Ice fishing, more than any other time of the year is prime time to size down. When sizing down, I'm talking about lightening up the entire package. I use lighter line, smaller baits and lighter lures, be it jigs, spoons or flies. The reason is two fold. The first has to do with line detection.
Under a sheet of ice, wind and waves no longer disturb the water. In fact, in the winter the water calms out and becomes much clearer. With super clear, undisturbed water fish get a better look at our hooks. If the hook is tied to heavier line, fish can often see this and will reject the bait. Because of this, I use as light a line as possible, save for pike and lakers. The lighter, and therefore thinner, line is harder for the fish to see. This will translate into more bites on whatever lure or baits I'm using. For ice fishing, here are the lines I like to use.
When it comes to walleye, I use 6 lb Fireline in smoke color. Fireline is one of those super lines and while the breaking strength is six pound, the diameter is more like two. This makes it extremely thin and hard for a fish to see. An added advantage to Fireline is the "no stretch" factor. With no stretch and super thin line I can immediately pick up and react to a bite. This is true even from deeper water, say over twenty feet, which is often where I'll find walleye in the bright of day.
When it comes to trout or whitefish, however, I like the stretch factor and therefore I use mono. Stretch is the added cushion that allows me to keep tension on hard fighting rainbows while they twist and run. Stretch also keeps me from pulling hooks through the soft mouths of lake whitefish. When it comes to my mono set up, I have two. The first is where I use six-pound main line and tie on a length of thinner tippet to the end. This generally works exceptionally well, but from time to time I have had the line break off at the knot. This was the case with a couple big rainbows creating a real ruckus below the hole. They both broke free at the knot and I believe it is caused by the knot catching on the ice edge. When this happens it's a quick shake of the head and the line is broke. Because of this, I now find myself moving towards straight 4 lb mono, and my favorite is Trilene Sensation. I find Sensation to be a thin, durable line that will handle the fight of most any trout and with no knot, no line breakage.
Having discussed line diameter and selection in depth, lets now take a look at the second reason I lighten up. It's in direct response to the very season we're fishing - winter. In winter the water is at its coldest and the metabolism of fish is at its lowest. That means fish will not be actively and aggressively seeking out food and when they do bite, they often bite lightly. To combat the light bite, I use smaller baits. That way if there is a light bite, there's still the chance that fish will suck up the offering and give me a chance to catch it.
Nowhere is this more evident than when I'm jig and minnow fishing for walleye. Where a quarter ounce jig and minnow combo is standard in the summer, come winter, the jig of choice is the eighth ounce. The lighter jig is easier for a light feeding walleye to inhale, allowing me the chance to get a positive hookset. There have been plenty of winter days on Pigeon Lake where a quarter ounce jig only got bites, but no fish, while the guy using an eighth ounce was catching one after the other. Weight was the difference.
The sizing down idea can also be applied to fishing for lake whitefish. I'll start fishing wireworms in the larger sizes (size 6 and 8) and if theyre getting rejected, I'll continue to size down until fish start biting. While I may have a harder time seeing the smaller wireworm, the fish have no problems. A tip, buy a few of those tiny neon bright wireworms. I have, and I sport a good selection of super bright yellows, oranges and whites. That way, come low light I can still use and see the smaller wireworms along with the fish that have come to eat them.
Sizing down has been a key to my winter success. Try it out for yourself. You may just find yourself catching more fish more often, and that is always welcomed.