Ice-Out Panfish

April 7, 2014 by  

by Bob Jensen


Most of the ponds and many of the small lakes across the Midwest are either free of ice or will be soon.  For those of us that are looking forward to getting back to open-water fishing, that means it’s time to get the panfish gear together.  In some places we fish panfish because walleye, bass, and pike seasons aren’t open, but in many other places we get after panfish because they’re fun to catch and a great way to kick off the fishing season.  If you would like to feel a tug on your line and catch a couple fish for the table, following are some ideas.

There are a couple of ways we can approach this panfish thing right after ice-out:  We can cast a small jig to different types of cover and retrieve it slowly, or we can rig that jig below a slip-bobber and fish it very slowly.  The mood of the fish will determine the best presentation, and we can only determine the mood of the fish by experimenting a little.

Ice Out Panfish

Catching some crappies on a warm spring day is a great way to start the open-water fishing season

Many successful panfish anglers will start with a small jig and a casting presentation.  The specie of panfish you’re after will determine jig size.  If you’re after crappies start with something like a sixteenth ounce Fire-fly or Gypsi jig.  Crappies have a larger mouth than most panfish, so they can handle larger baits.  Start off casting these jigs tipped with a small minnow or piece of plastic, something like an Impulse one inch Tube, to deeper cover such as docks, brushpiles, boat lifts, or anything else that can provide cover.  As the fish get more active they will move closer to shore.  Look for cover in warmer water for the most active fish.

If the crappies don’t respond very well to this presentation, and you believe that there are some in the areas you’re fishing, rig up a slip-bobber and slow down.  Slip-bobbers are great tools for suspending a bait right in a fish’s face.  Not very many fish, crappies or otherwise, can resist a small minnow wiggling on a jig right in front of them.

Bluegills and sunfish and the like have smaller mouths and generally prefer smaller baits.  Maybe start with something in the one-thirty second ounce size, but don’t hesitate to go smaller.  A Bro’s Slug Bug is a jig that was designed for ice-fishing, but it’s also a great panfish bait in open water.  With these smaller baits, it is usually necessary to cast them with a slip-bobber and small split-shot.  Adjust the bobber depth so your bait is just above where you think the fish will be holding.

As always, experiment with lure color.  Some very successful panfish anglers like black in the spring because there are a lot of bugs hatching and most of them are black.  It’s the old “match-the-hatch” theory.  However, I’ve caught lots of panfish on very bright colors.

Also experiment with how you work that jig, especially under a bobber.  Sometimes some sharp snaps followed by no action will get the fish to eat, other times it’s best to just let the minnow provide the action.  Let the fish show you what they want.

After a long winter, many of us are really anxious to get on the water again, and panfish are a great way to start off the open-water season.  Keep a couple but put most of them back and we’ll be able to enjoy this action for a long time.

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