Matt Johnson Outdoors
Subtle Approaches When Panfish Turn Finicky
By: Matt Johnson

Panfish,  mainly  crappies  and
bluegills,  are  often  times light
biters during the winter months
and have even coined the term
“non-biters”       on        several
occasions.   Panfish  will   have
periods of negative activity and
although these  fish  seem  like
nothing  interests  them,   there
are  techniques   and  methods
that can increase your success
out on the ice.   Finesse fishing
for  panfish is  no longer a new
method   and   the  means  are
relatively easy.

Finesse fishing involves delicate techniques. Line watching
becomes more and more vital and even the most subtle
movements can indicate a strike. During these periods,
panfish are inhaling and exhaling baits at a fraction of a
second. Panfish will also examine a bait at close distance for
several seconds or even minutes. You want to make sure that
you are properly equipped and ready for the chance to hook-
set into a finicky biter if the opportunity arises. This can
demand the use of a spring bobber, noodle rod or well-
balanced float. Down-sizing your jig can also be a critical
move in catching more fish in less than optimal conditions. Let’
s take a look at some techniques and presentations for finicky
panfish…

Spring bobbers help indicate subtle strikes and have
contributed immensely to the success rate of ice anglers.
Spring bobbers are designed to depict even the slightest
movement caused by a light biting panfish. Spring bobbers
come in a variety of models and sizes. Thorne Bros has a
finesse spring bobber that attaches to the tip of your rod and
has proven itself to be an ultimate finesse tool for several
years. Light biting panfish will pull the spring bobber down
without feeling any resistance and in return, the angler ends
up with a nice slab crappie or bull bluegill. Spring bobbers
also allow you to bounce jigs by using the recoil of the spring.
This can be very important when trying to achieve the desired
action that finicky panfish want. Pounding a bait too hard can
turn off negative biters and the jigging technique incorporated
with a spring bobber can be the reason for success some
days. Spring bobbers are relatively inexpensive and can be
found at most bait or tackle shops.

Noodle rods are often overlooked by ice anglers. Anglers
would rather use a spring bobber, and rightly so, but noodle
rods play a different role in finesse fishing than the spring
bobber does. Noodle rods are great deadsticking tools.
Noodle rods have a very fast, flimsy tip that bends with the
weight of a feather. Ever the lightest biting fish can cause the
tip of a noodle rod to vibrate or pulse. A panfish can pull down
the tip of a noodle rod a small distance before it feels any
resistance. This assures you that not only does the panfish
have the bait in its mouth, but it’s also to the point where a
solid hook-set can be applied. Most good noodle rods will still
have a solid backbone allowing the flimsy tip to load enough
to take the shock away from the stiffer backbone, but yet the
backbone still gives way enough to ensure a high percentage
hook-set. Noodle rods that bend all the way to the handle are
not going to work as well. You will miss more hook-sets and
your ability to properly play a fish is very limited. You want a
rod with a fast, flimsy tip, but yet still have a solid backbone.
The Power Noodle from Thorne Bros is a good example of a
top-quality panfish noodle rod. Other brands include Croxton
Pond and YAD. Noodle rods also have the recoil effect when
jigging and can be highly effective tools when using lighter
jigs.

A well balanced float might be one the most common ways of
detecting light biting panfish. Most ice anglers have an
arsenal of floats and bobbers. Most bobbers are too heavy in
my opinion and when finesse fishing, you want to error on the
side of going too light. The key with using a float during the
winter is balance. You want the float to just barely sit on the
surface of the water, where any slight weight at all will pull
that float down. You want to match the float with the
presentation you are using and you want to keep in account
the use of live bait, meaning that if you have a lively minnow
then you are going to need to set the float slightly heavier and
so on. You want the fish to grab the bait and pull the float
down without even knowing anything is the matter. I’ve had
the chance to use several different bobbers and floats by
several different companies and I’ve found the Ice Buster
Bobber by Today’s Tackle to be my top choice. The ability to
be able to trim down the bobber to match literally any
presentation is very important and the fact that the bobber
rarely freezes up is just an added bonus. Using a well-
balanced float is a very productive option for finicky panfish.

Now what about jigs and bait? Down-sizing is probably one of
the most important things to keep in account when targeting
finicky panfish. These fish are either not hungry, or are used
to eating very small micro-organisms and prey. You want an
offering that will cater to their needs. Using a jig as small as
1/200 of an ounce is not uncommon and it might be the only
way of finessing a fish into biting on certain days. I usually
start with a jig somewhere in the size 10 or 12 range and then
I work my way down. If I know I’m on a finicky bite from the
previous day, then I’ll start with a lighter approach. Start by
tipping your jig with two maggots or a single wax worm. If the
offering appears to be too big then switch to a single maggot
or a small piece of finesse plastic. Keep working your way
down until you find a pattern that seems to be working. Pay
close attention to your electronics for fish movements that
would indicate any sort of interest. I prefer to tip these jigs
with maggots or small finesse plastics, but a tiny crappie
minnow can trigger strikes as well.

Another part of the finesse line-up includes using light line. 2
pound test line is the norm for me when targeting panfish. 2
pound test line is strong enough to handle just about any
panfish that decides to join the party. 2 pound test line helps
me incorporate the best action on the light weight jigs that I
use for finesse fishing. Line that is too stiff will result in a loss
of control and feel, which can result in missed fish and will
also spook those finicky panfish. Light weight line is very
much a contributing factor to your success on negative days.

When targeting finicky panfish, you want a sensitive strike
indicator in the form of a spring bobber, noodle rod or float.
This will help you “see” the light biters in action. You also
want to keep in mind the good possibility that you will have to
downsize your presentation. You also want to focus on the
types of baits you plan on using and how they will affect your
set-up. And, you want to be using light enough line so you can
get the desired action, control and effectiveness you want
from your jigs and jigging techniques, and this means using 2
pound test.

Understanding what it takes to trigger finicky fish into biting is
very important, but having the right equipment so you can
detect the light bites will be the difference between a slow day
on the ice or a day filled with slab crappies and bull bluegills!!
Matt Johnson Outdoors
Fishing Reports