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Flat Out Winter Panfish
By Ron Anlauf
Ice anglers who enjoy catching it all have a lot more fun, plain and simple. They have more options for one thing, and they can stretch out a season right to the bitter end for another. Getting hung up on one species really limits where you can go and what you can do and your timing has to be precise. The multi-specie angler on the other hand can almost always find something to fish for, and can take advantage of the good peaks that happen every hard water season.
One of the better patterns to set up is deep water panfish and if you’re interested; your timing couldn’t be better. Right now is when you can typically find bluegill and crappie action in deeper basin areas where they are easy to find and easy enough to catch. That doesn’t mean the deepest water in the lake though (which can vary from lake to lake) and it’s difficult to put a finger on it but the twenty to thirty feet range would be a good place to start looking. Deeper flats near shallower weed beds are what we’re really talking about and it could be in the center of a bay off of a bigger lake or the main lake basin of a smaller one. A good map can get you pointed in the right direction. A great map like a Navionics Hotmap loaded into a G.P.S like the Humminbird 97 Matrix mounted on the dash of my sled can get you to an exact spot and save valuable fishing time. Instead of looking and wondering where you are you can see your precise location on the plotter and see it in relation to breaks, dropoffs, flats, etc.
The toughest piece of the panfish puzzle to place is location, and it will probably take some legwork to get it done. That is unless you get a hot tip, or you know where they’ve historically showed up this time of the year. Even if you get the info or know where fish have been found in the past; it wouldn’t hurt to do some digging on your own and see if you can find your own pile of panfish to pick on. You can deal with the pressure and still get your share, but if you’re able to find your own hotspot you can have it all to yourself and be able to enjoy the satisfaction of doing it on your own. Doing it on your own means going where no man has gone before and drilling plenty of holes that don’t produce. That’s the price you’ll probably have to pay but its part of the challenge, and part of the fun.
Once you’ve found an area that you want to check out the next move is to drill some holes, and is where a gas powered auger can be invaluable. Mid to late winter can mean extra thick layers of ice and you really can’t cover enough ground without it. With a super fast super sharp auger like the Eskimo Z51 Shark with an eight inch auger you can punch out a bunch of holes in a matter of minutes which will allow you more time to spend trying to get your share of the panfish pie. After you’ve turned an area to Swiss cheese you can finally get down to business and see if you’ve made the right move. It’s also a good idea to use a bait that has plenty of universal panfish appeal, and can attract bluegills as well as crappies. One of your best bets is a tiny jig like the #10 Northland Tackle Fire-Eye Grub tipped with a maggie, mousie, or eurolarvae, at least to start with. The Fire-Eye has an ultra fine and super sharp hook that makes it much easier to hook on soft squishy maggots without tearing them apart. If you find ‘gills you’ll probably want to stay with the bugs, but if you’re running into an occasional crappie you better have some small minnows along. Crappies will hit the jig and bug combo but small minnows can mean more slabs. You can still use the jig, but you might have to go a little bigger and heavier to be able to get the minnow down in deeper water.

The author went out on his own for this big late winter slab

Light line and softer action rods like Northland’s new 24” ultra light Gold Series rod and reel combination loaded with two pound test Berkley XL will allow you to work light baits in deeper water and do it without adding a weight. If you need more weight go with a heavier jig. You can even drop down to one pound test but you really have to be careful or you’re going to break off bigger fish.
With the jig and maggot you can drop it down and know soon if enough if there are any fish around because they will at least come in for a look. If you’re watching your bait on a depthfinder like the Marcum LX-5 you’ll see the action or lack thereof and whether you should stay put or move on. No fish means no fish and if you’ve given a hole more than ten or twenty minutes you’re probably wasting your time. Once you’ve found some fish and have caught a few it would be a good idea to drill extra holes in varying directions in case the pod of fish you’re working moves, and chances are they will.
They might move ten yards this way or twenty yards that way and probably back again. With an underwater camera like the new Marcum VS 820 which has an LCD flat screen display that you can see in broad daylight you’ll notice how panfish seem to be constantly on the move. For them it’s a way of life. For you it means micro moves when needed. You could sit and wait and see if they come back but you’ll put more of them on the ice if you can try and stay with them. See you on the ice.

Ron Anlauf

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