The general guideline is that the fish would prefer to expend the least amount of energy for the most nutrient-rich meal available.
Therefore, I’ve found good amounts of success when guiding youth on the ice by generally starting each trip with an aggressive approach when it comes to the size of our presentations.
By presenting larger-sized options on the first few drops in an area, we’ll quickly be able to gauge the mood of the fish within that particular area–the fish will let you know what they want!
If these larger-sized presentations result in fish showing up on our Vexilars fairly quickly OR in numbers (which is specifically helpful when targeting panfish), then we’re able to confidently assume we’ve located active fish. This is particularly true if we can maintain our jigging cadence and find that the fish do not spook off as quickly as they originally showed up OR better yet…they start biting right off the bat!
However, if fish do not show up in a prompt fashion or they do decide to bolt for cover after quickly investigating, we’ll often briefly let the area rest and take our aggressive-sized presentations to a new area.
As we begin to retrace our “bread trail” of holes, ONLY THEN will we downsize our jigs or live bait offerings. Examples would include switching from a Number 7 Jigging Rapala to a Number 5 OR swapping wax worms for spikes on smaller tear drop style jigs.
Many anglers make the mistake of starting with a finesse approach too soon during their trip. They’ll sometimes even begin small on the business end of their presentations because they prefer to initiate the feeding frenzy–hoisting smaller fish up the holes.
Generally speaking, catching fish IS great when it comes to getting young anglers interested in the sport of ice fishing. However, keep in mind that handling multiple small fish regularly may result in boredom and excessively wet and cold hands as a day progresses with the constant catching and releasing of smaller fish.
I’ve witnessed first hand, anglers who opt to use the downsized presentation from the start and eventually miss the bigger bite due to a decrease in dexterity as a result of stiff, wet fingers.
By starting the day off big and having some patience while sticking with the larger presentations and covering water, you may just have a trip on the ice to remember for a long time! A 9″ perch in a photo always highlights a child’s smile better than a 5″ perch.
Remember…start big as you can always downsize later in the day to salvage a trip.
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