Winter Mack Jigging Techniques
Rick Lawrence, January 05, 2019
If there is one thing I have learned over the past 10 years is you can catch just about any species of fish that swims on a dropshot rig. I have caught Large and Smallmouth Bass, Perch, Sunfish, Crappie, trout and Burbot all on a drop shot this year. One species I added to this list a few years ago are Mackinaws.
I like to fish for Lakers mainly in the winter months from early Dec. to mid Jan. as this is when the peak spawning time is and Macks are fairly shallow this time of year, as I like to catch and release them. Taking fish from more than 100 feet is hard on the fish and they will die quite often. For mackinaw, shallow is a relative term as they are at about 50’ to 100’ of water as appose to 150’ to 200’. In the early winter when they are spawning they are also stacked up on rocky point in about 40 to 100 foot of water so it makes them fairly easy to find.
Here is a typical view of my favorite winter Mack spot up on Priest lake. This is off a point that starts at about 30 feet deep right next to shore and tapers gradually to about 150 feet. It has steep drop off on both sides of the extended point into 250 feet or so of water. This is prime spawning habitat for Lakers and my favorite way to target them is with a drop shot. As you can see they really stack up, so I just cruse around till I find fish on the graph. I waypoint every school of fish I see as they use the same areas year after year. Plus the next trip you take you have a good starting point to find fish.
I use this same drop shot method whether I’m fishing out of my boat or ice fishing. Once you find a school of fish catching them on the drop shot rig is fairly simple. If your ice fishing be prepared to drill a lot of holes though. Look for fish off main lake points to start with, in about 40 foot of water and go deeper till you find them once you do find them most of the time you will find more at about the same depth plus or minus 15 feet or so.
This drop shot setup is not very different than you might fish for smallmouth with. I like a 6 and a half to 7 foot rod paired up to a good size 30 or 40 spinning reel spooled with 30 lb. braid. I tie on a 12 lb mono leader about 4 foot long using the crazy Alberto knot (some call it a modified Albright knot) at about a foot and a half from the end of the leader I tie on a 2/0 EWG worm hook with either my namesake knot that I invented the Fish-N-Fool knot or a Palomar knot, which is a little easier to tie with a long tag end you need for the dropshot rig, but not as strong. Last I use hollow core pencil lead and cut off a piece about 2 to 3 inches long. I slide this on the line a pinch the weight in place with a pair of needle nose pliers. The best lure for this is any glow in the dark white bait about 3 to 5 in long I make a special addition 5” Sink-N-Fool bait for this with the glow in the dark powder in them which works perfect on this setup. To fish this rig all you need is drop it down on the fish and you will get bit. The real secret to whacking them though is once your bait hits bottom do a slow lift about 2 foot high or less and let it back down till your weight hits the bottom. Fallow the weight back down with your rod tip and feel for bites. Most of the time they will hit it as it drops back down, the other secret part of this technique is I put a small chunk of squawfish meat with the skin still on it on the bottom of the hook in the belly under the bait. You can use other baits like smelt but it is very hard to keep on the hook. Both smelt and squawfish work very well as far as bites go but you can catch about 20 Mack’s on one piece of squawfish and you might go through 5 pieces of smelt to catch 1 Mack. Here is a drawing of my dropshot setup.
For ice fishing with multiple rods, this setup can work well on a quick strike rod holder. I make my own out of a little PVC pipe. I like a longer ice rod then most and use a 4 to 5 foot rod to get a good snap set with the rod tip when your quick strike rig goes off. These either need to be adjustable or made the correct length to fit the rod you plan to use with it so you have the correct amount of bend in the rod.
This is a low cost and a very productive method for catching Mackinaws in the early to mid winter plus you get a better fight out of the fish then trolling on leaded line or with down riggers.
One more little tip is I made up a fish elevator with a old broken baitcasting rod and a crappy old casting reel with 30 lb or heavier braid tied on it. All you need to make this is a heavy weight of about 3 oz or so and a large trailer hook tie the hook on like so and put the weight on below the hook a foot or so.
Tie the hook on as shown in the drawing and if you catch a fish from a deeper area that you don’t think it can get back down on its own just put the hook in the fishes lower jaw and put it back in the water . Just open the bail on the reel and the weight will drag the fish back down to the bottom. I put it in a rod holder and wait for it to hit bottom. Then a quick jerk on the rod releases the fish back at the same depth it came from so it doesn’t have to be fizzed and it will live to catch another day.