How to approach first ice for aggressive biting panfish

So often the outdoors media relentlessly promotes first ice as the best ice angling of the season. It’s good, but be safe, and remember that we can enjoy great hard-water angling all season long.

First ice has advantages because fish generally haven’t encountered much fishing pressure for several weeks. That said, when reliable hard water exists, angling pressure can increase in an area quickly. That noise and activity can negatively impact the bite, so avoid these crowds.

As for top first ice locations for bluegills, look for weed edges and even scattered inside sparse weed growth. Remember, no food, no fish, but weeds are still producing oxygen under first ice (especially if there’s no snow atop the ice – thus allowing light penetration) and that sets up our food chain.

Other logical locations include structural areas, inside turns, and humps. Keep searching and don’t assume fish are shallow. Again, in high fishing pressure situations, all those people will push fish out. Again, that’s especially true during a relatively low-snow, dry late autumn that we’re seeing so far. Snow cushions the noise factor, so clear ice amps up the spook factor. Studies have show that fish can see anglers above clear ice overhead and will vacate the area.

Work as many scents and baits as possible. You’ll see me deploy wax worms and silver wigglers for bluegills, then try with several different sizes of lures. Not just No. 12 and 14s either (!) – jump up to larger jigging spoons, too.

Vary that jigging action. Some guys run constantly with jigging; others not at all. I try a little bit of both and everything in between. Your Vexilar or camera really helps here, too, in monitoring how fish react to your jigging.

Stick with light line – 2- and 3-pound-test for bluegills. And use those spring bobbers. I just spoke with a fellow pro angler, and we agreed that a spring bobber for finicky big bluegills is mandatory. If you’re waiting for rod tip movement, you’ll miss fish.

As for crappies, I love shallow points or the edges of green weeds early in the season. Start with spoons and have healthy crappie minnows and fatheads on hand.

Good luck during these early days of ice fishing 2017-18!

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