Multi-Species Ice Fishing for Everyone


I once drove eight hours to a walleye hotspot that was given to me in secret by my haircut lady whose boyfriend had an icehouse sitting on a reef in Sturgeon Bay, only to find that he moved that shack to Little Bay de Noc a few days before and wouldn’t answer his cell phone. Luckily, I found some perch in the shallow portion that turned a bummer trip into a winner.

Ice fishermen can be tight lipped. Like the guy who told me the fish weren’t biting as he was loading his gear into his truck, only to spill his nice bucket of slab crappies on the ground. “How deep were you fishing?” I asked. “Twenty feet,” he replied. “Minnows or waxworms.” “Waxworms.” So, on that day, instead of heading shallow for bluegills, I headed out to the 20-foot break and sacked up the crappies. As I was loading up my gear after a day on the ice, a guy asked me; “How are they biting?” “Pretty slow,” I said…and made sure I didn’t spill my bucket of slabs!

Ice fisherman can be just as species-specific as open-water bass and walleye anglers. We tend to get pigeonholed into fishing a particular way that works until the bite wears out and then we’re lost. By gearing up for multi-species angling and fishing for active, finny creatures, you will always fill up the bucket—or better yet, release a bunch of fish to fight another day.

Having multiple setups geared for different species is the only way to go. Why on earth would you leave a couple of walleye rods and larger jigging spoons back in the garage? It’s not like Slender Spoons take up a lot of space; they are slender for God’s sake!

When I go ice fishing, I don’t cook up a bunch of bratwurst and drink a barrel of beer. I’m not out to enjoy the great outdoors or ride around in my ATV. Lots of people do, and if that’s your thing, go for it. But I go to catch fish. So, I try to maximize my chances with extra rods or tip-ups. When it’s warm enough that the holes don’t freeze too quickly, I’ll set up several deadsticks. When it’s super cold, I’ll use my round, 20-year-old Frabill Thermal Tip-ups. With these black beauties, the holes don’t freeze and I get in on some extra action.

Once, on Lake of the Woods in Ontario, we went specifically after walleyes and lake trout. The weather was beautiful, so the bite was tough. We did manage to catch a few lake trout…but then the most active species turned out to be crappies! Luckily, we had packed a few lighter rods and had enough size 3 RPMs and smaller Chekai 5mm ice jigs tipped with plastics to save the trip.

Information is a big part of fishing success. Check Facebook for recent catches on the lake you intend to fish. Stop in at one or two local bait shops and buy a few things…then ask your questions. Finally, check with fishermen pulling off the ice and try to find out what species are biting, how deep they are fishing and what they are using. You’d be surprised at the information you can collect with a few vague questions!

You can be among the first to get the latest info on where to go, what to use and how to use it!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

I was fishing on a clear, weedy lake last winter, looking for bluegills and crappie. I was catching smallish bluegills right off bottom with a size 12 Majmun tipped with two red spikes and had a super-soft-tipped rod set in a holder next to me, looking for crappies. I’d see crappies shooting up to the minnow, but they wouldn’t take. I decided to switch out to a different jigging rod with a larger size 8 wonderglow Demon and jiggle it a little. Instantly, I got a hit that turned out to be a 9-inch bull ‘gill that put up quite a fight. It turned out on that day that the bigger ‘gills were up higher and wanted a bigger, brighter lure, and I wouldn’t have known that had I not seen a reaction to my second rod.

So, I always take along several poles with different actions for different weights of lures, as well as a variety of jigs and spoons in a wide range of sizes and weights. Depending on the lake I’m heading to, I plan my gear accordingly.

For instance, if I’m heading to my bluegill/crappie lake, I bring my go-to box of jigs with Custom Jigs & Spins Demons, Ratfinkees, Chekais, Majmuns and Glazbas. The bluegill bite is early, and the fish are focusing on 6- to 10-foot depths. Once drill a few holes and get the fish going, it’s usually a bluegill party. A few years ago, I had six holes that I was moving around to when the action stopped. I dropped down an underwater camera, only to discover a few bass were chasing the bluegills out.

Rather than move, I grabbed a heavier rod rigged with a Slender Spoon and started jigging it wildly to attract them in. It took a few minutes as I hopped around a few different holes and scored three nice-sized largemouths. Another time while going for crappies near dark, I stumbled/ onto a school of channel cats. Luckily, I had a heavier 7 mm Chekai tungsten jig which I bulked up with several waxworms and began pounding on the channel cats for the next few hours.

Fishing is about catching. Catching is great regardless of species. Why spend nine hours on the ice trying for walleyes when you can catch a dozen white bass or a bucket of perch? Give multi-species angling a go this winter and let the fun begin!