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Pete's Corner


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With boats in the northern climes all tucked away, thoughts quickly shift to ice fishing. In recent years, my target species have shifted more and more away from larger game fish like walleye, lake trout, or whitefish and I've admittedly become somewhat of a panfish addict during the winter months! I still make time to fit in a few sessions chasing bigger fish for sure, but the steady action from perch, bluegill, and crappie you so often experience hooked me instantly. I don't know if I have a bad dose of OFCD (Obsessive Fishing Compulsive Disorder - the need to catch fish) or what; but I assure you, once you get them dialed in, panfish more often than not will keep you busy all day. I think for a lot of people steady action, and catching a bunch of fish takes prescience over catching a few regardless of size. For me at least, chasing down those bigger true TROPHY panfish is just as challenging as hunting for bass over 7lbs or a giant Pike or Musky!

Panfish are relatively far more abundant in most waters than larger game fish, which to some degree makes them a little easier to find just due to their sheer numbers. Productive locations vary from lake to lake and the particular species you're after. For example; massive schools of perch graze over both shallow and deep flats with little regard or need for any structural breaklines or cover elements. yellow perch often settle into an area for a few days at a time until they seemingly have exhausted the area out of food items and collectively move on. There are two main location principals when focussing on bluegill and crappies; one being to target shallow weedy flats or weedlines, or fishing isolated deeper basin areas or holes. On some lakes, you can definitely find both locations to hold fish, while on some other waterbodies they show a definite preference for deeper basin areas. Interestingly, on many fisheries the night bite is where it's at when it comes to Crappies as well.

No matter where you fish, having a regular sonar or flasher unit is an incredible time saver when searching for fish. We'll often drill a hole, scan with our electronics while fishing for only 5-10 minutes and if we don't see any activity we move on allowing us to cover so much more water and eliminating any guess-work. when it comes to "catching" panfish, especially bluegill and Crappie - electronics are possibly more critical to maximizing the number of fish you'll catch than any other species during the hard-water season. We'll take a closer look at and discuss this in far more detail in upcoming blogs.

One of greatest things I especially appreciate about panners through the ice is their willingness to regularly eat artificial baits. Not that live or preserved bait doesn't work, but the overall simplicity of using soft plastics wins me over every time; no bait containers or storage considerations to worry about or the constant re-baiting of your hook! With a pocket full of soft plastics in a few different shapes. sizes, and colours paired with a handful of small "jiglets" is really all you need. It boils down to more time spent fishing and less time re-rigging which in the end means more bites and fish coming up through your hole!

Anglers Choice offers two absolutely dynamite soft plastics; the Wiggle Fry in two sizes, and the larger profile Crappie Fry. Both baits are salt impregnated and scent infused, and these baits are all UV ACTIVATED. They all taper down to an extremely fine and surprisingly durable tail. It's the super-high quality plastic of these baits that separates them from the pack. Even at rest, that diminutive tail section quivers and for discerning panners. Bluegill and crappie in particular can be picky eaters sometimes - that subtly quiver is exactly what is required to change "lookers" into "biters". The tail itself has more of a flattened out design which really helps stabilize the bait in the water. Depending on rigging method and the head you use, the special tail design really opens up a lot of different actions that you can impart by varying your rod movements. When fish are aggressive and willing to "chase" a bait, I lean toward the larger Crappy Fry which on a lighter horizontal jighead offers more of a gliding action and really gets fish's attention. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when fish are lethargic and "turned off" I'll downsize to the Wiggle Fry on a vertical jighead and impart only the subtlest of jiggling motions barely moving the rod tip 1/2 inch at the most.

Armed with a selection of the baits described above; what separates good ice anglers from great ice anglers is the attention to details and subtle differences in presentation. There can be a big difference using line between 4-6lb test and lighter 2-3lb test, and presenting soft plastics on vertical "tear drop" style jigs (jig eye is in-line with hook point) vs. more traditional horizontal jigs (those with a 60 or 90 degree line-tie). Even the smallest adjustments to presentations can often make the biggest difference. Just how fast and how far you raise your rod-tip or the frequency that you jiggle your bait in place, the length of pauses all play a part in icing winter panfish. The bite typically changes throughout the day and adjusting your presentation is what this game is all about. 

Throughout the season we'll provide more detailed articles featuring tips and tricks on how you can take advantage of the Anglers Choice soft plastics throughout the year; until then, tightest of lines and good fishing!