When to Make the Switch from Open-Water Lures to Ice Fishing Supplies

Don’t be so quick to put away the open-water fishing supplies in exchange for hardwater equipment. It will pay to have both out.

When to Make the Switch from Open-Water Lures to Ice Fishing Supplies

Largemouth caught on a jerkbait.

As we roll into late fall, many areas of the country are preparing for the inevitable days that lie ahead when the lakes get smaller by the day as a layer of ice forms around the borders and creeps across until it eventually seals. 

For some, this marks the start of a new and exciting season – ice fishing. It’s easy to switch gears as soon as the mercury starts to drop and shift the racks from open-water lures and supplies to hard water, but it’s in your best interest to make that exchange slow.

Years ago, when I was in the heart of my career as a college tournament angler, our derby schedule would take us into the last weekend of October or even early November in central Wisconsin. I would stop in local tackle shops near the lakes and rivers we fished to pick up last-minute supplies and would often struggle to get what I needed. Very often, the summer supply was already being packed away and the ice fishing gear was starting to fill the isles. 

I get it, not everyone takes to open water that late in the season. Many of my friends are stocking up on ice fishing supplies and concentrating on nothing else soon after the first cold day in September. 

Solution? Stock Both

There are a handful of techniques known to produce during fall open-water fishing. Keep the lures and necessary equipment for those techniques on the shelves and pack up the mid-summer products to make room for ice gear. That way when customers come into your store in the chilly months of fall, whether they are looking to stock up on the latest and greatest new ice products or searching for that particular bait to fire up one last school of smallmouth, they will be happy. 

Of course, knowing what lures to pull and which ones to keep out is important. Always keep in mind the species that dominate the waters near you. In the Midwest where ice fishing is common, anglers commonly target bass, walleye and muskellunge during the autumn months. 

Shallow Crankbaits 

Fall presents a great opportunity to beat the bank with a squarebill style crankbait. At this point in the year, a lot of the baitfish hatched in the spring have grown over the summer and common sized squarebill crankbaits like Strike King’s KVD 1.5 match the hatch quite well. The presentation of these lures crashing off wood structure or rocks entice hungry fish looking to bulk up for winter. And don’t ignore this technique for muskies. Slow rolling a Bucher Shallow Raider over a shallow gravel bar has landed many muskies in the late season.


Jerkbaits and cold water go hand-in-hand. The erratic action of a twitch-style bait followed by a suspending pause accurately mimics prey that may be injured or lethargic, and an easy meal for predators. No matter what species your customers are targeting, they will want a jerkbait ready to rip. Musky Mania Jake in 8 or 10 inch  is a popular choice for those chasing the big toothy critters while smaller lures like Rapala’s Husky Jerk are a favorite among walleye anglers. 


Making some vibration with a big bladed spinnerbait is a sure way to draw the attention of bass in fall. The more thump in the retrieve, the better. Large single or double Colorado or Indiana bladed spinnerbaits like the Gold Frame Tandem Indiana Spinnerbait from War Eagle move a lot of water making them a great choice for cold-water bassin’. 


Jigging the bottom for walleyes is a tactic that is well known to work year-round. Jigging minnows is always a solid method and can be a great way to catch a lot of fish fast that are grouped up feeding together. The later into the fall it gets, and the colder the water gets, tell your customers to use something like a VMC Moon Eye Jig, but slow down. The fish will still bite it, but bites will be less aggressive. A sensitive rod is a must-have.


Hard body and soft, swimbaits simply catch fish. Swimbaits offer anglers the ability to cover a lot of water for scattered fish while being versatile. Depending on style, they can be fished in a variety of depths and different retrieve speeds. Hard-bodied swimbaits like the Bucca Baby Bull Shad have a slow sink rate so anglers can count them down to a targeted depth range.

This time of year can be profitable as it presents the opportunity to supply both open-water enthusiasts and hard-water die-hards. Be selective in stocking and appeal to both.



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