To catch more of these fish, mix up the menu

One of the long-standing winter traditions I look forward to each year is getting out on the ice as soon as it’s safe, usually the week before Christmas, and catching a mess of fat, pot-bellied yellow perch. The fish haven’t seen a lure in months, they’re hungry, aggressive and bunched up big time. And, well, how do I say this kindly? Perch are numbskulls. They’re the only fish that won’t stop biting, given the right presentation, even after watching their entire clan get hauled to the surface.

Invariably, when I land the first perch of the day, I’ll spot a pair of tiny crayfish claws sticking out of its throat. Perch crave thumbnail-sized crawdads as crazily as kids in a candy store. So, matching the hatch and using a lure that resembles a crayfish must be the ultimate ticket to success, right? Well, you could certainly do worse, but surprisingly, there are much better options.

Consider: Would you prefer thin, processed hamburgers that taste like cardboard or thick, juicy, barbecued steaks? Well, to perch, crayfish are burgers, while shiners are steaks. So if there’s an option, numbskulls or not, they have an easy choice to make. And that’s why the smallest 1¼- and 1½-inch Williams Wabler in Silver Mirror and Silver Nu-Wrinkle finishes are unbeatable—especially when you dress them with the snipped-off head of a salted shiner.

Simply remove the treblehook from the split ring and slide the eye through the centre of the meaty part of the shiner head so it exits the mouth. Instead of reattaching the hook to the split ring, add a Fastach clip to the split ring and attach the treble to it. The hook will now swing easily into the fish’s mouth as it inhales the bait, making it quite possibly the deadliest rig ever invented for slaying perch.

Ditto for whitefish, which are notorious bottom-feeders that suck up mud and detritus to filter out insect larvae. Show the same rig (but with a slightly larger 21/4-inch Wabler) to a mud-sucking whitefish and it will storm up 20 feet from the bottom to devour your bait and rip the rod from your hand. Just for fun, in fact, I’ll sometimes entice a whitefish to chase the shiner-tipped spoon all the way up to the hole, then pause for a split second and watch as it smacks the steak, er, lure