JVG_200209_PECK

This ‘frosting licker’ took the cake: a #18 Marmooska Tungsten Gem with plastic.

Ice has covered many lakes across southern Wisconsin three times this winter and pretty much gone away twice. This has created a situation akin to a firefighter walking across three layers of shingles on a leaky old roof: Step where there is only a single layer of shingles and you’re likely to crash through.

Fish still are in a mid-winter funk. But their attitude is sure to change in 10 days to two weeks, either due to late ice conditions or some innate sense that it is simply time to wake up and start feeding more aggressively.

Right now panfish still have a “frosting licker” attitude, following standard ice jigs several feet upward in the water column before ghosting away.

Changing presentation from an allegorical double-frosted angel food to a gluten-free cupcake will put more fish on the ice for you until the “old reliables” become reliable again.

Tying a No. 18 Marmooska Tungsten Gem to a ¾-pound test fluorocarbon leader is no easy feat, even with young eyes. Those who have experienced more than 60 trips around the sun redefine words like frustration and patience when trying to wed lure and line.

Forget about this kind of rigging when on the ice at low light in a fairly stiff breeze. Experience teaches the wisdom of rigging at least three rods at home, aided by magnification and incandescent light. LED lights have their place, but old bulbs work better when tying light line.

Ice line that tests at less than one pound is not forgiving. Breaking line is a fact of life when chasing respectable fish with micro-rigging.

Rigging the tiniest of barrel swivels between standard 2-pound test and a 24-inch leader of ¾-pound fluorocarbon is much easier than trying to join these two spider web strands with a double uni-knot. The minimal weight of the barrel swivel helps drop the lure down through the water column quicker than allowing a No. 18 jig to simply free fall.

The Marmooska Tungsten Gem is not the only micro-lure which will catch fish, of course. Individual panfish species might find other tiny lures more appealing because they better approximate a species’ favorite forage base.

This particular lure is available with several different faux gems as the primary attractor. My favorite colors are ruby and diamond. With a variety of soft plastics out there it is easy to tip the jig with a plastic pattern and color which best resemble the most bountiful forage base.

Attention to detail is key in tweaking a micro-presentation where it provokes a full-blown cake bite instead of mere pensive frosting licking.

Gravity is a major impediment to natural lure presentation. Lures are designed to work best in either a vertical or horizontal presentation. Hook design for the classic Rat Finkee makes it easier to position the knot for a natural horizontal presentation.

But the force of gravity even after the slightest bite will slide the knot around to the point where the Rat Finkee is hanging in an unnatural orientation. With fish already in the frosting-licking mode, this unnatural presentation can be a deal breaker.

Hook design on the Marmooska Tungsten Gem and other classics like the Demon result in knot orientation conducive to the lure hanging vertically, even though it is much more effective when close attention is paid to ensure the lure goes down the hole with a horizontal orientation.

Classic ice flies like the Demon, Rat Finkee and Purest still cost less than a buck. Tungsten baits fish “heavier” but are more expensive to produce—that little No. 18 retails at more than twice the price of one of those classics.

The knowledge that a rabid angler wouldn’t think twice about coughing up 10 bucks for a lure that catches fish provided an opportunity for marital glee when rigging those rods with ¾-pound fluorocarbon line and tiny No. 18 Marmooska Tungsten Gems at the kitchen table the other morning.

My wife was incensed at my propensity for Tourette’s language and behavior when working on tasks that require excessive patience.

When she asked if the lures contained real gems I didn’t deny the possibility, noting it was common to lose one or two “diamonds” or “rubies” to fish on a typical outing.

Knowing she would ponder jewelry store math for a while when I headed out the door brought a smile to my face.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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