Duane Peterson had to slow his jigging action down to get this slab crappie to bite.

It’s fun to catch fish through the ice, and it’s also really fun to eat some of those fish.  When some anglers get a desire for a fresh fish meal in the winter months, they go after panfish.   Here’s why and how.

Why go after panfish when you want a fish supper?  In most areas of the Midwest, panfish are pretty abundant:  You can usually catch enough for supper.  However, it’s important that we don’t take too many.  Panfish populations are fragile, and if we just take and take and take, it won’t be long before it will be harder to catch enough panfish for the table.  In fact, there are already some areas where the panfish, especially the big ones, have been beat up pretty good.

Now the how.  Panfish can be very aggressive biters, or they can be very finicky.  If they’re aggressive, they’ll probably be pretty easy to catch.  But when they get selective, you’re going to have to do things a certain way if you want them to eat your bait, and that certain way is their way.  It will rarely be the same way two times in a row.  You’re going to have to alter your presentation to match the way the fish want it.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

Bluegills and sunfish and the like have a very small mouth.  Usually a small bait will be best, and when they’re finicky, a smaller bait will be even better.  If they were eating a 1/32nd ounce bait and quit, go to a 1/64th ounce jig.  You’ll probably get a few more to bite.

If crappies are the quarry, you can use a bigger bait, as crappies have large mouths.  However, if they get choosy, don’t hesitate to drop down in size.

A horizontal riding jig is often preferred for panfish.  Something like Northland’s Gill-Getter jig will be preferred.  Be sure to tie these horizontal jigs onto your line so the line comes directly off the top of the jig.  If you tie it to the front or back of the jig, it won’t sit perfectly horizontal in the water.  Sometimes a little tilt to your bait is good, but most of the time horizontal is best.

When the fish are exceptionally spooky, invisible line is a big help.  I was recently introduced to P-Line Floroice.  This stuff is about as invisible as line gets.  Usually three or four pound test will do a good job, but there are times when two pound line will put more fish on the ice.

You would think that a live bait on your jig would be best when the action is slow, but in the past few years it has become apparent that sometimes, maybe much of the time, a plastic is better.  A tiny Impulse Blood Worm or Slug Bug has no motion by itself, and sometimes that lack of motion is what the panfish really go for.  These baits have scent, lots of it, and when they are sitting motionless in front of a finicky fish, sometimes the fish just can’t help but eat it.  At times they’ll look at the bait fifteen or twenty seconds before inhaling it.

Catching panfish through the ice is a great way to spend an afternoon.  If you keep the above ideas in mind, you’ll find out how much fun it can be.

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By Bob Jensen

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