First Ice is Panfish Prime TimeBy Jason Halfen - December 9, 2020
The first few weeks of walkable ice encompass some of the best action of the entire hardwater season. For now, many panfish linger in relatively shallow water, where remnant green weeds provide cover and ample forage. Dissolved oxygen levels beneath the ice remain high, promoting elevated levels of fish activity. Finally, angling pressure on those shallow fish is light, as many outdoor enthusiasts remain focused on late-season hunting opportunities. This is truly one of the best opportunities of the year to pull oversized panfish through the ice.
CrappiesCrappies are one of the most popular targets for ice anglers. Predictable locations and a general willingness to bite make crappies frequent guests of honor at mid-winter fish fries. Small spoons can be dressed with a crappie minnow or packed with spikes for consistent action. A teardrop spoon with a lively minnow can be suspended beneath a float to trigger bites from more neutral fish.
Yellow PerchPerch have characteristically high levels of activity during winter, and the early ice period finds these orange-finned tigers prowling shallow flats and weeds where they grazed during the fall months. Many of the best walleye presentations, when downsized one or two steps, are very effective for jumbo perch. A 1/16 or 1/8 oz rattle spoon tipped with a minnow head is a good place to start. A quick-dropping, 5 mm tungsten jig packed with waxworms or spikes works well when pounded on the bottom. Don't overlook the simple effectiveness of a fathead minnow, hooked with a fine wire hook behind the dorsal fin, for triggering winter perch.
BluegillsMany life-long love affairs with ice fishing begin with bluegills. Abundant on many lakes and generally willing biters, bluegills are truly a worthy hardwater adversary for both experienced and novice anglers. Unlike perch and crappies, bluegills are generally bug-eaters beneath the ice. A 4 mm tungsten jig dressed with a waxworm or a couple of spikes is a good place to start. If you spend the summer casting flies to trout, don't be afraid to drown one of your favorite nymph or scud imitations - icy bluegills will love 'em!