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Caleb Wistad breaks down everything you need to know about using minnows on set lines during the hardwater season. Learn what to buy, how to keep them lively, and how to hook them properly in the video above and notes below.

Choosing the Right Type of Minnow

    Generally speaking, there are three basics types of minnows found across the ice belt and most bait shops: shiners, suckers, and fatheads/crappie minnows.

      When purchasing minnows, make sure you are choosing the right size for the species you’re targeting, the general bite, and the desired action of the minnow. Shiners typically swim upwards while suckers swim downward. When you have a shiner hooked, it will swim up and away from your sinker and make a lot of commotion upward in the water column. Suckers and fatheads will generally dig down for the bottom. As a general rule of thumb, shiners are the best on set lines for walleye but larger fatheads can work as well. Suckers for pike and fatheads/crappie minnows for panfish and bass.

      Have Multiple Sizes On Hand

        Smaller minnow are best for tipping jigs and the bigger the minnow, the bigger the fish. Have several sizes on hand so you can adjust and try different things. Choosing the right size for the bite is mostly an experiment to see what the fish are hitting the most often. You might need to go smaller than you’d expect to trigger more bites with finicky fish.

        How To Hook Your Minnow

          Always hook your set line minnows in the back around the dorsal fin area. This will give you the most natural presentation on any set line – bobber on a rod, tip-up, automatic hook setting device, etc. When you are vertical fishing with a stationary bait on a set line, you want that minnow trying to escape and swim away from your weight or your line. If you are using a treble hook, you can simply put the hook through sideways. If you’re using a single hook, however, make sure to hook them back to front with the hook parallel to the body. This way, when a fish comes up to the bait headfirst to eat, that hook is in the right position for the hookset and won’t swing the minnow in the wrong direction.

          Keeping Your Bait Fresh and Lively

            One of the biggest keys to keeping your bait lively (and triggering more bites) is to keep your minnows cold and well-aerated. Cold water keeps the metabolism down to prolong their life and the more oxygen, the better to keep them going even just overnight – this is especially important with shiners. If you’re storing your minnows in a warm environment or indoors overnight, make sure to put some snow or slush in the water even before you hit the ice to help bring the temperature down before putting them down the hole on a line. The temperature shock from 50 to under 30 degrees can really slow the action of your minnow down if you drop it straight through the ice after sitting in warm water.


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