What is the best bait for ice fishing ?

Ice fishing is one of the most challenging and thrilling forms of angling on the water. The austere conditions, aggressive fish, and various techniques ensure that there is never a dull moment on the ice. One of the most frequently asked questions from anglers looking to begin ice fishing is what is the best bait for ice fishing ?


As a general rule, Jigs are the best bait for Ice fishing. Due to its widespread popularity, extensive testing, and variety of setups, the jig is recommended for ice fishing. The combination of movement, scent, and ability to be placed throughout the water column make a jig the hands-down best bait for ice fishing.


Though anglers have a myriad of baits at their disposal, jigs are the most versatile and effective. Capable of being baited with live bait, plastics and scented bait, Jigs are the perfect delivery system to get your hook into a hungry fish’s mouth. The combination of hook and weight melded as one seats your bait at the desired depth in the water column, ready for a strike. 


While jigs are an excellent purchase for ice fishing anglers of all skill levels, we’ve only touched the surface. 


What are jigs? 


How do they work? 


What other baits work well when ice fishing? 


If you’re looking for the answers to these questions and more, read on. 


What is the best Ice fishing bait?


Jigs are amongst the most highly used set up for bait when it comes to ice fishing for a multitude of reasons. Fish are attracted to jigs because of both movement and scent, which, when used in conjunction with the jigs versatility to be worked from the bottom to the top of the water column, makes for a deadly bait. 


While many baits rely on smell or brightly colored components to grab a fish’s attention, jigs incorporate vertical movement to lure in the hungry submarine predators. Jigs also come in a broad spectrum, meaning they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and, depending on what the hook is baited with, smells. 


When ice fishing, the visibility beneath the ice throughout the water column varies. While many baits and lures may have to be interchanged, rigs adjusted or new tackle affixed to the line, jigs rely on more than one mode of advertisement to draw in fish. 




Jigs’ color comes from two components. 


The first is the jig head itself. Usually wrapped in plastic, this is the part of the jig which holds the weight. Often with eyes painted on, a jig head can range from unpainted lead to bright neon or chartreuse colors.


The second component is whatever lure or bait it’s placed upon the jig itself. Whether it’s small plastic minnows, grubs or worms, or something like Berkeley power bait, this plastic or scented bait often comes in a variety of colors. Anger looking to capitalize on this should find a color scheme that matches the naturally occurring prey in the ecosystem but will still stand out in the water.



The olfactory system is a powerful hunting tool for many species of fish. Frozen water is not necessarily still water, and scent can carry for miles beneath the ice in moving water. Jigs that utilize scented plastics or baits increase the chances of fish unable to see the bait being drawn to the fishing hole. 



For some species of fish, wounded prey suspended in the water column is too good of an opportunity to pass up. The jig jerks vertically, mimicking an injured or weak creature, making for an easy meal. Particularly when the bites are low, a little bit of movement can stimulate predatory instinct and trigger a strike when scent and color fail. 


While these jigs are excellent base plates that can be manipulated to be more effective through color, movement, and scent, add-ons can make a jig even more deadly. Additions such as skirts, spoons, and rattles can heighten the effectiveness of your jig and increase the chances of triggering a bite. 


Common additions used on Jigs


Here are some of the more common additions used on jigs:



Spoons are a great addition with a variety of lures and baits. The oblong, vibrant silver or gold piece of metal is usually affixed near the jig’s head and flickers with the movement of the water, reflecting light and drawing the attention of hungry fish. These inexpensive additions can make all the difference when traditional jigs have failed. 




While some jig heads may have a built-in rattle, the addition of aftermarket rattles can play a huge role in attracting fish when visible. It is minimal under the water. The combination of scent and what sounds like a struggling fish can trigger predatory instincts, drawing in your trophy ice fish. 




Like a supporting cast in a play, the skirt accentuates the movement of a jig throughout the water column. A skirt is usually thin plastic tendrils that form a ring around the jig itself, moving with the current. Though not used often, a skirt can be an excellent addition to enhance the appearance of a jig.


Types of Live bait used on an Ice Fishing Jig


  • Wax Worms
  • Maggots
  • Fly Larvae
  • Minnows


Rigging a jig with these baits places an onus on both scent and the fact that these are naturally occurring food sources in the ecosystem. In water with high visibility that is moving, these baits can be excellent choices to draw in hungry fish.


Plastic Baits used on an Ice Fishing Jig


  • Dancing Waxie
  • Plastic bugs
  • Plastic Minnows
  • Gulp Alive Lures


Plastic baits are usually more colorful than their naturally occurring brethren. There’s also a much wider variety of options as it pertains to color schemes and styles for anglers to choose from when utilizing artificial plastics. In water conditions with lower visibility, these colorful and vibrant lures can work magic, drawing in predatory fish with their flashy design and unique body types.


Scented bait used for an Ice Fishing Jig


  • Gulp Alive Waxies
  • Gulp Maggots
  • Magic Bait Crappie Bites
  • Berkley Gulp! Earthworms


Scented baits can be colorful but rely primarily on scent to draw in hungry fish. These artificial scent-infused baits can draw in Fish from a wide range when water visibility is minimal. An additional feature is that many of these can also be attached to a jig when a natural or plastic bait is being used to enhance its effectiveness. 


As previously referenced, jigs are the Swiss Army knives of ice fishing. Capable of being utilized in a myriad of capacities, jigs allow anglers to select from a broad range of baits and lures to maximize anglers’ chances of success. Overall, because of its versatility and plethora of potential combinations, the jig is the best bait to use when ice fishing. 


What is a jig?


A jig is the combination of a hook and lead sinker molded together. The hook protrudes beneath the sinker, which has an eyelet for the line to be threaded through. Together, this setup creates a bulbous top half which keeps the jig from floating up, and a sharp exposed hook beneath to hook fish. 


Usually covered in some sort of colorful soft plastic to resemble a bait fish or small bug, jigs move up and down throughout the water column, jerking sharply to attract hungry fish. While most lures and baits require the addition of a sinker to weigh them down,  a jig’s built-in weight affixed at the head causes the lure to sink down till the line is taut, or the bottom is reached. 


Rather than having a sliding sinker like so many other rigs or setups, a jig allows anglers to manipulate the bait by pulling up and having it sink directly back down, maintaining a tight line the entire time. This vertical movement is incredibly enticing to the fish, the short jerky motion simulating injured prey. 


How does a Jig Work


Jigs work by maintaining a lure in a specific position in the water column and capitalizing on short vertical movement, simulating wounded fish making for an easy meal. Depending on the current, the angler should select a jig head weight which will ensure that the line stays taught beneath the ice in a singular position and not blown about by the movement of the water. 


Once an angler ties on the jig head and baits it, they will drop it beneath the ice to the targeted depth and secure the reel, ensuring more line does not spool out. There are two ways to achieve the jigging motion in order to draw in fish.



By holding the rod oneself, the angler can control the frequency and aggressiveness of the jigging motion. This requires the angler to stay at the ice hole with a single rod and work the jig head up and down the water column. 


The benefits of this method is that anglers will be hands-on when a strike occurs, and they can control the jig better, selecting when and how hard they stimulate movement. 


Wind-Powered Tip Up

A wind power tip-up allows anglers to set and forget multiple lines without being hands-on with the jig directly. Using a system that suspends bait into the water column through the ice hole where they’re fishing, anglers will set a reel and attach a flag with a pressure trigger to know when a strike occurs on the line. Once a fish bites on, the system shoots up a flag which provides visual confirmation of a fish on, so that the anglers can return to the system and reel in their catch. 


The wind-powered system holds the spool of line out of the water with a sale mechanism that uses wind power to actively jig the lines vertically in the water to trigger more bites. The benefits of using this system include that an angler can have more lines in the water at once, and it doesn’t require them to physically hold the line while fishing.


Other Baits




As previously referenced, spoons can be incredibly effective when ice fishing. The shiny gold or silver spoon stands out like a lighthouse in a storm when the water is clear beneath the ice. Some spoons include rattles or skirts, which accentuate both noise and movement, creating a tasty treat for any hungry fish beneath the ice. 


To effectively angle with these, utilize either a single rod or multiple tip systems to dangle these shiny lures beneath the water, mesmerizing large, predatory fish into taking the hook. 


Though it may go without saying, selecting the size of a spoon or any lower for that matter will impact the fish you catch. The larger the spoon, the fewer fish you will bring in, which limits your catch to trophy-size fish. However, smaller spoons can be swallowed by larger fish and may present problems upon bringing them to the surface, so choose accordingly.


Jigging Lure


Different than a jig itself, jigging lures are hard plastic baits that sit vertically in the water column but operate very similar to a jig. Often replicating colorful minnows, these lures present a colorful meal for any hungry predators scouring the waters in search of prey. 


Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, the angler should select their lure according to the water clarity and indigenous population of bait fish. 




Of all the available baits, rigs, and setups, jigs work the best for ice fishing. Providing anglers with the ability to incorporate movement, color, sound, and smell, jigs work well throughout the water column. 


Using either a wind-powered tip-up or manually working a rod and reel, anglers can fill up a stringer in no time using jigs. These versatile and highly effective rigs can be baited with almost anything and will help turn your next Ice fishing venture into a smashing success. 

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