By Nathan Shore

Thunder rolls through the water column. The boom isn’t caused by lightning, though, but by cracking ice. It echoes through the underwater world, then fades into cold silence.

Another sound rolls through the “chamber.” The sound caroms off the ice above, bounces off the rocks below, builds to a rattling crescendo and then fades into the distance. It’s just Jonny Petrowske, playing with his Lindy Darters again.

Petrowske is a northern Minnesota fishing guide with decades of experience on Red Lake, Lake of The Woods and other sprawling waters where pike inhabit featureless flats bigger than your neighborhood. There may be no more than 2 feet of depth change over 1,000 yards. With nowhere to hide, the fish can be anywhere, and covering such vast areas can become drudgery and time consuming. But Jonny P has a plan.
ice pike
“Utilizing rattles and sound as an attractant, I can cover a huge area under the ice,” Petrowske said. “And nothing makes more noise down there than the Lindy Darter. Pike can pick up indicators produced by struggling baitfish from unknown distances. Each sense has its own limitations—vision, the scent of blood, the lateral line, and sound. I can only imagine what range the Darter has for making long-distance calls, but sound is unquestionably the medium that travels farthest in water, especially under the ice.”

In stained or cloudy water, Petrowske believes nothing draws pike better or from farther away than a Darter.

“The deep, low-end, clunk-clunk rattles in the biggest Darter can pull a pike from at least 200 feet,” he said. “I know so because a friend and I were fishing 50 yards apart one day, running cameras and using radios. He called to tell me he had an old friend of ours—a one-eyed jack that would linger but never strike—under his hole. We saw him many times over the course of the season. I ripped my Darter and 40 seconds later, there was ol’ One Eye. We started playing around and realized we could draw this curious pike back-and-forth to holes 200 feet apart with our Darters.”

How much noise can be called attraction, and at what point does it cause avoidance? Petrowske says that conditions dictate that.

“After a cold front when the bite slows down, I turn up the speed and move faster,” he said. “Fewer fish are active so you need to cover more ice to find them. When conditions are good you’re hoping to lure bunches of active fish to the spread, but, even in stable weather some pike don’t eat rattle and flash. They almost always linger and watch, but many turn to leave. I can turn them around with erratic jigging and start another stare-down session. If I finally have to give up on a pike that won’t hit the Darter, I watch it slip away and—more often than not—the nearest flag pops within minutes. ”

The “spread” is a group of tip-ups baited with live sucker minnows or dead ciscoes on quick-strike rigs, manned by Petrowske’s clientele on the ice. He often arranges the spread with each tip-up 60 feet apart and surrounded by a diamond pattern of four holes.

“Using only tip-ups or only lures results in half the fish,” Petrowske said. “Aggressive pike will smack the Darter without hesitation. Wary pike will come in and pick up the scent, vibration, and visuals of the bait dangling under a tip-up.”

The diamond pattern becomes a pointed pathway helping Petrowske create a logical grid across the frozen landscape. The extra holes surrounding the tip-ups are for attracting pike (and often catching them) with Lindy Darters fished on 12-lb Silver Thread copolymer line and homemade, 20-lb wire leaders. Petrowske ties a Lindy No-Snagg Swivel to one end of the 16-inch leader and a Lindy Crankbait Snap to the other end. The rounded Crankbait Snap gives the Darter better action and more freedom to plane out and glide on the drop.
ice pike
The act of jigging a swimming lure for big animals like pike demands a few special considerations.

“I fall out of the norm, using a slower action rod for pike,” Petrowske said. “My favorite is a 32-inch baitcaster with a medium heavy or medium power. Unlike most pike heads, I prefer a fiberglass rod with a slightly slower action. When it recovers, it really makes a Darter rip upward, adding vibration that I don’t think graphite can match.”

The biggest Lindy Darter (size #4) can be worked aggressively like a vertical crankbait, or it can be subtle when forced to drop very slowly. It can be “dumped” and allowed to fall in swimming fashion to cover more water in a 10-foot-diameter circle, sending flash out farther from the hole than other lures. And, it can be “ripped” and dropped aggressively, sending wild pulses of noise out in all directions.

“Everything ends up being a compromise,” Petrowske said. “I want to cover as much depth change as possible on slow-breaking waters like Red Lake. On lakes with a more complex makeup I want to cover the top, slope and base of the structure I’m working. I want every hole to be on an edge or transition. Pike on the prowl follow edges looking for easy, unaware targets. If the spread is too big you can miss pike on structure. The diamond unlocks the pattern pike are following by giving you the depth and types of edges they’re keying on. Once I feel I have a pattern, I move along that element, depth or edge. The diamond has done its job and we have a pattern to track.”

Other Minnesota guides concur with Petrowske’s findings.

“The Darter is like a magnet, definitely bringing more pike to the tip-ups for me,” says guide David Shogren. “I like the diamond pattern, too, but actively working Darters is the real deal. It gives clients more to do than just stare at tip-ups hoping for a flag to trip. After doing it for a couple years now, I know pike are drawn to the low, throaty ‘thunk’ of a Darter. I’ve seen it outdraw other lures, and it’s doubling the time spent battling toothy critters and taking photos.”

Silence reigns in the dark, dense world under the ice. Waves of sound, accentuated by the icy “ceiling” above, roll out in all directions from a Lindy Darter. In the silence that ensues, predators turn and quietly hunt the source of that rattle. The hunt triggers instincts that practically guarantee something is about to get lunched.