Best Soft Baits for Hard Water: Our Favorite Plastics for Ice Fishing
The sport of ice fishing is innovative and at the forefront in the field of angling. While every summer sees the same gear, winter brings new gear to the waters.
For example, long rods no longer work in hard water. Most ice anglers will be sporting ultralight, short rods that are only as long as their arms. Ripping is still an effective method for pike but finesse presentation is becoming more popular for getting sluggish fish to strike.
But that’s not all. You’ll notice that the live bait is being replaced by plastics, which are equally effective and much more user-friendly. Soft bait is the new revolution in winter fishing. It’s going to change everything as summer angling was forever changed by plastic worms.
Our cold-weather plastics are a favorite of ours. There are many options available for you to choose from, so there is no reason to not try them. Below, we have compiled a list of our favorite products and will give reviews and tips to help you get ready for the ice.
These ice fishing soft baits are amazing. Take a look and see if you’re inspired to try something different.
- Berkley Gulp! Live! Minnow
- Berkley PowerBait Power Honey Worm
- Gitzit Tubes
- PowerBait FW Power Grubs
- PowerBait FW Rib Worm
- Storm WildEye Swim Shad
- Zoom Bait Salty Super Fluke
Best Ice Fishing Bait Reviewed
Berkley’s Gulp! It’s alive! Minnow, just like other soft baits comes from the factory soaked with a delicious scent and taste. These ingredients are very effective in triggering strikes and encouraging fish to hold on as you set the hook.
These plastic baits look like small baitfish with a split tail and are great for all types of panfish, even large crappie. The tail vibrates and dances with a gentle tug, drawing predators to the look of a wounded minnow.
The Gulp! can be fished when you don’t have a jig head and rigged Texas-style with a 1/0 offset hook such as the Berkley Fusion. It’s alive! Minnow sinks slowly, so you can gently jig it and let it slide further into the water like a dying prey. This is a very effective technique. Minnow bites often occur right after you have stopped working on it.
You can make this soft bait sink faster by adding a small head, such as the Celsius Panfish Assorted EC5C-5A jigs. You can rig these minnows in any way you like.
“Emerald Shiner”, “Smelt”, and “Smelt,” are both great colors. But, don’t forget about “Luma Glow”, which is best for low-light conditions.
Video explaining how to Texas fluke rig
Berkley’s PowerBait Honey Worms make a great ice angler for panfish hunting. These soft baits, measuring one inch in length, can be added to tiny jig heads to mimic insect larvae and other small prey items that crappie and bluegill love.
You must be gentle to fish these well. Tap your rod blank to send the jig under the ice. Pause every few seconds to let it settle. The same techniques and rigs can be used for waxworms.
There are three colors available: “natural”, “yellow”, and “red”. We like all three depending on the conditions. You won’t have to “reload”, but they are just as effective.
These small plastics can be used to sweeten larger lures by adding color, smell and taste.
Gitzit tubes are a summer favorite for many years. Their ability to trigger bass strikes is well-known. It’s not well-known that Gitzit tubes are equally effective on ice for crappie and lake trout. These lures are loved almost by any fish with fins and mouths!
These soft baits are tubes, which are short cylindricals with a fringe skirt. The skirt moves and wiggles, drawing fish. However, the tube encourages slow spiraling as you jig.
Predatory fish find the slow movement and active skirt an irresistible strike trigger. The white option is our favorite for dark, overcast days, and dark water. However, there are many colors available.
Gitzit tubes come in lengths of 2 1/2 inches and 3 1/2 inches. They are fished with a jighead that is designed to pass through soft bait. The VMC Dominator is a popular choice, as well as the Wtrees Best.
Video showing how to attach tubes to jig heads
PowerBait Power Grubs, another summer staple that you can still use when it’s cold outside, are a great way to kill crappie and pike. PowerBaits also have flavor and smell that will draw fish in and keep them eating longer.
Soft baits may be unfamiliar to you if you aren’t familiar with them. These plastics don’t look like larvae. Anglers refer to “grub” as a slightly ribbed cylindrical with a long, curving tail that attracts fish with very little input.
These grubs come in lengths of one to three inches and can be used on any catch you wish. These grubs are available in a variety of colors, including black, white and chartreuse. These grubs are known for attracting big fish, so don’t be surprised to see them being bitten by big fish.
These should be rigged with the correct jig heads. We love the Bait Rigs Oddball Jigs because of their erratic action. These soft baits are best jigged with finesse.
PowerBait, like the soft plastics of Zoom and Berkley, enhances the baits with flavor to keep the fish hooked until it is time to set it. This scent triggers bites, which is something you should never overlook.
These baits are long, ribbed grubs with a curled tail that excites predators. The ribs trap air as they sink and create gentle action that attracts wild fish. These ribs also increase the bait’s surface area, which allows them to emit more smell into the water.
These soft plastics measure four inches in length and are best fished with a jighead for walleye. They’ll mimic slim prey items such as fatheads or smelt. You can fish them smaller if you wish. Simply cut off some of the forward portion of the bait until the bait is the right size.
“Chartreuse pepper,” fire tiger, and “oystershell” are all great options. We like to rig them to heads like the Bait Rigs Oddball Jigs. These baits have amazing action.
The WildEye Swim Shad is a realistic-looking soft bait. This soft bait is great for clear water and brighter days. The bait’s action mimics the gentle tail flutters and starts and stops of prey and is very impressive.
These baits come in sizes ranging from 2-6 inches. Keep in mind that every pre-molded swimbait has a weight to match its size. The Storm bait is generally larger than the fish, so it’s not easy to catch larger men shallow.
Walleye and pike will strike these baits aggressively so we advise that you size up and jig aggressively. Reduce the speed and reduce the size of the bait until you find the right balance.
Crappie will only eat baits up to two inches in size.
You can just grab a single, pre-set dorsal hook and attach them to your belt. We love “fire tiger”, and “bluegill.”
Zoom’s Salty Super Fluke, a live minnow substitute, is the last but not least. It’s a much easier bait to use, far more productive, and easy to fish. The baits are seasoned with salt to make them taste better, which encourages fish to keep them in their mouths as you set the hook.
These flukes look like a minnow and have a delicate split tail. They turn finesse into strikes. The slender tail will twitch and quiver with just a flick of your wrist. It is easy to find the right color for you, given the wide range of options. There are many great options, including “watermelon red”, “albino,” or “black”, but you should not be afraid to try new things.
This soft bait is a favorite of walleye and muskies. It’s especially good if the fluke sinks between gentle jigging sessions. To improve the action of this bait, we recommend you weightless fish it. We also like to Texas rig them with Gamakatsu offset hooks before dropping them below ice.
These are our top tips and tricks for soft plastics
It’s important to have finesse – don’t overwork your plastics
Aggressive jigging is the biggest mistake we see. There are situations and species that require the kind of erratic action you take when ripping.
Realistic presentations are more effective in luring fish to strike, especially when the water is clear. Mark Strand, a renowned expert in ice fishing, explains that jigging involves two steps.
- Attraction Attracting predatory fish is the first step. You can get a little more aggressive here, but the goal is to make your bait attractive. Your goal is to get the fish to consider your plastic bait a better choice than other food options.
Gentle gestures that mimic injury and distress are the best. In a moment, we’ll talk more about this.
- Triggering the bite The second stage starts once you have the predator’s attention. Slow down, relax, and fine-tune your bait to trigger a bite. You can trigger the fish’s instincts by subtle movements, barely detectable twitches, or even no movement, which will signal it to strike.
Study, Study and Study
Finesse is more fun to talk about than it is to do. The fastest way to master soft bait is to find clear water and to watch your bait closely. Learn how your rod and wrist work together to create motion within the bait and mimic minnows or other food items.
It takes practice but it is well worth the effort!
Attract Predators – Attract Bait Fish
If you are able to get the attention and respect of the little guys, chances are that the big men will be watching.
Ice anglers who are experienced enjoy seeing immature and minnows taking a closer look at their bait. The predators will be attracted to the prey items as they gather around your line. Finesse and realistic presentation are important. You want the big boys choosing your bait and not that delicious minnow.
The ecosystem changes as the water cools. The ecosystem is changing as smaller, more agile prey items disappear. You want to be as small as possible with your baits and jigs, especially for panfish.
You’ve probably noticed the increase in tiny plastics when looking at soft bait options. You must be as small as possible to trigger strikes when the food is small. This may seem counterintuitive but large summer meals aren’t for crappie or bluegill. That’s not what they’re looking for.
It’s enough to lightly tap the rod blank when using micro-plastic at the end of your fishing line. This will cause your soft bait to wriggle and the panfish won’t be able to resist a delicate, tiny presentation.
Video showing tiny plastic jigs that catch crappie
Ice anglers no longer have to use jigs such as the Acme Kastmaster and Rapala Jigging Rap, but are now using soft baits. Plastics are easy to use and work well, as summer anglers will attest.
You can make plastics work by using color selection and (usually), gentle touch. If you are willing to do your part to make baits more appealing to fish, you will soon see why they have become so popular in lazy summer mornings.