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Downsize for better success on ice

Ice fishing requires much smaller versions of rods, reels, fishing line and tackle. These two jigs on the left are just the right size for panfish, while the jigging spoon can lure in perch, walleye, bass and northern pike. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

During the ice fishing season, talking about success is common.

However, some anglers rarely get to speak of their prosperity. Fishing is partially about gaining knowledge and minimizing the variables that can negatively affect the outcome. Some of those modifications are quite simple.

First off, buy a lighter fishing rod.

The fishing rods used for ice fishing are shorter than what we typically use for open water, but the diameter of the rod blank should also be smaller. Line guides should also be tiny, especially if catching panfish is your goal.

By using a very light rod, you can now eliminate reliance upon a bobber. Spring bobbers are another option, but a super-light rod tip will help you feel and see more bites.

However, a light rod doesn't make much sense unless you have light line to go along with it. During summer, a 6 or 8-pound test monofilament line works well for almost every species of fish. Yet during winter, thinner lines are more suitable. A 2 or 3-lb test line is ideal for bluegill, crappie and perch. With a properly adjusted drag, anglers could potentially land an incidental walleye, bass or northern pike.

Anglers often lean towards fishing lines that are much larger than required. With the media hype touting the strength, flexibility and sensitivity of braided lines, it's difficult to justify any other option.

Yet monofilament and fluorocarbon remain your best choice unless you tie a monofilament leader on the end of your braided line. Northern pike and bass typically don't mind the opaque appearance of a braided or Dacron line tied directly to the hook, but if you want to catch panfish or fool the keen vision of a walleye, than monofilament or fluorocarbon is a better choice.

Now you've acquired a light rod and reel combo and spooled up with light line, so the final determination is the size of your hook. This is easy and difficult all at once.

The tiniest jigs available in the store are best for the smallest fish in the lake. Bluegill require the greatest downsizing, since their mouths are so small. One size larger is good for Crappie and perch, unless they're inactive, in which smaller is better. If the fish are active, walleye sized baits are applicable. It's a give and take, a larger size and more action for active fish, smaller, more subtle movements when the fish are lethargic.

The next question that often arises is; "Minnows or worms?"

Worms for ice fishing are small, less than an inch. Worms work best for bluegill, while worms or small minnows are a good bet for crappie and perch. Larger predators like bass, northern pike and walleye are usually more interested in medium to large sized minnows. However, we all know that the three species have been known to take a tiny worm on a jig at times too.

These are the ice fishing basics. Yet understand that nothing about fishing is "always" or "never" right or wrong.