Put Some Life Into Your Ice Angling: Use a Dead Rod

By Dennis Foster - January 11, 2017
Doing a whole bunch of nothing can serve a useful purpose. I realize that there are an awful lot of folks doing this already. Picture grabbing a case of beer and tallying empties as opposed to fish on the ice. Good work if you can get it. But for this discussion, incorporating a dead rod as a serious presentation option will infuse some life into your fishing. So in reality the rod I am referring to is anything but dead.

A dead rod as I use it is a vital part of an active presentation. Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps on the surface but let's consider the following: It is rare that we encounter fish with suicidal tendencies. Yes, at times, perch can and do seem that way-but that is the exception and not the norm. Fish are cold blooded creatures and as we are fishing for them during their most inactive season, what we all too often encounter is neutral to flat out negative feeding attitudes. Therefore, it only makes sense to me to try and appeal to as many triggering cues as we possibly can. That most definitely includes incorporating livebait into our presentations. Call me a throwback or even a minnow soaker, if you must and as some so arrogantly have, but I choose to give the fish what they want and I will humbly let the results speak for themselves.

The author watching the dead rod as he actively jigs his second rod.
I will readily agree with the philosophy that drilling plenty of holes and covering vast expanses of lake bottom with aggressive jigging techniques can and does work to put you in contact with enough at least moderately aggressive fish to scratch out a decent day. Some of the time. Assuming there are enough active (biting) fish to be found. This is not always the case. Hard water can equal hard to coax fish. Unfortunately, there are times when about all you have accomplished is coming home with perhaps a few fish and the truthful boast about your "hundred hole" day. I would prefer to cover a little less ground and spend more time actually fishing by concentrating on precise and even downright concise spots. Providing further opportunity for decent results and the ability to pass along the more positive report that the biteĀ…just isn't that bad after all.

A lot of what helps keep our hole count down and fish count up is to narrow down our search areas before we even hit the ice. Garnering reliable reports to get a general feel for what is going on is invaluable. I am not referring to the community holes. You will be better suited to concentrate on the details rather than exact locations. Glean what the general depths are, structural elements, bottom composition and what may be present-or lacking-for cover. Find out what time of day has been better and categories of lures and or livebaits that have been working best. Then, armed with this knowledge, have the courage to strike out on your own. There are always spots to be discovered having the features of the mostly over-pressured and quickly fished out shanty towns. A very expedient way to refine your search and lay yourself out a milk run of potential producers is to use the Navionics boating app (http://www.navionics.com/en/mobile-pc-app-1). It contains detailed lake maps that are fully accessible on your phone and allow you to quickly identify the spots with the characteristics you desire. Then via the GPS function, go directly to them. You can now begin a strategic drilling program. Saving precious time and effort you can now devote to concentrating on triggering the fish to bite.

Once you have found a destination to your liking, my recommendations are as follows: For each angler, you drill two holes about 6 feet apart on various aspects of the structure to create several fishing spots to bounce around to. To complement this system, I use the amazingly easy to handle 10 pound K Drill to effortlessly pop these holes. By using reverse on the recommended Milwaukee drill, even flush the shavings away all but eliminating slushing holes and thus remaining ultra efficient. The reason for the second hole is, you guessed it. The dead rod. This allows us to show the fish two very distinct options. One is an aggressive jigging approach and the other a subdued, pinned in place livebait option. Most often, an oversized minnow.

Conventional wisdom lends towards using an active jigging presentation to gain a fish's attention and hopefully, a positive response as indicated by a bite. But this is not always the case. They often rush in to examine the jigged bait only to stop frustratingly short and fail to commit. No matter how many tweaks or nuances you work into your jigging motions or lure changes you make, they show little to no interest. Times such as this is when the lowly minnow that simply cannot escape gets the long hard look needed for the lethargic fish to slowly suck it in. Now, we just need to seal the deal with the proper set up.

Specific tools for both rod and lures are called for to maximize results. Although we are using what is accurately termed a dead rod, that doesn't mean just any old rod will do. It also does not rely on quite often troublesome bobbers of any sort. If you absolutely must have something visual on your line, a bobber stop can be used as a line marker to quickly and accurately spool line back to the proper depth during a hot bite. This can be helpful when working schooling and suspended fish such as crappies. In my mind, slip bobbers require too much effort and often cause the fish to feel resistance as it takes the bait. Resulting in bites that only slightly sink the bobber, are soon released and the fish cannot be tempted any further. By foregoing an unnecessary link in our setup, we have nothing to freeze, tangle, or fuss with each time a fish is caught.

Instead, a long soft rod that slowly loads to roughly in the middle of the rod with considerable backbone from that point on works nicely. A rod such as this has a tip that is soft enough for the fish to take the bait without alerting it to our presence and has plenty of muscle to handle even heavy fish. Until recently, purpose built rods like this have been hard to find. Fortunately, several manufacturers have taken note and there are now some good models to choose from. I have found HT's Sapphire Ice 36 inch Dead Rod to meet my requirements. It also has the benefit of an orange tip that helps make even the slightest bite easily detectable. Just be patient, let the fish pull the rod tip down till it loads up, sweep set and reel your fish in. It really is that simple.

Our hook choice (in this case a jig) is equally important in keeping with the simple equals success theme. I have experimented with about everything out there and have settled on a couple of options from JB Lures. Their Weevil and Dub'L D jigs are made of dense tungsten so they get down into the strike zone quickly without added weight and pin the bait firmly in place. The size 6 hook versions work perfectly as there is plenty of gap in the sticky sharp hooks to provide the bite needed to consistently hook and more importantly-hold the largest panfish and even big walleye's or bass. With this system, we have satisfied the key component of keeping our minnow from being overly active and intimidating neutral to negative fish. A quick and at times critical tip is to play around with different hooking options. Reverse hooked along the dorsal, lip hooked, or something I am personally fond of is hooked upside down in the tail. The last one causes the minnow to continually try to right itself and sends off a ton of injured, impaired and therefore vulnerable cues. Translating into an easy and often irresistible meal.

Transversely, there are times when jigging my Vexilar will readily indicate the fish scurrying from even the most innocuous motions. In this case, the minnow on the dead rod switches roles and becomes the aggressive presentation and serves as the attractor. Although it may elicit few bites, it keeps the fish hanging around due to their curious nature. We can then put a spring bobber rod to use gingerly offering extra tiny tungsten jigs with a single wax worm or eurolarvae to entice a bite from these decidedly sluggish fish. Diminutive spoons with gold dropper chains and small fine wire hooks can work wonders in these situations. The following presentation option takes dead to a new level. Use subtle up and down motions of the spoon and dropper combo to pull fish in to investigate and then simply let the whole works plummet into the bottom causing a poof of sediment to rise. Leave it there. Completely motionless. With the aid of an underwater camera, you will often then witness the perch swim directly to the baited hook and suck it right out of the muck. By using your camera in downview (camera pointed straight down) you will see their gills flair as they suction water through them to pull up the bait. Set the hook as soon as you see this. Not when you see the bait enter its mouth. It's too late by that time as these tentative biters will have often blown it back out by the time you can react. Sounds silly but I have seen times when this is the only way to get them.

Play around and work some of your own variations into the basics of this dead rod system and I do believe you will soon find yourself consistently livening up your catch rates. It certainly can't hurt to at the very least give it a whirl on the tough and already dead days we all encounter.

Author Dennis Foster
Dennis Foster
Dennis Foster is a Hunting/Fishing Guide and Outdoor Writer from Mellette, SD. If you would like to book a trip or have questions or comments, he can be reached through his websites www.dakotapheasantguide.com and www.eyetimepromotions.com.