By Jason Mitchell
Probably the biggest tackle trend the past five years for ice fishing panfish has been incorporating tungsten into the presentation. Ice anglers have embraced tungsten. The physical properties make tungsten much heavier than traditional lead and as a result, a jig made with tungsten falls through the water faster and essentially fishes much heavier.
Now what are the advantages of using tungsten? When getting a jig back down through the water column, you can rifle through unproductive water faster and get back down to the fish. The weight of tungsten allows the jig to be physically smaller which might be an advantage regarding profile or water resistance. The weight of tungsten also imparts a nice hard quiver to soft plastics, making a tail dance with little effort. A tungsten jig is also more sensitive as you can feel the jig easier and even use heavier line which can make you more efficient.
Now let’s take a time out now that we have the tungsten cool aid stirred up. With such a heavy emphasis on tungsten jigs right now, I also want to stress that every advantage listed above can also be a disadvantage depending on the day. Tungsten is not an end all or a material that is better than lead. Tungsten compliments lead because there is still a time and place for slow falling and gliding presentations. There are situations where you can indeed catch more pan fish by using tungsten and there are also situations where you will catch less fish by using tungsten.
Sliding and gliding presentations with tear drop shaped ice jigs or other slow falling profiles were bread and butter presentations for ice anglers for years but the fish heavy trend has caused many anglers to forget about the effectiveness at times of ice jigs that do fall through the water column slow and are hard to feel. There is a place where both ends of the spectrum shine.
A couple of situations where you can leave tungsten behind come to mind. When fish are cruising right below the ice, the slide and glide of flat lead profiles or slow falling soft plastic riggings just have more hang time and seem to catch more fish. Other situations include any time the fish are sporadically suspended through the water column and you have to fish from the ice all the way down. On really tough bites with the exception of deep water of more than twenty feet, I almost always have to give up tungsten and slide and glide my way to fish.
What is sliding and gliding? Using slow falling presentations that momentarily cannot be felt as they fall and drift through the water. The sense of feel is lost but there is a touch to this presentation. What happens is that the line is not perfectly straight up and down, there is a coil, there is a bow in the line as you momentarily loose contact with the jig. What also happens is that the jig often slides and moves slightly horizontally. Between the slide and cushion in the line, you can pick off really tough fish that just don’t move much water as they suck in the jig. The bite indication is just more slack in the line. On really tough bites, this can be the ticket.
With this presentation mindset, soft plastics work extremely well and can be part of the experimentation to get the slide and glide just right. There is little quiver or dance with this technique, the soft plastic just creates a sliding profile that seems to hang in the twilight zone. The jig almost works like a panfish mini version of a horizontal swim lure that swims in a circle on the upstroke and glides on the drop. You just cannot duplicate this presentation with tungsten.
As you prepare for this upcoming ice season, recognize the situations where tungsten can give you an advantage but don’t replace every jig in your box with tungsten, there are many situations on the ice where you can catch more fish by not using tungsten. Both elements give you two different presentations that complement each other and if you can recognize when to use each tool and mindset, you can catch more panfish this winter.
Ice fishing pioneer Jason Mitchell believes anglers should understand both the advantages and disadvantages when using tungsten. Slide and glide techniques should not be overlooked when conditions merit a slow fall.