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Five Tips for More Winter Panfish

By Jerry Carlson - November 1, 2013
Every year at the start of the winter season, anglers get all pumped up about spending time on the ice. They often buy some new equipment and make big plans about how they are going to target fish a little differently this year. However, when it comes right down to it, they frequently fall back into the same rut of doing what they have always done during the winter months.

Ice fishing strategies that result in successful fishing don't have to be all that complicated. In fact, if winter anglers followed a few basic rules, they probably could catch all of the fish they wanted during the frozen water period.

When I got to thinking about what it takes to put panfish on the ice, I came up with five basic tips that are critical for my success. These tips are not the only considerations for winter fishing, but they do cover the nitty-gritty of getting the job done.

The first tip is to know your electronics. Learn to set your scales and gain so you can get the best reading possible. Settings should always allow you to see your jig in relationship to the fish.

Spend time experimenting with reading through the ice without drilling holes. This is an incredible time saver when looking for suspended fish or checking depth. With my Vexilar, I just pour a little water on the ice, place my transducer in the water and check what is under the ice without touching an auger.

The second tip is all about what to do when you do find a place you want to fish. Once a person locates suspended fish or a fishy looking spot that needs checking, don't skimp on the hole drilling. After the auger is running and you are making noise, you might as well drill out a number of holes so you can adequately cover the area.

I believe auger noise often disturbs and spooks fish. However, they frequently don't move very far. By scattering eight to ten holes in an area, it is usually possible to find the fish in one of the holes.

In addition to that, fish naturally roam around a little under the ice. Having multiple holes to work makes it easier to stay on top of roaming fish.

The third tip is to use the lightest line and jig possible for the conditions. Most of the time, I find two-pound-test Berkley Micro Ice to be ideal for winter panfish. It is thin enough to not spook fish but strong enough to land quality panfish with ease. For the business end of things I utilize lures from Northland's Bro Bug Collection and tip them with Euro larvae.

The fourth tip is learning to focus on your bite detection system, especially on the first drop. The first drop down any hole is very important. Active fish will usually take advantage of an easy meal falling into their lap. However, if you miss the first opportunity, that fish may not be gullible enough to bite twice.

Whether tightline jigging or spring bobber fishing, know how to identify a bite. The anglers that catch fish when others can't are doing a better job of bite detection.

The last tip is to keep moving. Do not sit on a spot and wait the fish out. Go and look for the fish. This is especially true of anglers that work the daylight hours. If the spot you are working is not producing, look for a place that is.

Winter panfish angling is a real passion of mine. Although not every trip to the lake is productive, by following these basic tips I am able to consistently put fish on the ice.

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.
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