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Tipping the Panfish Scales Under Ice

By Brian Athern - February 1, 2002
My thoughts were filled with one hundred different things that had subconsciously followed me out on the ice. After getting situated, I started to think more about fishing and less about everything else. Unfortunately, I went 1 1/ 2 hours without a bite. I was marking fish but no takers.

Since there wasn't another soul out on this spot with me, I was left to my own devices. Sorting ice spoons with my index finger, I had found my remedy. After retying a #12 purple 2 spot on and then dressing it up with a few spikes, I returned my line down to 4 feet. Bingo! That was the ticket the bluegill and sunfish were looking for. I had deviated another rod only to blue and lavender shades but either in #12 or #14. The results were duplicated.

As much as I hate to over think a situation, ice fishing can be just that some times. A real mind game that tests just how many jigs are in your pocket and possibly 3 or 4 bait choices. Panfish can certainly frustrate an angler, more so in the winter because of the conditions. The water is colder, typically much more clear, and the fish's activity levels lower than the warmer months. Although they can be tougher, panfish are still very catchable under the ice. Let's look at a few devices to help tip the scales in your favor.

First, line size and diameter. At no other time is line more critical because of water clarity and how that lure's action is hindered or helped by the fishing line. A more limp line will allow ice jigs to dance that enticing waltz to attract bites. Typically, I like 2# ice line as a rule of thumb but occasionally 4# can get by. Cortland Hi-Vis and Berkley Trilene Cold Weather in blue are the staples spooled on my reels by experience. I also carry 2 permanent black markers to darken the first 2-3 feet of any of my line for more stealth.

Next, ice jigs selection. There is a reason why anglers have 5 or 6 dozen ice jigs crammed into a Plano Pocket Mini-Mag. It means more choices. From color to size, the difference on that chilly morning portrayed at the start was a #12 instead of #10 ice spoon in a soft dark color. A few different sizes starting at #8 and dropping to #14 in assorted colors can fill a pocket tote fast, but it fills an ice bucket with panfish faster!

Bait can be just as important as the color ice jig you tie on. I'd have gone hungry more than once if I relied on just wax worms or spikes without packing both. A couple different baits round out an outing like wigglers or dragon fly larvae, and some type of minnow either small shiners or small fathead chubs. Where crappie and perch may be targeted, a dead stick set up with minnows and floats utilizing a wire rod holder can be very productive. I'll also take the colored Euro-larvae spikes where available.

When going without the hassles of rebaiting your jigs, this is the time to try Custom Jigs and Spins Finesse plastics and baits like Ratsos and Shrimpos. I like to dip mine in Power Bait solutions to form a jigging cloud that will put a few more fish in the bucket. Varying jigging motions is key here, pausing after a few lift and drops or the snap/flutter while watching the line for "ticks" or going slack before finishing the fall. Watching your portable electronics for fish movement in response to the jigging style used will assist you in pinpointing the most productive rhythm.

At this point, if you find fish moving in for a better look but unwilling to bite, vary that motion. If the panfish are still unresponsive, downsize and change baits to just one or two spikes. A real sleeper bait is a #12 Ratfinkee in purple or black body/chartruse or yellow head. Haven't seen many bluegill, sunfish, warmouth, or perch turn down that subtle approach.

Hopefully you've got a few more things to consider when you're out on the ice this season. Keep your options and mind open. Be willing to downsize both line and bait selections. Remember to allow the fish to dictate your activity and enjoy a frosty day on some frozen water in the great outdoors!

Author Brian Athern
Brian Athern
Brian J. Athern is a Field Editor with MidWest Outdoors Magazine, Fishing Facts Magazine and has also worked with the former If you have any questions or comments regarding this article you can email Brian at [email protected]
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