We once believed that the best kept secrets
for targeting winter panfish were shared at
local bait shops, church meeting rooms,
neighborhood coffee shops; basically those
unknown locations where old-timers spend
most of their time spewing the tricks of the
trade. On the contrary, the modern age has
drastically helped define the new set of
secret shared by panfish enthusiasts. Now,
don’t go home and tell grandpa that I’m
saying he can’t fish, instead just think of this article as the second chapter in
the great book of panfish secrets.
#1: Stay Mobile – Portables, Augers and GPS
Yes, it might not be a secret to most, but it still seems to be the Achilles heel for
most ice anglers. We sit way too long. The reason this is listed as number one
on my list is because most days all it takes is a small move to put you on fish.
Use the tools you have. Clam Outdoors offers a line of Fish Traps that come
with built-in sleds designed to be pulled, why not put them to use. Augers are
becoming more and more efficient and user-friendly, why not burn some gas or
run some batteries. GPS units are readily available at most tackle shops and
they are more affordable than ever, why not plan your next move and take the
initiative. The secret has been out for a while, now it’s just time to take action.
The Navionics App on your smart phone is a must-have (or a GPS system).
#2: Location, Location, Location
This one can rival the number one spot. Locating our target is usually half the
battle. We constantly tell ourselves that only if we could find fish would we then
be able to make them bite. While sometimes true, the fact still stands that if you
can’t find fish then you won’t catch anything. Understanding panfish movements
is the name of the game. Knowing that panfish will hold onto green weeds at
early is a good starting point. Knowing that panfish will use main lake basins
much like grazing cattle can put fish on the ice during midwinter. Knowing that
panfish will once again relocate in the shallows at late ice will help take away the
guesswork of March fishing. These are simple ways of increasing your odds at
catching fish. Understanding the structure in the lake and then adding that
information into the seasonal equation will equal rewards.
#3: Proper Gear Choice – Rod, Reels and Line
It’s still amazing how many anglers still fish in the Stone Age when it comes to
gear. Too heavy of rods and line is one of the most common mistakes made
when targeting winter panfish. Having the ability to feel and/or see the bite is
crucial. Pool cue style rods are a thing of the past. The modern technology of
spring bobbers and quick-tip rods are worth their weight in gold. Changing the
rod is only step one, selecting the proper reel and line is the other half of the
battle. Thin diameter lines are important when going after finicky panfish.
Thicker lines only hinder the movement of the jig and also allow the fish to
notice the unnatural appeal of what we throw in their face. We have three, two
and even one-pound test lines available from all of the popular ice fishing line
companies, you need to use them. Clam Frost ICE line is a great choice when
searching for a two or three pound option. Matching the proper rod, reel and
line will make a difference and can oftentimes be one of the easiest changes to
#4: Fish High Percentage Lakes
This means fish lakes where you know good numbers of panfish exist. This can
imply lakes with both quantity and quality. If numbers are what you’re looking
for, then don’t fish a lake with a small population of crappies. If size is what you’
re looking for, then don’t fish a lake with stunted bluegills. Pay attention to the
DNR programs and websites. Talk with friends and locals about fish
populations. No sense in going after a monster sunfish in a lake that has
nothing but dinks. All you’re doing at that point is shooting yourself in the foot.
This all goes back to doing your homework before hitting the ice. It will help you
in both the success category as well as save on frustration and build
#5: Trust in your Flasher
We all like to bring friends on the ice, but none as important as our Vexilar.
When trained properly, we can pick up even the slightest movements made by
fish when looking at our flasher. Paying close attention to detail and
understanding how specifics movements dictate the choices we make in jigging
sequences and presentation options. As die hard panfish anglers, we need to
focus on the little things that make a difference. Having the ability to shoot
through shallow weeds to see our jig. Being able to cut down the amount of
power needed to see our presentation. Watching one side of the red line
(depicting a fish) moving giving off the feeling that something good is about to
happen. These are all things we can train ourselves to see. We’ve picked our
friends wisely, now it’s time to trust them.
#6: Learn to Use Finesse Tactics
It’s no secret but once again we find ourselves shying away from extreme
finesse approaches. No longer can you use the excuse, “it takes too long for
the jig to get down there.” Instead we need to tell ourselves that those moments
of frustration make all the difference in the world. The term “finicky” is being
used more and more every winter. When situations turn finicky we need to
oftentimes switch to finesse tactics. Downsizing to a smaller jig is the most
common form. Tying on something out of your fly box is another important
move. Figuring out ways to spoon-feed these fish into thinking that they’re
eating zooplankton is the name-of-the-game. This technique might come with a
price (mentally of course) but the rewards are great.
#7: Artificial Presentations
Ah yes, the mighty plastic. Nothing more stands out in my mind as being the
most popular trend in ice fishing. Everyone is flocking to them and for good
reason—they catch fish! Teaching yourself to become a plastic ice angler can
and will increase your overall productivity. We have the ability to really play the
whole color spectrum and size chart. We can also incorporate drastic changes
in scent and texture. But one of the biggest attributes is the fact that we fully
control the movement of the presentation. What the fish devoured happened
because of what we just did to it. The ability to include aggressive and negative
techniques without changing your presentation is no made simple. Finesse tails
dance like luring appetizers that no panfish can pass up. Artificials are here to
#8: Upsizing is your Friend
On the flip-side of the whole finesse aspect, we have the much underused
concept of upsizing. We are quick to downsize but are oftentimes reluctant to
upsize. However, I would go as far to say that it’s a fifty-fifty split on importance
when triggering panfish into biting. Upsizing is typically done to match the
forage, but it still gets passed up more often than not. Go into the garage and
grab your open water panfish tackle box and throw it in the portable fish house.
Break out the tubes, plastic grubs, hair jigs; basically all the go-to presentations
we use during the open water months. They will work under the ice and the
results can be amazing!
#9: Think Natural – Color Choices
We are overrun with bright and flashy colors. Chartreuse, hot pink, ten different
shades of glow; colors that sometimes catch more fishermen than fish. It’s time
to start thinking natural. Grab the browns, purples, blacks, blood reds… the
colors that actually imitate forage in the wild. I promise you, fish will still notice
your offering is there if you use natural colors. In fact, you might even see that
fish are less skittish and more willing to devour whatever you throw in front of
them. I’m not saying to leave the gaudy colors at home, but rather bring out
your “earthy” side and see what happens.
#10: Don’t Give Up!
We will have bad days, keep pushing forward. Use what you learn from every
fishing trip. No matter the outcome of a trip there is always something positive
that comes from it. When something doesn’t seem to be working, try something
else. Don’t get stuck in a rut and remember there is always another step that
can be taken. Change colors, change sizes, change action, do something
different. Oftentimes we tend to sit and stare when nothing seems to be
working. Biggest rule here: if something isn’t working, change it!
These Top 10 Secrets are in no way the only list out there, they are just ways in
which I try to focus on when looking to ice more panfish. Don’t be afraid to add
more numbers to this list or take certain ones out. Either way, figure out a
method that works the best for you and put it into action!