Late Ice Panfish Only a Spoon Feed AwayBy Brian "Bro" Brosdahl - January 1, 2011
Pulling panfish from frigid water with tiny treats is, no doubt, the modern ice angler's most popular ploy. But while fishing in micro-mode is a most excellent tactic, there are periods when the flash and flutter of a falling spoon will out-produce any ultra-miniature jig - especially during feeding furies near the end of winter.
Plucking panfish with stamped steel and molded metals is nothing new. In fact, anglers have been hauling multitudes of spoon-caught species through holes since man first fashioned the tools needed for shaping these precious metals. But there's more to duping panfish with spoons than meets the eye. The best lure for the job depends on the demeanor of the fish, as well as where in the water column the target species is located.
If fish could talk, they'd let on that not all spoons are created equal; it's the diversity in how different spoons flutter and the rate they fall that is often the defining point to whether or not they get smashed.
The first style is what I call the 'single spoon.' It's made from either molded lead or brass, stamped metal, or a combination of all, with a single hook rigidly affixed to the body. And from fishing shallow to deep and all points in-between, they are the most adaptable style of spoon.
On the lift, single spoons raise quickly and then see-saw on the fall, often flipping horizontal. Single spoons combine well with tasty treats like a string of threaded maggots or a whole minnow pierced through its lips. Perch, for example, still pummel Northland's classic Eye-Dropper Jig, as well as the new High Definition (HD) LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Jig.
Next in line is the 'treble spoon.' As their name implies, these feature a treble hook attached via a split ring so the barbs can swing freely from the body. The new Northland LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Spoon falls into this category.
Fish-Fry Minnow Spoons are heavy and work wonders when bluegills, for example, are holding tight to the bottom on main-lake basins. I like to rip the spoon up off bottom and let it wobble its way back on limp line. Adding the ever-squiggling Medusa's Head (loading the treble with writhing maggots just nipped in their backside) is the perfect companion live bait offering for the ripping technique.
'Stamped spoons,' on the other hand, are made of lightweight metal, pressed narrow and thin, similar to a trolling spoon. Because they flutter with a side-to-side action that covers a wide swath under the ice, these lightweights really shine when crappies, for instance, are suspended high in the water column or are hanging tight to cover in shallow-water environments and need to be coaxed into the open.
Northland's LIVE-FORAGE Moxie Minnow, for example, has a narrow and cupped shape that, due to the lifelike flank and flashy chrome-gold on the other, flashes an injured-baitfish alarm from afar. Just don't add too much meat to the hook of a stamped spoon as it will impede the action. One spike, waxworm, or a small minnow head will do.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you find solid spoons of lead or brass, which are heavy and plummet promptly. I use them as "qualifiers" when fish are deep and I need to get a lure down fast before they swim off. The Northland's Macho Minnow is a prime example of a solid spoon.
Solid spoons don't yield as much action, though, so I add the liveliest live bait available. Reaching into my Frabill Aqua-Life Bait Station, I'll grab the most energetic minnow and nip it just though its lips, or, as an alternative, I'll stick several maggots onto the hook so they wriggle in squid-like fashion.
When fishing stained water, I employ spoons that vibrate like the dickens, most notably bladebaits. Northland's LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Trap-the most realistic looking bladebait on the market-is my go-to. They shake on the lift and shimmy on the fall and panfish of all species will attack them on the drop. Bladebait-style spoons work wonders in clear water, too, especially when fish are in a funk and unwilling to strike. The vibration triggers the strike instinct from even the most lethargic post-front panfish.
Big to Small
Contrary to common ice-angling contemplation, if panfish are in a neutral mood, I send down large spoons first. Large-sizing often decoys inactive fish from a distance, and, tipped with a meaty bribe, will trigger strikes from the greediest students in the school. As the day progresses and the most aggressive fish have been duped, I'll finesse the others by switching to smaller spoons, and then eventually jigs.
If one presentation isn't turning heads, I quickly switch to another, not wasting valuable time on the ice. Plus, panfish are on the move during late ice, so I keep my internal motor running not wanting to fall behind. I hop from hole to hole like a frog on Red Bull.
When panfish are in shallow water or just under the ice over deep water, I fish from inside Frabill's Bro-sized Pro portable shelter, which, with the top up, eliminates my silhouette and reduces the possibility of spooking the fish. The Pro's the largest one-man shanty on ice, with an articulating seat that goes forward, back, and side to side, which allows me to peer down the hole in comfort and have plenty of room for fighting slabs.
As for sticks, the 24-inch Bro Series Ultra-Light Combo's perfect for stamped spoons and is the ideal length for in-house use. The Bro Series 26-inch Light combo is a match set for heavier spoons. Both of these rods match up well with 3-pound BIONIC Ice monofilament. This line-strength is primo for spooning as it's light enough to maximize lure action yet strong enough to lift gargantuan 'gills out of the hole. When downsizing to a 1/16-ounce spoon, I like the forgiveness of the Bro Series 27-inch Quick Tip Combo, and spool it with 2-pound BIONIC Ice. And no matter the line weight, tie the line directly to the spoon (no snap or snap-swivel) to get the best action from the lure.
While micro lures have their place, late ice panfish are only a spoon feed away. Keep an assortment of spoons and combos pre-rigged and ready to rock. Just figure out the flavor of the day and where in the water column the fish are holding. Flutter away and hang on. By late winter, panfish take the role of predator fish, so set the micro-jigs in the back of the tackle box. In all likelihood, you won't be needing them.