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Pete's Corner

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Thanks to some prolonged December temperatures dipping well below average the ice conditions this year look to be as good or better than they have been in years across the ice belt. As ice conditions continue to improve, it's noteworthy to offer a reminder of "safety first" anytime you take to the ice - especially early and late in the season.

We're truly fortunate to have such wide variety of species to choose from in Ontario; whether it's walleye, lake trout, whitefish, pike, or perch. Ontario boasts some of the best ice fishing opportunities in the world.

In recent years I have focussed more and more on bluegill and crappies during the winter, and find more and more anglers each season sharing the same affinity for them. Good friend and seasoned panfish ice-expert, Joe Dirocco, admits bluegill and crappie dominate his winter fishing and when asked about replied, "I love the feeling that I get (catching tons of fish in a day), there's nothing like it. The action is ten times greater through the ice than in open water. The action is non-stop!" Like any hard core angler the game is not just about sheer numbers though, for a lot of panfish guru's it's the pursuit of a true giants just like any other species of fish. Joe and I have been fortunate to dupe some massive gillers, and big crappies topping 15, 16 and even hitting the 18" mark.

We have long managed our harvest, keeping a few smaller pannies for the table and letting larger fish go. A lot of people don't realize just how long it takes to grow massive panfish. Crappies and bluegill reproduce quite well and definitely grow quickly for their first few years; but that pace slows dramatically when they reach maturity. Joe agrees, "it's important to fish responsibly no matter what species you're after, you've got to let the big ones go to have a shot at having healthy fish populations".

Anglers Choice panfish baits are quickly catching the attention of pan fisherman in both Canada and the US. Joe suggests, "it's the quality that sets them apart; the soft plastic they us is second to none and have given me the edge over other guys fishing nearby keeping my rod bent and satisfying my need for constant action. The colours are incredible and most importantly, once a fish clamps on - they just don't let go!" The soft plastic Angler Choice uses in the wiggler lineup produces an enticing 'tail-quiver' action and both Wiggle Fry and Crappie fry are impregnated with both salt, and scent, and all AC panfish bait colours are also complimented with a UV additive. The Wiggle and Crappie Fry both have their time and place; when a smaller more subtle presentation is needed, the more diminutive Wiggle Fry is what I reach for. When I asked Joe about the two profiles, "I can't really say I have a preference. They both shimmy well, and I've had great days using both; but, If I had to make a choice - the Crappy fry are absolute killers for both bluegill and crappie." I totally agree; when fish are active the bigger Crappie Fry are simply easier for them to see and aggressive fish often charge them at first glance. Eventually though we've all seen activity levels on a given spot die down; at these times its the wiggle fry that often turns "lookers" into "biters".

Aside from being armed with a good selection of soft plastics, Joe quickly points out that using super light line and the type of jig you use can significantly make or break you on the ice. "When it comes to presentation I personally believe that super light line (2-4lb test) will dramatically improve your success on the ice, and the choice of jighead can be crucial" Joe says.

A standard jighead (with a 90-degree line tie) ranging between 1/32 and 1/64oz. with a #6 or #8 hook is a great place to start. I'll typically mix and match my colour selections which often are at extreme contrast to the plastic bait I choose (ie: bright orange head/northern lights.In recent years the advent of tungsten now allows anglers to use a heavier head in a smaller size that better matches even the smallest size Wiggle Fry 1.1.

One key presentation nugget that a lot of people miss is the notable difference between using a horizontal/90-degree jig vs. a vertical (in-line line-tie) or a line tie coming out of the jig head at a 60-degree angle. The different angles that the hook at rest all change the profile of the lure from a fish's perspective hovering underneath. A good way to visualise it is: the more close to vertical your jig is at rest, the smaller your bait appears from underneath. This influence can often be the biggest triggering difference between staring at fish on your graph all day that seemingly won't bite or actually getting them to commit and catching a bunch of them. Fish activity levels routinely shift, and to catch fish consistently having a variety of different jigheads can make you or break you through the course of a fishing day.

In our next panfish on ice piece, we'll look a little closer at precise presentation cadences and reading your electronics to judge fish activity and bait selection.