Go Small or Go Home

By: Matt Johnson

Modern day society continues to push the
mentality of doing things “big” and bold. “Go
big or go home” is no longer just a term
used on the sports field, but also rather in
the office, at the factory, or even in the
classroom. We are wired to take things to
the max and “push it to the limit.” But what
about fishing? Or better yet, what about
those first few weeks after ice-out when the
panfish are still in “ice mode” trying to find
their appetite? “Go big or go home” might
send you off with the latter, but “go small or
go home” could be the ticket to an amazing
day on the water.

So, what does “go small or go home” mean exactly? For me, it means keeping
your ice fishing tackle with you when you first hit the open water scene. When
you sit back and think about it, you just finished up your ice fishing season
(maybe literally only days ago?) and the last thing you threw at those fish where
size 12 ice jigs tipped with finesse plastics. You weren’t using a big twister tail or
minnow bait, you were slicing and dicing big panfish with smaller offerings. That
trend will continue as you hit the first few weeks of open water, especially when
the water temps hover in the 40s. Keep those ice jigs and plastics with you.

Now, I’m not saying you need to break out the 1/200oz, size 16 hook ice jigs,
but those size 10 and 8 jigs are more applicable for the situation. I prefer
tungsten myself; since it allows you to keep better contact with the jig (if
vertically jigging) and better pull under the float (if you decide to pitch a float
setup, which I prefer). Then I usually tipped these jigs with a finesse plastic of
some sort. Clam Pro Tackle offers a nice arrange of jigs and plastics to get the
job done. The Drop series of jigs (an almost endless array of options) are
dynamite for early season panfish, and when you tip those with a Maki plastic of
your choice you have yourself a deadly one-two punch for cold-water spring
panfish—and you don’t have to mess with live-bait and cold hands!

Why do fish prefer these smaller presentations you might ask? Well, for one,
they are still eating a “lighter” diet. Water temps are cold, and their metabolisms
are slowly warming up from the deep freeze. During much of the winter, panfish
are consuming smaller morsels and prey, and their bodies still feel as if the
surrounding conditions are “cold.” As the water temps begin to rise—along with
spring oxygen and libido—these fish will begin putting on the feedbags and
devouring anything in their path, but we’re not quite there yet. Continue to feed
them their “comfort food” and you’ll find more fish on the end of your line.

This idea of fishing small is not complex, and every angler can master this
technique, you just need to keep the ice tackle out a little longer. Bring along
your jig box packed with tungsten jigs and your Ziploc bags of finesse plastics
when you first hit the open water scene this year—you won’t regret it!

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