Ice fishing tip: Think shallow for late season panfish
Another ice fishing season is winding down, but some of the best opportunities for hard water angling success remains. During and average winter, panfish tend to migrate around usually starting out in shallow weedy areas, then moving out into the basins and then eventually back to areas that have remaining standing weeds.
Early in the ice season weedy areas offer cover for panfish and the food they seek, but as ice develops over the winter and becomes more snow-covered, much of the weed cover tends to die. As weeds die and break down, oxygen gets depleted so panfish head to deeper depths. Now, as days get longer and winter winds down, snow melts and seeps through cracks or runs into holes, thus recharging shallow areas with oxygen. Also, with the longer days, water temps rise and insects and other invertebrates start hatching and providing food options in shallow depths.
This time of year panfish, especially crappies, will cruise around just above the weeds or even right below the ice. Usually fish higher in the water column are more aggressive and actively feeding. I like to target these fish with small spoons or tungsten jigs tipped with bug-like plastics or maggots. These fish are usually pretty easy to catch; the hardest part is knowing they are even there.
High-running fish can be difficult to locate with traditional sonar. Oftentimes you will just see flickering as fish cruise nearby, but if you see any of these marks you’ll definitely want to try jigging at these depths to call fish to you. You can also use an underwater camera to search for fish hanging out in and around the weeds. More advanced sonar units like Garmin Panoptix or Livescope that use directional sonar can aid with locating fish in weedy areas.
It can take some effort to locate panfish in shallow areas, but when you find them, it’ll be worth it.
Good luck fishing and stay safe!