feast on it, rather then chase down a constantly moving jig.
(Top is a Laker, and below it a splake. Both caught in 13ft of water on a deadstick)
Fishing a Deadstick
For those whose who know me, you know I dont pack light.. When chasing Splake on deadsticks I bring the following gear..
1 x Automatic Fisherman
1 x Jaw Jacker
2 x HT Riggers
4 x Medium Rods (min 30 inches in length
4 x Jigging Rods
Various Spoons (silver w/blue, red or glow)
Fishing in a group setting is what I like best. Most lakes in Ontario will only allow 1-2 lines per angler, this makes an effective deadstick set-up hard. Personally I like to drill holes in a horseshoe pattern covering water from 12ft up to 20ft. The deadsticks are placed in the area in which a depth of approximately 12-13ft of water began to drop down towards 20ft. Each rod will be rigged with a spoon (various sizes) and tipped with a live minnow. Flashers are then used to place the baits anywhere from 1-3ft off the bottom. Once set it is time to leave them alone, and start jigging with our secondary rods (this rod can be used for panfish or splake)
On my jigging rod I like to start off with a fairly large and flashy spoon (Williams has a great line-up), I wont tip it right off the bat as this spoon & rod are used more for attracting attention then it is for hooking a fish. I let the spoon drop fast and hard to the bottom and bounce it a few times stirring up the bottom. I then give it a few hard snaps (this is why I dont tip it) and begin to work it back up the water column. After a few minutes of this, I will grab a rod with a smaller spoon tip it with a minnow and begin my normal jigging process.
Again this is a secondary rod, and meant to keep me busy, while waiting for the deadstick to go off. I will at times downsize for panfish, or put it away altogether to fish exclusively for splake on deadsticks
Once you get started jigging be sure to take regular breaks to check in on your deadstick. The holes need to be kept clear, so on really cold days a freeze up wont cost you fish. I also check on my minnow every 30-45 minutes, this insures the minnow is still active, and gives you the opportunity to add some more flash as you drop the spoon back down. Often a fish that was staring at your deadstick will react when the bait is suddenly moved or falls back down... that being said, Checking on your line to much can defeat the purpose of dead-sticking, so keep that in mind.
Slammers, Riggers, Jaw Jackers & more
Each angler may have their own preference when it comes to what you use to deadstick. Me, I have a few favorites but the bite and weather conditions may help dictate what I end up using.
I have been using the automatic fisherman for a few seasons now, and find it to be very reliable. It can be a pain to set, unless you have a dedicated rod for it, since you will have to adjust the arm each time you change rods. The heavy base is never an issue in the wind, and holds up well when you have a fish on. When splake fishing I like to keep my bail closed, this gives a better hook set and since Im never to far off, I let the drag do some work prior to me reaching my rod.
The JawJacker is a new fav from this season. I like the stance, and that it uses a loop instead of a rod eye to set the trap. I have had some freeze up issues, in which the mechanism did not trigger when hit by a nice splake, but luckily still landed the fish when my buddy noticed the Jaw Jacker rocking back and forth.
for more info on the Automatic Fisherman and Jaw Jacker, check out this earlier blog.. Here
It's does not take much to be successful with a deadstick, the above are just some tips and pointers, there are many more options available... including just using an actual stick!, Dont be afraid to test a few out and see what works best for you. I dont think I will ever stop hunting panfish, but once you get a few of these beauties on your line, you will quickly be converted