Love Those Deep Basin Panfish

By Jerry Carlson - January 15, 2018
Many times I have heard anglers share frustrations over the lack of winter panfish that are showing up in their favorite honey hole. I have been known to make the same complaints from time to time. However, I have also learned the remedy for staying on winter crappies and bluegills.

When it comes to location, I am all about deep basins. Although I do occasionally target some weed oriented fish on some very clear lakes, I usually prefer focusing on deep water during the winter months.

The migration to deep basins happens each fall as the water begins to cool and the fish start to set up in their winter hangouts. In fact, I have had some great success catching late fall panfish in the same locations I will look for them during the hard water period.

This annual move to deep basins happens on lakes that do not have gin clear water. Lakes with super clear water will often continue to support enough weed growth that panfish will stay shallow. However, on most lakes, when the weeds begin to die back in the fall, crappies, and sometimes bluegills, will move to a deep part of the lake.

On many of the lakes I winter fish, this deep hole, or deep basin, is found to be 25 to 35 feet deep. This depth often coincides with the deepest part of many of the mesotrophic lakes I target and is easy to locate on a lake map.

Occasionally, I will work deep crappies in over 40 feet of water. However, it is very difficult to release small fish when they are pulled up from these depths so I usually prefer water that is shallower.

There are two reasons that the deep basin migration takes place. First, fish seem to feel quite secure in the deep water. Secondly, there is little problem finding food.

The food part is easy to explain. All one has to do is examine the stomach contents of deep water panfish to realize they are eating plankton and invertebrates. The stomach contents will look like brown mush.

Although panfish will usually stage in the same locations each winter, there are other factors that may affect the quantity of these deep fish. Crappie populations can be very cyclical with years of high numbers and periods of low populations.

Also, these deep suspended fish are often susceptible to heavy harvest. This can reduce the number of fish available to be caught.

Because of these factors, I have a dozen or more lakes I check out each winter. Some years one lake produces while other years, I find the best bite in another location.

Often times, these suspended fish I target are known to many other anglers. It is common to see a cluster of ice houses over these winter panfish holes. Although this may not be ideal, I find that by fishing during the day, there is little competition at these honey holes.

Once last factor to consider. Because these fish are suspended, they are easy to locate with your electronics. If I don't mark suspended fish up off of the bottom, I keep moving.

When I do find suspended fish signals, my most successful presentation is a small tungsten glow jig tipped with Euro larvae. I often thread on Maki plastic to use in conjunction with the larva.

Deep basins are ideal winter locations for panfish. They are easy to find, easy to check out and produce plenty of action.

Author Jerry Carlson
Jerry Carlson
Jerry started his outdoor career in 1987 when he began writing for Outdoors Weekly. He currently writes about a 130 articles a year for various publications in the Midwest. In addition to writing and giving numerous hunting and fishing seminars, Jerry does weekly radio shows on two St. Cloud, Minnesota stations; WJON and WWJO. He also authored a book called Details for Locating and Catching Fish. Hunting and fishing photos and articles written by Jerry, along with his email address, can be found at Jerry fishes all species but prefers crappies in the winter and bass in the summer. He also loves to hunt Canada geese in the fall.