So is there a single bait option that works best for catching panfish through the ice? That’s a loaded question, which doesn’t have just one definite answer. The problem (OK, it’s not really a problem) is that anglers have several options, and they all seem to catch fish. Crappies, bluegills, and perch are aggressive feeders that have no problem chewing on a wide range of jigs and lures.
Live-baits, such as mousies and wax worms, have been catching panfish seemingly forever. Eurolarvae hopped onto the scene decades ago and remains a top choice. Today, plastics have replaced all three live ice-fishing baits.
First, consider live bait availability. You won’t always find all three maggot-style baits at every retail outlet across the ice-fishing belt. Certain baits are simply more popular than others; it just depends where you’re fishing.
The only concrete answer might come down to personal preference: Work with what gives you confidence. That, more than anything, will tip the odds in your favor. Here are some considerations.
Mousies, often referred to as rat-tailed maggots, are named appropriately given their short, whisker-like tails. (Maybe mousies just sounds better.)
They are the most tenured live bait anglers have tipped their ice jigs with. With the arrival of other options, they might also be the least used, but again, this depends where you’re fishing.
Mousies can vary in size, but typically measure less than a half-inch, and are rich with a scented juice – when squeezed or poked – that attracts panfish.
The downside? They’re small, which means you have to hook several on a jig to give them appeal. Their outer skin is also super delicate, so they don’t stay on the hook well.
But, they do produce panfish. Consider, too, that many of today’s modern ice-fishing plastics geared toward catching panfish do mimic mousies.
It’s not a coincidence.
The most universal piece of bait you can add to any panfish jig is a wax worm. They’ve been around a long time, are highly used today, and they’re readily available.
Wax worms are the beefiest of all live-bait options, and their plump, meaty appearance is this grub’s calling card. It’s the juice inside that usually trips the trigger of panfish.
With their bigger size, waxies are a bit more versatile than are mousies. Because they’re longer and thicker, wax worms can be threaded to cover an entire hook, T-boned, or a combination of both approaches.
The outer shell of a wax worm is soft, which means they come off the hook quite easily, even if the bite isn’t super aggressive. This might be this bait’s only downfall.
You’d have to think long and hard to find anything that’s wrong with Eurolarvae. This piece of meat seems to have everything you could want in a winter panfish bait.
Scent, durability, color options, and movement are all part of the attractive qualities of Eurolarvae. While not a household bait everywhere, they should become part of your panfish ice arsenal.
The key to Eurolarvae is hooking them properly, which means slightly penetrating the blunt end of the bait with your hook. This allows the bait to “wiggle” in the water. That, along with its scent and color, makes this bait very productive.
A tough outer shell allows you to catch multiple fish on a single bait. Red and white Eurolarvae always are solid choices, but they’re available in yellow, blue, and orange in most areas as well.
The idea of consistently icing panfish via plastics has become more than just an experiment. It’s the only option many anglers are using.
Those 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.
That said, it’s worth noting that wax worms, Eurolarvae, or other forms of live meat used for icing panfish are not going away. They’re viable fish producers. But there are times when plastics will trigger more bites and bigger fish if you understand why they work and how to fish them.
You first have to develop a level of confidence with plastics. Start by using them as a complement to your livebait 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 force yourself to develop that confidence.
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 a reactionary bite is the goal. Anything works when the feedbags are on, but the movement plastics provide often will trip the trigger of the most negative school of panfish, including the big fish.