All the rage: soft plastics for winter panfish

The idea of consistently putting panfish on the ice with soft plastics has become more than just an experiment.

During the past decade or so, many winter anglers have discovered just how effective plastics can be for crappies, bluegills, and perch. It’s taken a while longer for others to hop on board, although in recent years, many of those skeptics have become believers in plastics for one simple reason: They catch fish.

With that stated, it’s worth noting that wax worms, Eurolarvae, or other forms of live meat used for icing panfish are not going away, and they remain viable fish producers. But there are times when soft plastics will trigger more bites and bigger fish if you understand why they work and how to fish them properly.

The confidence factor

Before you get hung up on the whys and how-tos, you first have to develop a level of confidence with plastics. Giving them a fair shake on the ice might be the most difficult thing most anglers need to overcome.

It doesn’t matter what you’re fishing with, what species is being targeted, or what time of the year it is, if you don’t have confidence in what you’re doing, you won’t have much success.

While it’s often difficult to get out of your comfort zone, especially eliminating something that’s worked in the past, the best option might be to ease into the plastics game.

Start by using them as a complement to your live-bait options. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a good bite or sitting on a pod of sluggish panfish, at some point work plastics into the mix and almost force yourself to develop that confidence. 

Dancing plastics

Let’s be honest: You can only get so much movement out of a jig tipped with live bait. Sure, you can change jigging patterns or jig styles to get more or less action, but plastics provide more of a triggering mechanism.

You can make plastics dance depending on how they’re hooked and your jigging technique. Being aggressive usually works with plastics, but even the most subtle taps on your rod create movement. 

Getting that reactionary bite is the main goal. Anything works when the feedbags are on, but the movement plastics provide often will trip the trigger of even the most negative school of panfish, and many times, the biggest fish among them.

More options

If producing maximum action with your panfish offering doesn’t make you a believer, than the versatility of plastics should. 

The panfish diet includes zooplankton, blood worms, and other microscopic critters that seemingly float throughout the water column during the winter months. Soft plastics, more than any other presentation, allow you to match that forage.

They are made to replicate exactly what crappies, bluegills, and perch are putting in their bellies on a daily basis. Plastics have expanded to include just about every size, color, and shape of tiny bug or worm that lives in the underwater world.

You also have more finesse-fishing options by going as small as you want with your baits. On the other hand, plastics also allow you to up-size your presentation, creating a larger profile, which often produces bigger panfish. 

Plastics can be matched with any type of jig, vertical or horizontal, and added to small spoons, as well. Give soft plastics a fair shot this winter; they’re no longer just an experiment, but rather a legitimate winter panfish producer.  

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