Turn Negative Fish into Biting Fish


Fish are simplistic. They must eat to survive. The idea of dropping down a tiny bite-size morsel for the fish to eat seems easy enough, but what about when those fish snub the bait and turn away an easy meal? Do we just sit it out or tell our friends the fish are not biting? Definitely not! It’s time to dive into the bag of tricks and pull out methods that work.

Often, we are quick to change the size of the presentation, but other adaptations can work well, too. I prefer to change the jigging action first. I’m a firm believer that every fish will bite if the bait is presented in the right manner and action. The fish will commit if it feels it has a suitable dance partner. Change your jigging sequence and you can induce hunger. Also keep in mind the option of changing the direction of movement both up and down, meaning working the entire water column even when a fish is present on your flasher. Dropping the bait below a negative fish and holding it motionless can trigger a strike too.

Breaking away from the live-bait realm can also pay off in dividends. Switching to a plastic, whether scented or not, can trigger even the most skittish of biters. The finesse tails available today quiver ever so slightly and can drive negative fish into a feeding frenzy. One trick with these finesse tails is to never stop moving the bait. I encourage you to keep the plastic constantly quivering even when a fish begins its staring contest. We are too quick to stop the bait once a fish moves in and that can sometimes be the biggest mistake we make. Look for soft and subtle baits and don’t neglect the offerings loaded with tentacles. Yes they might break off, but when the going gets tough you need to only plan for one bite at a time.

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Another way to entice those negative biters is to keep things natural. By this I mean offer something in a dark brown, purple, black or blood red in color. Leave the glows at home and “match the hatch.” The ice fishing community is so saturated with glow options that we now feel we’re doing something wrong if we don’t fish them. I’m not saying forget the glows completely, but I challenge you to try more natural colors when seeking that extra bite. Small, blood-red noodle plastics can effectively imitate a blood worm. All black jigs can easily resemble a variety of aquatic insects. These are just a few options of natural baits; look in your tackle arsenal and find more. Fish simple and slow, and give the fish something that resembles what they already eat in the natural environment.

Probably the most effective trick when nothing seems to work is to just simply pack up and move. Moving can mean to a new spot on the lake or to a new lake altogether. Don’t fall victim to sitting in one spot if the fish won’t bite. I can assure you that there are biting fish somewhere, you just have to go find them. Making small moves across a piece of structure is a great way to start. Follow that with more drastic moves—take the cruise across the lake to a whole new pattern. If all else fails, hop on the road and attack a new body of water. The old saying “don’t beat a dead horse” sometimes rings true when sitting out on the ice. Move and be the mobile ice angler I know you can be.

While every day cannot be a day of plenty, we still can expect to catch fish regardless of the conditions. With a little patience and some adjustments, we can entice even negative fish into biting. Change your action, string up a finesse tail, dust off the black jigs, and see if you can drum up some bites.

To learn about fine tuning your presentation, check out the March issue of MidWest Outdoors magazine, available now at a newsstand near you, or by subscribing on our website.