Late ice panfish

Fishing the Midwest

-- Submitted photo A tiny bait in the mouth of a nice sized bluegill.

There is still plenty of ice on most of the lakes and ponds where many of us go ice fishing, but if the current weather holds, that ice could be leaving us before long. I hope to get on the ice a time or two more in the next couple of weeks, and if I do, I will be after panfish. Walleyes aren’t an option in some places due to season closure, but besides that, most of the bodies of water that I fish have very good populations of panfish, and right now, those panfish are willing to get caught. Some ponds need to have a few panfish removed for the good of the pond. Crappies, bluegills, and perch in some cases can over-populate a body of water. Taking a few fish out will enable the rest to grow bigger, and besides that, panfish are wonderful breaded and fried. If you’re interested in a late season ice fishing outing, in many places, panfish are the ticket.

As in most panfish fishing, we need to match the bait to the fish. Crappies have a larger mouth than bluegills, so a bait that’s a little larger can be employed if crappies are the quarry. However, keep the baits under an 1/8th ounce most of the time, and a 1/16th ounce bait will often be better. Several fishing friends have reported very good results with sixteenth ounce Pinhead Mino Spoons tipped with a couple of wax worms as of late. Brighter colors, particularly chartreuse lime glow, have been very good. The best bite for crappies is typically during low light periods, dawn and dusk, which explains why the brighter color has been most productive.

Tiny Drop Jigs, 1/32nd and even 1/64th ounce but mostly the 1/32nd size, have been catching bluegills. Bluegills, because of their mouth size, are built to eat tiny baits. When the bite is slow, tip the jig with a waxworm or spike, but more and more, anglers are finding that modern plastic on a jig can be just as good as live bait most of the time, and it’s a lot easier to use. Modern plastic, such as the Maki offerings, are extremely soft and supple, so they move naturally. The angler doesn’t need to move the jig, the water around the bait seems to make it move a bit. A bait that’s moving in place can be very good for fish that need to be coaxed into eating.

When it comes to ‘gills and perch, natural colors can be best. Bug life is starting to hatch on the bottom of ponds and lakes now, and the panfish are eating those newly hatched bugs. Showing the fish a bait that looks like those bugs can be productive. Black is a good color to start with.

Panfish can be found almost anywhere in the water column. Perch and yellow bass are often near the bottom. Bluegills will frequently be a few feet off the bottom, and I’ve caught crappies anywhere from right next to the bottom to ten feet up. A depthfinder will certainly help put more fish on the ice. Many ice anglers, me included, admit that their catches would fall off significantly without the use of a depth finder. The Vexilar FLX-28 allows an angler to zoom in on a particular zone of the water column. Once it’s been determined the zone where most of the fish are on that particular day, zoom in on that zone. This enables an angler to position the bait exactly where it should be. Fish see up better than they see down, so it’s important to keep your bait a bit above them. In stained water you’ll need to get the bait a little closer to them because they can’t see as far in stained water.

Late ice is one of my favorite times to be on the ice. The weather is usually warmer, and the fish are usually biters. Make really sure that the ice is safe, and monitor the ice during the day. Stay safe and enjoy these final ice outings.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today