Panfish Through The Ice

By Bob Jensen - January 1, 2003
There is a growing number of anglers who look forward to ice- fishing as much as some anglers look forward to the opening day of walleye season. I can understand why that is, although I have a hard time explaining the appeal of ice-fishing. Sure it's fun to be out there with friends, but lots of folks go ice-fishing by themselves.

Some anglers go ice-fishing for a couple of hours on the weekend, others are out there every night after work and all day on the weekends. To some ice-fishing is a hobby, to others it is a necessity.

The reasons to go ice-fishing are numerous: The one common bond among ice-anglers is that they want to catch a fish. In many bodies of water throughout the Midwest, panfish are very plentiful and can be quite easy to catch. However, there's more to it than just drilling a hole, dropping a bait into the hole, and reeling the panfish in. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances for success through the ice.

Keep in mind that panfish can be pretty skittish, so quiet is very, very important. Early in the season when ice and snow cover are minimal, you need to be very quiet and still. Many of the best ice-anglers will drill just a few holes this time of the year, while later in the season they will pop a lot more. Some anglers prefer a hand auger because it is quieter, but some very successful ice-anglers choose one of the StrikeMaster Lazer Mags. They go through the ice easier and quicker, so the noise factor is actually less.

Remember, those fish are just a few feet below you and will spook easily. Get on a spot early, drill a few holes, and then spend some time at those holes before you drill more. Give each hole you try a good shot.

Go with lighter line, especially for finicky panfish. Three pound Trilene Cold Weather or Micro Ice works extremely well in many situations, but if the body of water being fished gets a lot of pressure, two pound test might be better. There is even one pound test line available for extremely tough situations.

Smaller baits seem to be better for winter panfish. A sixteenth ounce jig is popular for panfish in many open water situations, but that is way too large for most panfish under the ice. I have done exceptionally well on perch and crappies with the #8 Micro Minnows and Forage Minnow Fry ice-jigs.

If the fish are hungry, jig color won't matter too much. When the fish are finicky however, some colors will definitely be better. It is becoming apparent that a bait that glows will often times be most productive, especially in stained water or in low-light conditions.

These ideas will help an angler catch fish throughout the ice-fishing season. Remember, keep quiet, downsize lure selection, give every hole a chance to produce fish, and most importantly, get out there. You're not going to find out how much fun ice-fishing can be if you don't give it a fair try.

Author Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen is the host of the Fishing the Midwest television series, a series of television fishing shows that highlight fishing locations and techniques throughout the Midwest. He also writes a syndicated fishing column and does fishing seminars throughout the Midwest. He is a former fishing guide and tournament angler. Visit Bob's web site at www.fishingthemidwest.com.