Winter Panfish, A Time of Plenty!By Mike Frisch
I must admit that I don’t spend as much time fishing panfish during the heat of summer as I should. The reason for my lack of attention to these feisty fish during summer is that the open-water bite for species like walleye and bass takes up my time. During winter, however, the bite for bass and walleye can be difficult, at least on the waters I usually fish. Therefore, I often shift my focus to chasing bluegill and crappie, as they are often cooperative under the ice. Here is a look at some winter techniques that have put panfish on the ice for me recently.
The first suggestion I will offer is one made in just about every winter fishing article, stay on the move to find active fish. While this suggestion is commonly offered, I still see lots of anglers “set up camp” in a particular spot and stay there all day, or for days on end, even though they might not be catching many fish. On the other hand, anglers who enjoy consistent success seem to be those running and gunning, using portable shelters and drilling lots of holes, searching for biting fish.
Last winter, I had several days when I drilled dozens of holes before finding the mother lode. On other days, staying on the move meant a fish or two here, another one there, and two more in this spot. This approach totaled a good catch by day’s end. To make this approach work, using a good portable shelter and packing light is critical. I’ve been using my one-man Frabill Commando shelter for this run and gun approach for the past several years with good success. It’s lightweight, stores and tows my gear easily, and its quick set-up is perfect for this style fishing.
Being mobile often leads to better winter panfish catches. Another suggestion involves using a jigging approach rather than fishing bait beneath a bobber. Don’t get me wrong; bait suspended beneath bobbers catches fish. However, lifting/dropping/wiggling some sort of jig or jigging spoon is often more productive. Moving a bait not only offers some ability to call fish in from a distance, but, when used with some pauses, it also triggers bites.
Last winter, in fact, I often found myself abandoning a bobber set-up altogether to focus on jigging. I realize that fishing two lines as opposed to one should up my odds for success. However, I believe that total attention to a jigging presentation puts more fish on the ice most days, especially on days when the crappie and bluegill are active and focusing on more than one line becomes difficult.
Staying mobile and using jigging presentations are solid suggestions for more winter panfish success. A final suggestion involves actual jig selection. While lots of good panfish jigs are available, I now believe that tungsten jigs do offer fish-catching advantages. First, tungsten is denser than lead, so a tungsten jig of a certain weight is smaller in profile than a similarly-weighted lead jig. This size difference will mean more bites when fish are finicky and prefer smaller baits.
Not only that, but tungsten jigs drop quickly, meaning I can quickly get my jig back down to a school of biting fish when one has just been caught. Last winter, schools of a half-dozen or so big bluegill would often show up on a couple of my favorite lakes. Being able to hook, land, and get my jig quickly back to the level at which the fish were holding before they left was important.
I relied on Mooska Tungsten Jigs to put lots of bluegill and crappie on the ice last winter. This year, the new Tungsten Fire-Ball UV Jigs with their glow-in-the-dark UV color patterns will find places in my tackle box as well. Glow patterns are often productive winter panfish patterns, especially when fishing deep water or late in the day when the winter bite often peaks.
Finding the peak bite is the goal of most winter anglers. Chasing panfish like bluegill and crappie is one good way to accomplish that goal and so is using some of the suggestions offered above regarding finding and catching these scrappy fighters. As always, good luck on the ice!
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