On the Rise

January 28, 2013 by  

By Nick Simonson

There’s an old Irish proverb that wishes good luck to the traveler by stating “may the road rise to meet you.”  For anglers, especially those on the ice, it should be more like “may the fish rise to meet you.”
Presentation is one of the key factors for consistently catching fish and the nature of angling through the ice doesn’t leave a whole lot of horizontal options.  For that reason, knowing why fish take to a vertical presentation, how to draw them up to your lure and what to do to seal the deal when they do rise to meet your jig are vital for success.


Crappies and Gills eyes are positioned on top of their head which means they’re drawn to food above

Most active fish in the winter will rise up to take a lure that is worked in the water column above them, whether it’s just a few inches or up to several feet.  Even neutral fish will come off the bottom or out of the depths to inspect a jig or a spoon worked up higher in the water column.  The reason for this is simple armchair biology.  The eyes of most fish species are mounted so as to provide an upward viewing angle.  They see everything to each side, out in front of them some distance and up toward the surface of the water. Therefore they are more likely to see an item of prey that is above them than below them, where their viewing angle is limited.

When fish are marked on or come in close to the bottom, a presentation of 12 to 24 inches above them is ideal in gauging their aggressiveness or at least in determining their interest.  If an aggressive fish doesn’t speed up to the bait, lower it slightly with a few jiggles and hops.  Particularly with perch and bluegills, when watching a sonar screen, the highest-sitting fish in the column may not be the first fish to the bait.  Oftentimes, a smaller specimen will race past that top fish to seize the opportunity.  On a hot bite, that first fish might trigger a rush of strikes, drawing fish of all sizes (including the big one who didn’t seem all that interested) up to the bait, and the fishing is good  in that spot for some time thereafter.
More often than not though, anglers are forced to finesse those fish into biting.  For this situation, an elevated presentation also helps draw their attention.   Then it’s up to the angler to convince them to bite.  When fishing crappies and bluegills, a sensitive graphite rod with a spring bobber helps manage a finesse presentation and often only a slight jiggle and pause above the fish will start them moving in for a closer look.
Remember when fishing panfish, that they have relatively big eyes and small mouths and dine on the tiniest pieces of food – some almost too small to see with the naked eye like daphnia, a near-microscopic life form.   As a result, these fish can see and reject imperfect presentations or baits that appear or act unnatural.  For this reason, be subtle in your presentation when a slow-rising fish (neutral or just slightly active) moves in to inspect.  The closer the crappie or bluegill gets, the more subtle your jiggles and hops and the longer your pauses should be.  Sometimes, as a blip closes in on the Vexilar, all it takes is the tap of a finger against the rod handle, or just a slight squeeze on the grip to impart the necessary movement to trigger a bite.  In these instances, watch the spring bobber and line carefully as the bite from a neutral fish will be very subtle, telegraphed as just the slightest twitch.
When fishing active predators, like walleye and pike, the opposite may very well be the case.  The fish may approach cautiously, but be triggered into biting by a wild jigging motion which pulls the bait up and away from them, inducing a reaction strike.  A buddy once reported on a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods that the only way to get the walleyes to bite was to draw them in with a larger Salmo Chubby Darter, jigged aggressively and then ripped away from the fish when they were directly under the hole.  The walleyes would then smash the lure as it came tumbling back down.
There’s one common instance where a bait lower than the fish can trigger a bite.  If you are over a school of fish that have cooled off and are not biting, and none will rise to meet your bait, try letting your jig freefall through the group and hit bottom before raising it above them again. This rapid elevation may trigger the curiosity of some of those fish from the bottom of the school to ascend and take your jig.  The disturbance caused by the jig may also free debris from the bottom, attracting fish and restimulating a slow bite.
After a few outings, you’ll be able to better pattern the species you are after.  You can determine based on how a few individual fish respond to your presentation whether you need to get lower or more subtle.  On those fast-paced days over a good school of fish is when you learn the value of an elevated presentation.  This season on the ice, start above your quarry, and then work your way down, or make them come to you with a series of jiggles, hops, taps and pauses.  Adjusting your presentation based on how fish view their prey will help elevate your success this season…in our outdoors.


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