Tackle & Technique: Groundbait for ice fishing

The Ground Bait Solution: Let the Fish Find You!

By Mike Pehanich

“Fish where the fish are!”

That’s the first rule of successful fishing wherever you go, whenever you fish. And no subset of fishermen knows that truth better than ice anglers whose ability to cover water relates directly to the number of holes they can punch through the ice.

In concept alone, ice fishing appears to be an exceedingly tough game, for the prospect of dropping small baits on the nose of a fish seems tantamount to finding a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, better electronic tools — cameras and sonar devices — and refined techniques have narrowed the hunt and brought unprecedented success to almost every serious iceman.

But next time you are cutting holes searching for fish, why not try a little reverse psychology?

Have the fish come to you!

The groundbait solution

In its relatively short history, international ice fishing competition has had a surprising impact on ice fishing techniques used in North America. One of its most profound effects has been changing much of the ice fishing game from a “fish finding” to “fish attracting” mission.

Much of international ice fishing competition mirrors the open water “match fishing” format in which anglers move between designated fishing areas at set time periods, each team fishing all the areas (called “swims”) during the course of the competition.

That format minimizes the fish-finding challenge and puts a premium on the angler’s ability to draw fish to his fishing holes and keep them in the vicinity throughout a team’s assigned fishing period.

Watch water come to life in this ‘groundbait’ video!


The technique is, of course, not really new. Seeding the water column beneath the ice with measured amounts of carefully formulated mixes is just a more advanced and sophisticated form of the ancient practice of “chumming.” Practitioners call it “groundbaiting,” and, like every aspect of ice fishing over the last 30 years, it has undergone a process of exacting refinement. Its speed of progress has snowballed, too, as ice fishermen at the top of the pyramid have shared or, as is more often the case, leaked out their secrets.

The anglers use various mixes of fish attractants — generally a mix of organic elements that include grains and/or ground portions of foods naturally found in an aquatic environment. Sometimes live baits themselves — maggots (“spikes”), bloodworms, and other aquatic or terrestrial larvae — are part of the mix.

Excelling at the practice is harder than it might seem. Finding the right ingredients in the right amount takes practice, experience, and a little analytical ability. Luck doesn’t hurt either!

Commercial groundbaits are available, but often they are hard to find in the U.S. where few anglers outside the carp-fishing coterie commonly employ the practice. In recent years, however, a few European and Japanese groundbaits have creeped into the inventory of tackle stores and online bait and tackle dealers.

Marukyu, Japan’s leading manufacturer of groundbaits, offers what is likely the largest groundbait selection on the planet. Its wide selection of groundbait products are made from grains, the shrimp-like crustacean krill, seaweed, silkworm and mixes of these and more ingredients. The company’s product offerings expand every year, and recent exposure of the Japan Ice Fishing Team, which has Marukyu-sponsored pros on its roster — to global competition has amped up the product development effort.

“The krill-based Sabiki mix and grain-based Koimuso are the key groundbaits for ice fishermen right now,” explains Munenori Kajiwara, member of the Japan Ice Fishing Team and owner of Japan Import Tackle, exclusive distributor of Marukyu product in North America. “But there is a wide variety of Marukyu groundbait products aimed at different species, conditions and forms of presentation.”

‘Gills and Crappie love it!

Marukyu’s Sabiki mix attracts a range of species, including bluegill and crappie, the primary targets of most North American ice anglers. The main ingredient of the Sabiki mix is, krill, a tiny crustacean related to shrimp, lobster and crab. From the fish’s response, krill is apparently as appealing to fish as its bigger and better known relatives are to humans! Krill feasts on phytoplankton and zooplankton. Thus, it ranks a step higher on the food chain, at or near the same rung as small aquatic insects.

“Perch seem to respond very well to a wide range of attractants,” says Kajiwara. “But I start with the krill-based Sabiki mix – High Power Amiebi — when the target species is crappie or bluegill.”

Despite the clear fish-attracting power of the Sabiki mix, Kajiwara has noted that bigger fish seem to come to his Koimuso-fed holes.

“Bigger fish like meat, but Marukyu’s Koimuso is a mix of vegetarian elements – corn, oats, rice and even peanut!” adds Kajiwara. “Why bigger fish respond to Koimuso is one of the seven great mysteries of the world!”

Check regulations before “groundbaiting”

Be sure to check state fishing regulations before you drop attractant down a hole.

“The practice of ‘groundbaiting’ can be tricky…in a gray zone, to be sure, if you are planning to drop handfuls of ground bait down a hole,” notes Kajiwara. “In states like Illinois and Minnesota, it is illegal to throw anything into a lake if it is not attached to hook and line. With those limitations, you need to attach a tiny Sabiki basket or European style bait cage to a fishing line.”

Most state regulations are written to discourage polluting or throwing garbage into a lake. Chumming with large amounts of cut bait or organic material of any kind might be crossing that line in many states. Releasing small amounts of attractant with devices like the Sabiki basket and Euro-cage attached above or below a lure or baited hook seem to fit within both the letter and spirit of the law. They permit the slow release of limited amounts of attractant. Still, it is important to check the state and local regulations before commencing with groundbaiting practice.

Added to the mix

Where it is legal to do so, ice fishermen often add spikes, Euro-larvae and other small live bait forms to their groundbait to fire up the bite and, perhaps, to familiarize the fish with the morsel they are about to present on a tiny hook.

Fine-tuning groundbait presentation takes practice. Determining the right amount of groundbait to spread — enough to attract and hold fish to the area without sating their appetites — is part of the challenge.

Marukyu ground baits, including its Sabiki-style chum, High Power Amiebi, and Koimuso are available through Lee’s Global Tackle, www.leesglobaltackle.com, 847-593-6424 and Wacker Bait & Tackle; phone 708-450-0305. Retailers interested in carrying Marukyu products should contact Munenori Kajiwara of Japan Import Tackle, phone: 909-913-4741; www.japanimporttackle.com


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