Matt Johnson Outdoors
Going Vertical for First Ice Pannies
Matt Johnson Outdoors
By: Matt Johnson

Panfish (crappies and bluegills)
are      notorious     for     being
aggressive  during the first ice
period.          Devouring         on
everything and anything, these
gluttons    are    in  search     of
forage     and    oxygen.    Often
times, you  can  expect  to  find
these         kamikaze      panfish
dwelling amongst still standing
green      weeds     and     other
vegetation. First ice provides ample opportunities for getting on a
hearty pod of pannies. Using a presentation that allows you to dive
quickly down the water column is crucial, especially when the
objective is to catch as many fish as possible in as little time
necessary. I tend to look vertical when targeting “quick-drop”
pannies…

Jigging spoons are among one of the oldest tricks in the book when
targeting winter fish, panfish included. Jigging spoons can be
effectively fished in so many ways. We now have a vast assortment of
colors, sizes, and actions to which jigging spoons are classified. For
panfish we typically focus on 1/16 – 1/8 oz spoons. These jigging
spoons have the ability to get down to where the fish are quickly, yet
they still provide a triggering style action that can tempt and lure
neutral fish into biting. When tipped with a maggot or minnow head,
these spoons can be dynamite on first ice panfish.

The jigging sequence of a jigging spoon can vary depending on the
situation. The key is to let the fish dictate what they want by keeping a
close eye on your flasher and paying attention to how the fish react to
different jigging actions. My flasher is my fish’s mood indicator. I let it
tell me what the fish want based on how they react to what I cause the
bait to do. If the fish tend to shy away when I work an aggressive
jigging sequence, I’ll slow down to a more delicate approach. If the
fish fly in and instantly hammer the spoon, I might fish more
aggressively to keep activity levels high.

While jigging spoons are often used mostly for neutral to aggressive
natured panfish, they can still trigger negative fish into biting. By
using subtle twitches and pauses, you can coax these hesitant fish
into striking the bait. More often than not however, a more aggressive
hop-bounce sequence will more than likely seal the deal when
targeting active first ice panfish with a jigging spoon.

Besides jigging spoons, we have a wide variety of jigs and ice flies
that can be very prolific on first ice panfish. And like jigging spoons,
they come in a huge array of sizes, colors, and actions. Sizes used for
aggressive first ice panfish typically run anywhere from 1/100oz –
1/14oz. Some vertical jigs include plastics bodies, rubber tentacles,
fur or hair, blades, spinners, beads, or just a plain hook. The options
are literally endless for vertical panfish ice jigs. We now have the
ability to mimic just about everything and anything that a panfish might
feed on. I feel like a kid in a candy store when I step through the doors
of tackle shop. And, I usually walk out with some new crazy off-the-wall
colored jig that gets added to the collection.

With all the options out there for vertical panfish ice jigs, where does
one start? To be honest, the answer to that question is ‘anywhere you
want.’ The joy of ice fishing, or fishing in general for that matter, is that
on any given day, the fish could want something totally different than
the next day, and there is no real “wrong way” to go about figuring out
what the fish want. Granted, we need to stick to within reason,
meaning that dropping down a Shad Rap might not be the best choice
for wintertime panfish. Staying within the realm of panfish ice jigs, one
can start just about anywhere.

I normally begin my search with a Custom Jigs and Spins size 8
Shrimpo. The Shrimpo is a soft-bodied (finesse plastic) jig that can be
fished without live-bait. And during first ice when the fish are highly
aggressive and tearing apart anything that gets in their way, a
presentation that allows me to keep my hands out of the maggot case
or minnow bucket as much as possible is important. And in all
honestly, I’ve spent days on the ice where I won’t even bring live-bait
with me; instead I’ll bring a handful of Shrimpo’s and a few extra
finesse plastic bodies. The Shrimpo is a great option for panfish
throughout all the winter months as well. Another productive plastic-
bodied ice jig is the Nuclear Ant by Custom Jigs and Spins.

Other than the Shrimpo, I typically rig up either a Lindy Genz Bug or
Lindy Frostee jig. Both of these can be fished with like techniques.
These jigs are meant to be tipped with some sort or live-bait, whether
it’s a maggot, minnow head, or a live minnow. Although you can add a
plastic body to these jigs if you’d prefer as well. Twitch it, shake it,
dance it… work the jig however you feel. And again, pay attention to
your flasher to determine the action the fish crave.

During first ice, I will try and get away with the largest size jig as
possible. This not only allows you to reach the strike zone faster when
dropping down the jig, but it also increases your odds at weeding out
the smaller fish in the pod. And, in the case where the fish are in a
neutral mood, this can up your chances for triggering the more
aggressive fish into biting. However, going smaller can be crucial at
times as well.

Going vertical for first ice panfish can definitely have its advantages.
Not only can you apply a presentation that lets you get down to where
the fish are quicker, but you can incorporate more sporadic and
aggressive techniques which will in turn produce more, and bigger
fish when the time calls for it.

First ice is supposed to be a time of high-number days filled with fun
and excitement. Try a vertical approach the next time you target first
ice panfish if you haven’t already. Who knows, you might just find
yourself a new favorite method for targeting wintertime pannies!!

Good Fishin,
Matt Johnson
Fishing Reports