The weather is warming, the ice on lakes and ponds is starting to go out: Ice-fishing is over for the season. That means that it won't be long until the panfish start moving toward the shallows.
Crappies and bluegills will soon be willing to bite an angler's lure. Chasing panfish is a great way to kick off a fishing season.
It's fun to get back on open water, panfish are often willing biters, and they're great on the table. Here's how you can get in on the action.
First thing: Although panfish make a great meal, it is important that we don't take too many. They can be very susceptible to anglers early in the season and the opportunity to load up on them might be tempting. In some areas panfish populations are down, as is the size of the panfish.
This is due to overharvest. Keep a couple to eat right away, but put the rest back. Taking pails of big panfish home is a bad policy.
A productive and pleasant way to catch early season panfish involves suspending a tiny jig below a bobber. I really enjoy fishing with a bobber. It's fun to watch it twitch a couple times then slowly glide beneath the water.
But as much fun as it is watching a bobber, it's also probably the most productive way to fish a bait this time of year. A bobber allows you to suspend a bait right in the fish's face.
Early in the season the water is still cool, and the fish's metabolism is slow. They want their meals moving slowly, and suspending a bait below a bobber is the best way to do so.
Slip-bobbers are the best type of bobber to use. They slide on your line, so they cast easily. Remember to set the bobber-stop so the bait will be a little above where you expect the fish to be. You want your bait above the panfish, not below them. Fish will move up for a meal, but generally not down.
Tie on a tiny jig and put a splitshot a foot or so above it. It's usually better to use a small jig and a splitshot than to go with a larger jig and no splitshot, especially for 'gills. If crappies are the main target, you can go with a sixteenth ounce jig.
More and more, we're using ice-fishing jigs for panfish. Bro's Bloodworms and Slug Bugs are outstanding. Also try a Bro's Gill-Getter with a Gulp! Maggot.
Some very successful anglers prefer a darker color because dark colors resemble the bugs that are hatching early in the season.
Four pound test Trilene XL or Sensation is probably about as big as you'll want to go. Line that's much heavier will be hard to cast with the small baits. Also, since we're moving the baits slowly, a lighter line will prevent spooking the panfish.
If this panfish action hasn't started where you live yet, it will soon. Check out the canals and bays on your favorite pond or lake.
If there are panfish there, you're going to catch them.