Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Basic tips for icing panfish

Sitting on a frozen lake, staring at a hole and watching for a
barely perceptible bobber twitch must seem quite peculiar to those
who don’t fish. For those of us who enjoy fishing, however, ice
angling is an anticipated pastime.

As much we complain about the changing weather, the variety of
seasons we are blessed with ensures there is always a new activity
to look forward to just a few calendar pages away. So as the last
of the small game hunting seasons close, the heart of the hard
water season promises the best fresh fish dinners of the year.
Forget walleyes that’s a challenge in Minnesota panfish top the
list of species sought through the ice.

Getting into a good mess of bluegills or crappies can almost
make an angler forget about the harsh temperatures. There are
several factors that can make your time on the ice more
productive.

Location is always the first factor to be determined. Let’s face
it, most anglers just head for the biggest group of fishermen on
the ice and start drilling holes. Letting the “other guys” do the
leg work for you can work, but it always pays to think about all
the options before you start.

Early on, panfish will often hold near weedbeds that have not
yet turned brown. The deeper edges of weed flats can hold fish for
a considerable length of time and are always a reasonable starting
point. Focusing on points or sharp inside turns generally is more
productive than working on expansive flats.

Crappies and larger bluegills often can be found suspended over
deeper water a fair distance from cover as well. This is
particularly the case later in the season when weeds are in their
worst condition. At this time, finding a deep basin in 20 to 30
feet of water adjacent to old weed flats is often a key pattern.
Fish relating to weedlines, and those in open water, are often
different groups of fish and it pays to have a plan in the works
for each group.

Panfish have a particular knack for being stubborn about color,
bait type, or action, so pay attention to small details. If you
ever check a bluegill’s stomach contents during the winter, you
will get an appreciation of their keen eyesight.

Keep your tackle as light as possible. Two-pound test is plenty
for virtually any panfish application. Avoid using additional
weight, such as split shot, whenever possible. Let the jig’s weight
and a bit of patience do the work.

Small spinning reels work well in deeper water. This eliminates
tangles of line on the ice after hand-lining in a fish. Place a
small bobber stop on the line as a depth indicator to quickly
return to the productive zone.

Bait and lure options can get quite extensive. Focus on the
process of elimination. I start with two small, different-colored
teardrops in different weights and with a different type of live
bait on each. This has several advantages.

First, it varies three aspects of your presentation at once.
Second, it allows two colors to be presented, with two different
bait options. Mix-and-match, and switch between them to find the
best combo.

When it comes to jigging, subtle is the way to go under most
conditions.

Short hops of one to two inches followed by a pause and a brief
quivering action is a good starting approach. Spring bobbers work
best for imparting gentle motion to bait for bluegills, while small
floats hold shiners in place when targeting crappies. Occasionally,
however, big ‘gills want a stationary bait. In this case a small
float is the better option. Let the fish dictate how much or how
little action they are in the mood for on a given day.

Color patterns often change from lake to lake. It pays to check
with the local bait shop and talk to fellow anglers on the ice to
find out what is hot.

The same is true for live bait. Wax worms, spikes, mousies, and
wigglers are standard fare for bluegills, with shiners or fathead
minnows preferred for crappies. It’s a good idea to have several
bait types on hand, as preference often develops under differing
conditions.

When targeting crappies, keep in mind their tendency to suspend
off the bottom and their affinity for low-light conditions. Use a
teardrop with a slightly larger hook to increase catch ratios when
fishing with minnows. A plain No. 8 Aberdeen hook or a No. 12
treble also work well.

A common dilemma among ice anglers is deciding when to move and
when to wait the fish out. Before giving up on a hole, be sure to
work the entire depth. Panfish move vertically as much or more than
horizontally in winter. This is often the case at dawn and
dusk.

The zooplankton that are the core food source are
light-sensitive and often will rise as light intensity drops.
Bluegills that feed on the plankton, and crappies that feed on the
minnows beneath the plankton, change their depth accordingly.

Set up a “milk-run” of several holes in a productive depth zone
and rotate among them as the action changes. Portable depth finders
are a great for quickly checking if an area has potential. With the
proper sensitivity setting, an angler can follow the path of his
lure to the level of the fish below.

Winter angling can be a highly productive activity, as well as a
great change of pace. Use common sense when heading out. Always
check local ice conditions ahead of time and fish with other
anglers whenever possible.

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