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Ice Fishing
Walleyes, Ice And The Rattlebait Revolution by Nathan Shore
 

They are children of the run-and-gun, born with the advent of trolling motors. They sink fast, require fast retrieves and vibrate with a tight, fast wiggle. Rattlebaits hum, rattle and roll to quickly cover water and call fish in with sound and vibration.

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But this quick sink-rate adds another productive use, as well. A few years back, walleye anglers rediscovered the effectiveness of lipless rattlebaits under the ice. Locked into one location over one hole at a time, the ability to cover water fast is impossible. But, rattlebaits increase your coverage area exponentially by propelling waves of attraction hundreds of feet beyond the hole.

Most rattlebaits are flat sided and designed to track straight. Limiting factors under the ice include the inability to swim. Fished vertically, they simply rise and drop with limited lateral movement. Rip a rattlebait straight up and the intensity of vibration is equal to that created on a horizontal retrieve, but limited in duration.

The Lindy Darter breaks the rattlebait mold with a rounded front and head rather than a pointed and flat one like that on most rattlebaits, and the increased surface area allows it to circle and swim on the drop. Equipped with fewer but larger internal BBs, Darters create a unique sound that is louder that similar lures. Ted Takasaki, one of America’s most successful walleye pros, suggests that the Darter design makes it the premier rattlebait on hard water.

“The Darter is the first lure I use when I step up to a new hole,” Takasaki said. “It’s the first lure I use every day on the ice because it helps me quickly size-up what walleyes are responding to and how active they are. When you drop it and allow it to fall on a relatively slack line, it moves outside the hole in a larger radius and calls fish from a farther distance than other rattling baits. It brings in more walleyes for a closer look, and then it becomes an exceptional reactionary strike lure.”

If no fish are apparent on the depth finder, Takasaki starts by ripping the Darter up a couple feet and dropping the rod tip to let it fall and circle. As walleyes approach, he limits the lift to 8 to 10 inches. After letting the lure rest, he gives it a slight twitch. Active walleyes often engulf Darters during that twitch or just afterward.

Takasaki prefers the two smallest versions of the Darter (1 1/3- and 1 ¾- inches) for walleyes.

“Don’t add bait to a Darter,” he said. “It really isn’t needed and it kills the action, which is the primary calling card. The action and coverage area is enhanced by lighter line, too. I have experimented with all kinds of line and settled on a 6-pound braid designed for ice fishing. Thin line like that with the diameter of 1-pound mono allows the lure to swim farther out to the side by creating less resistance. When a lure wants to circle out away from the hole, the heavier the line, the more weight the lure has to drag along behind it.”

Takasaki also likes to match the hatch. Darters are available in 18 color patterns, many of them realistic portrayals of the forage walleyes actually eat, such as ciscoes, perch, shiners and smelt.

“The redtail is probably my favorite because walleyes can’t resist them, and it’s a pattern unique to the Darter,” Takasaki said. “I use the rainbow trout a lot, too. If the lake has plenty of perch, I consider that pattern. The smelt color is very good in clear water where these baitfish are the primary forage.”

Sometimes walleyes won’t take an artificial without bait, but the Darter can still play a major role in attracting fish. On days when the Darter won’t produce fish, anglers can use a two-hole technique with a live bait rig sitting stationary nearby. The Darter brings in fish, which then move to and eat the live bait rig. Takasaki often jigs the Darter, then switches to a live bait rig to catch the ones attracted by the sound and action of the rattlebait.

“If they’re coming in but not biting, I switch to a Lindy Rattl’N Flyer Spoon,” he said. “I tip it with a small minnow head for that scent and taste trail. But I’m still catching fish I otherwise wouldn’t because the Darter spreads attraction farther from the hole than the spoon.”

Takasaki fine-tunes every piece of equipment for each ice fishing technique, preferring a little stiffer rod for the Darter and a more limber rod for the spoon.

“A fast, medium-heavy spinning rod is required for that snap with the Darter,” he said. “It’s a little heavier lure and a little-more resistant to the water, so in order to get it to snap out to the side and cover more area around the hole you need a rod without much play in it. The spoon calls for a medium-action spinning outfit, and I like braided line with the spoon, too. You can sense when a fish is just barely hanging onto a lure much better with braid. The lack of stretch greatly enhances sensitivity.”

The spoon compliments the Darter, which is invaluable whether walleyes are biting or not. Drop a spoon to bottom and lift, then just twitch it and let it sit. Twitch it some more, and let it sit a while longer. The wings on the Rattl’N Flyer allow it to fly out to the side a little then it zips right back to a vertical position. The wings also cause it to wobble as it moves, and that gets the rattles going. At rest it sidles or twitches slightly on its own, triggering most of the strikes from reluctant walleyes.

 


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