Outdoors column: Panfish secrets through the ice

by Steve Carney
Contributing Columnist

As the legions of ice fisher people hit the lakes this week many are focused on the big bluegills and crappies as some of the best ice fishing of the year is during the latter days of December and into early January. This early ice period features fairly shallow fish in easy-to-find areas and often close to shoreline areas. Here’s a primer on angling for bluegills and crappies during a most exciting and rewarding early fishing period.

Lake reputation for panfish

It startles me how many anglers spend quality time on the ice on a lake they know nothing about.

How can you expect to catch quality panfish on a lake that has no big panfish reputation?

Large bluegills and crappies are hard to come by and there are lakes out there that hold nice fish, but you have to do your homework and legwork to find these lakes. It doesn’t matter how good an angler you are if the fish are not present you have zero chance of connecting. I always make it a point to fish a viable and proven lake that traditionally holds big panfish and I usually am successful. These lakes need to be held close to the vest as lakes that hold large panfish are rare and special.

Oxygenated green weeds

Recently I was angling on a central Minnesota lake and headed directly to a spot that I had fished during the summer because I remembered there was a ton of nice, green leafy cabbage weeds there previously.

Using my electronics I started taking readings through the ice in six feet of water and starting working towards deeper water taking depth readings along the way. Leafy cabbage weeds show up as thin and sometimes fat green lines on your screen. When you are in the weeds these lines will light up your unit. As you take readings in deeper water the lines will all of a sudden cease meaning you have now located the edge where the weeds stop and the depth breaks. This is a great ice fishing spot no matter where you fish in Minnesota. These leafy green weeds are still producing oxygen even in the winter months and gamefish congregate because their food is there along with minnows and insect larvae. As long as you have green weeds you in business.

Presentations

Not being a bobber person, I am more of an active jigging person as I have a variety of strategies I use for presenting baits that will appeal to large bluegills and crappies.

First off, I want to start off my angling using large spoons to check and see what the fish mood happens to be at the time. Large panfish have no trouble at all inhaling a walleye-size spoon.

When they are active and chasing these baits are awesome but oftentimes their moods are more neutral meaning you have to start downsizing your lures until you hit the jackpot. If my bluegills and crappies are bouncing off my spoons and not taking the larger baits, I drop down two sizes and go with a 1/32 ounce spoon adorned with a waxworm. Smaller baits will catch the smaller fish as well but there are times when tiny baits work well. Never sit and fish with the same bait hour after hour if you are not getting results. The size of the lure is way more important than color or brand of the bait when dealing with large panfish. Keep switching sizes until the fish tell you what they want.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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