Still waiting for safe ice; I have been digging through my tackle, buying new stuff, sorting, getting gear ready, thinking about a few things. . . .
We use a variety of small jigs and “tear drops” for catching panfish through the ice. Those baits match some of the smaller prey that those panfish eat during the winter. Naturally, those small baits have small hooks, and those hooks are usually sharp and hook fish easily. However, do NOT assume that they are sharp. I check sharpness by testing the hook on my thumbnail–if it skips, it needs sharpened. Admittedly, sharpening small hooks can be a challenge and in some cases you will be further ahead by changing it out for another hook, another lure, but I have found these little diamond hook sharpeners work really well.
While ice-fishing, with light lines, short and flimsy rods, and finicky fish that can reject a bait in the blink of an eye, sharp hooks are critical! Sharp hooks will also make it a lot easier to impale wax worms or maggots on your ice-fishing jigs, to impale them without squeezing little tiny maggot innards all over. While you are at it, you might reduce the size of the barb on those small hooks just a bit too. I have tried taking the barbs all the way off, and that makes it a lot easier to slip a wax worm or maggot onto a hook, but it also makes it a lot easier for a picky panfish to pull that bait off the hook too.
Occasionally, especially if the bite is good, panfish will inhale those small ice-fishing baits clear into their mouths and you will have to go in to remove the hooks. Anglers should have all of the hook removal tools they need readily at hand at all times while on the water ( A Fish-Handling Review ). When panfishing or fishing for panfish through the ice, one tool that I always have on my person is a good pair of “forceps”. Dr. Slick scissor clamps are the best ones I have ever owned:
Yes, those are the type of tools fly anglers use. I love taking baits, tools, and techniques that are supposed to be used for one type of fishing or species of fish and adapting them to others. The Dr. Slick scissors clamps I have, exactly like the ones pictured, not only clamp, but have scissors, a spike for cleaning out hook eyes, and a “wedge” on the loop for opening split shot. Look around the Dr. Slick website, they have a variety of quality tools. Yes, they are more expensive, but mine are worth every penny I paid for them. When I lose them, and I invariably will sometime (As a matter of fact, I lost my pair once on the ice last winter. A fellow ice angler found them, knew the only person he had seen with a pair of forceps like that was me, and returned them to me. Thanks, Jordan!), anyway, when I lose them, I will spend the extra $$ and replace them with another pair of Dr. Slick’s, no doubt about it.
Occasionally, I am frustrated when removing those small ice-fishing hooks from fish because the hooks break while torquing them out. While reading the winter 2014/2015 issue of In-Fisherman, I saw another hook-removal product that I would like to try out on those small panfish jigs, a “panfish toothpick“.
I had a similar small-diameter hook disgorger in the past, but it broke and I need to replace it. I like the looks of that panfish toothpick.
Speaking of tools I have heard great things about. . . . If you spend anytime fishing crankbaits or spoons of any kind, you will eventually need to open up split rings to replace hooks. I replace the treble hooks on almost all of my ice-fishing jigging spoons with sharp single hooks–they hook better and keep fish hooked better. There are lots of split ring pliers on the market, but I have not been entirely happy with the way any of them work. Invariably, I end up using another hook, my fingernails, or something else to open split rings (i.e. “Any tool is the right tool”). I have however, heard great things about Texas Tackle split ring pliers.
Now I have an aversion to anything labeled “Texas” or having to do with Texas, but I have heard such good things about those split ring pliers that I still intend to get a pair or two.
I fully realize that the Christmas gift-buying season is running short. Sorry, I should have blogged about these tools weeks ago, but you still might be able to slip some of these into your favorite angler’s stocking. If it is too late for that, buy them anyway, National Popcorn Day is coming up on January 19.