It happens every year – but that wonderful time early in the season when the ice just starts to form and the panfish come alive. When the skies turn gray and the thermostat drops, massive schools of panfish start their annual migration in shallow waters to get ready for the coming long winter – and that means you can get your pan ready for some amazing filets.
And if you’re dedicated enough to be out there at the right spot as they pass under the murky depths, you’re going to end up taking home so many panfish that you don’t know what to do with them all. In fact, the best time to go angling for panfish is when the ice is about 5-6 inches thick, which is also the perfect time to walk out onto the ice and have your own opening day.
But any ice fisherman knows to exercise extreme caution when it comes to ice safety, especially during the early season. So it’s best to fish with a buddy and never neglect to have safety equipment like ice picks, rope, a spud bar, communications equipment, extra batteries, and the like. Being prepared is the key to have a memorable time out on the ice!
Ice Fishing Panfish Accessories
Speaking of being prepared, in case the summer’s warm weather melted your brain and you don’t remember, there are a few specific items you should throw in your box to get ready for panfish. Since you want to stay active and you’re in the shallows, try using the lightest line you can – like a spool of 2 to 4 lbs.–, as well as a responsive rod. That will help you pick up those sensitive and subtle hits from interested panfish. It might also help you to add a spring bobber so you’ll really detect any action. Some panfish, like Crappie, can actually gulp down your bait and swim to the surface so you won’t even realize you have one on.
For panfish angling, I like to use Tungsten jigs, but a jigging rap or spoon will come in handy, too. Stick with colors that are more natural if you’re fishing clear waters, but it’s ok to get brighter or bolder with your jigs if the water is already covered with snow. If that doesn’t do the trick, try throwing on a spike or wax worm for some extra play to get the panfish chasing.
How about if you’re trying your hand angling on a lake that doesn’t have much vegetation? Try to drop bait near sparse brush, wooded areas, and piles of rocks that act as fish cribs. Panfish will probably be swimming through these areas, but they could be a bit spread out so don’t be afraid to drill a few holes if you want to find the one that hits.
I’ve seen some experienced panfish anglers start at the edge of the weeds by the bank transitions and then drill holes in a zig-zag like the shape of a big Z. Once you’re squared away with those holes, it won’t be hard to locate where the panfish are really running, and you can settle in and focus on your favorite spot for the day.