BlogFebruary 2023

The Best Lures and the Best Bait for Ice Fishing

The Best Lures and the Best Bait for Ice Fishing

By Ken Schultz

Feb 02, 2023

Minnows, maggots, grubs, jigs, jigging spoons: any of these could be the best lure and the best bait for ice fishing depending on species, location, and technique

If you’re new to the game it’s logical to ask what’s the best lure and best bait for ice fishing. That’s a question to ask of a knowledgeable worker at your local tackle shop, and best qualified by specifying what it is that you want/expect to catch. As in open-water fishing, the best lure and the best bait for ice fishing varies by species and locale.

The best bait for perch ice fishing, for example, will be much different than the best bait for northern pike ice fishing. Certainly the tackle shop clerk will ask what body of water you’ll be fishing and which species that exist there will you be targeting. The clerk will also ask you if you’re planning to be mobile (moving around a lot and cutting many holes), or if you’ll be staying in place and working a specific area (probably with tip-ups but also jigging).

Exceptions and variations aside, here are some general facts about lures and baits for ice fishing.


Minnows are an especially favorite live bait of ice anglers, particularly when they’re fished on a bait hook below a tip-up. Primarily minnows are hooked through the lips, which is the strongest location, and secondarily through the top of the body behind the dorsal fin. They are also popularly fished on the hook of a jig. Bait anglers who use tip-ups also need an assortment of hooks, split shot weights, floats, and other terminal tackle, a factor that leads some people to prefer using only lures when ice fishing.

Other popular natural baits, especially for panfish, are maggots, waxworms, and grubs. These are fished on small hooks and must be kept warm to be alive and most effective.



There are plenty of jigs and jigging spoons suitable for ice fishing, the size of which depends on the target species. The action of these varies, and may be influenced by the attachment of bait, which is a common ice fishing add-on. As a rule, any jigging lure should be worked in a subtle manner for smaller fish species, such as bluegills, crappie, and perch; they can be fished more dramatically for larger predators, like walleye and northern pike.

Different shapes of small ice jigs and spoons are popularly used, most of them weighing from 1/12- to ⅛-ounce, and small leadhead jigs dressed with soft lure bodies or tipped with bait. Balanced jigging lures, which are specialty lures that lie horizontal in the water and have a hook at each end as well as under the belly, swim in a unique manner due to a tail fin. These are very popular in different sizes for various fish.


Most anglers get started on ice fishing for bluegills, crappie, or perch. So think small, subtle, and slow when considering your presentations.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is