From the December 2012 issue

Hole Hopping For Panfish

By Jerry Carlson

Whether I am working bluegill on a flat or crappie in a deep basin, I am not the type of person that likes to set up a house and wait for the fish to come to me. On the contrary, I am going to go to the fish.
    I spend a considerable amount of time on the ice each winter and have learned some valuable lessons about the catching aspect of fishing. Simply put, you can’t catch fish that are not there.
    This fact is neither rocket science nor a new concept. Naturally, I get confused when I see anglers pull up to a fishing area, drill a couple of holes, and then sit on that one spot without looking first to see if there are fish in the area or to even check the depth.
    Without question, there are days when this approach works. A person could hit the right spot or be working a low light bite that brings fish through an area like clockwork. However, too many times that is not the case.
    Here is an example. Earlier this winter, we had a mixed bag of panfish roaming a very large flat. The fish were nice and worth catching, but were loosely scattered across the flat. Each trip out, we had to look to find them.
    People thought we were crazy when we would show up and drill two-dozen holes before we even dropped a line. Of these two-dozen holes, we would find fish in only a few of them. The rest of the holes would have no sign of life or only sniffers.
    Once we burned through this set of holes, we would start up the StrikeMasters and drill another 20. This was definitely a bit of work, but other anglers were always surprised when they would see how many fish we were catching.
    The same concept is true for crappie in a deep basin. Because these fish like to roam throughout the basin, I often do a lot of looking before I even start drilling.
    The looking is simple. I pour a little water on a smooth patch of ice and shoot through the ice with my Vexilar. With this process, I can easily see suspended crappie. I don’t start drilling holes until I find a general area that holds fish. If I don’t find fish, I don’t stay.
    The tools for hole hopping panfish are very basic. A person needs good electronics and an auger that will cut through ice like butter. Having a rod rigged with light line is essential. I like two- and three-pound-test Berkley Micro Ice or the new Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon. And yes, light line does make a difference.
    I am a huge fan of glow red lures. My favorites are a No.10 Bro Bug or Hexi-Fly in a Fire Ant glow pattern. I tip these lures with four or five Euro larvae.
    It is important to note that deep basin fish are usually suspended and will show up as marks off of the bottom. Panfish on a shallow flat usually are close to the bottom, so it may be necessary to drop a jig down each hole to really see what is there.
    Hole hopping is not a new concept. It is a proven method of locating and catching panfish, or even walleye for that matter. It is a philosophy of looking for active fish instead of waiting for the fish to come to you.

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