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Those First Ice-out Panfish
by Wayne Ek

Wayne Ek Crappie It feels rather strange to sit down and start on an article about early season pan fishing when I can look out the window and see ice on the lake. However, any day now I believe we will be fishing soft water here in central Minnesota. My journal shows that I have been able to find productive open water every year since 2001 before the beginning of April.

The first open water in the area will be small rivers, creeks or agricultural drainages. There are a couple of areas I like to look for. The first and most obvious is a flowage entering into a lake. A second and usually better area is when a road runs alongside the lakeshore and the flowage is forced under the road via a culvert. The water backs up on the up streamside of the road, and usually warms up quicker. This provides two opportunities, the backed up pool and the flowage pool at the lake. Up here we call this “ culvert jumping”. You don’t need a boat to fish these locations, this is strictly shore fishing. At times there has still been ice on the lake I was fishing, and I was fishing the open water pool created by these flowages.

These open areas are usually small, so long casts are not a requirement. Normally I like to use noodle rods in the 9 to 10 foot range for ice-out panfish. But for this application a short rod is great. I like a Quantum Xtralite (XPS562UL) with the Quantum Kinetic spinning reel in size 10 (KT10PTi). An additional plus is that the size 10 Kinetic works great as an ice fishing reel also. The line I like to use for this type of fishing is a quality fluorocarbon or Sufix Elite, in 4-pound test.

The water you’re fishing will probably be off colored, not muddy, but darker than the lake water, as it is run-off water. I like small jigs in the 1/32 to 1/16 size, usually Flu-Flu jigs. I like green feathers and a white head. I’ve been tipping these jigs with Berkley Gulp, either the Maggots in white or Earthworms in natural. All of this set below a hollow foam float, with a split shot for additional weight.

Once the lakes are ice free, it’s time to drop the boat in, and start looking for some bull “gills” and crappies. Numerous articles have been written describing what type of water to target for early season panfish, and I’m sure it changes from region to region. Up here the dream location would look like this. A black bottom bay on a large lake, with a narrow opening which shelters it from the main lake basin. Ideally this bay will have water flowing into it with a section of the bay lined with cattails and oh ya, could we have it located on the north or northwest side of the lake. But any lake that has a decent panfish population and at least one of the above characteristics is worth taking a look at.

Earlier I mentioned noodle rods. This is the time to break them out. I like noodle rods for this early season fishing. The water is usually clear at this time of year, so the fish will be spooky when they move this shallow without the protection of submergent vegetation. Noodle rods allow you to make long casts with light line and small jigs. These rods act like a shock absorber if you happen to tangle with a larger fish and this time of year there is a good chance you will hook-up with some larger fish.

I like to use Quantum Affinity rods. If I was limited to just one rod for this type of fishing it would be a 10.6 foot Affinity (AFS106N) and a Quantum Kinetic size 30 (KT30PTi) spinning reel. Some people will say the size 30 is too large, but it handles 6-pound fluorocarbon much better than the size 10 or 20 reels. (This reel can also serve dual duty. I use the same reel on one of my dock rods when fishing bass. The wide spool on this reel allows you to skip under docks like nothing else does.) I like 6-pound fluorocarbon line for this type of fishing for a couple of reasons. It’s abrasion resistant, and in the lower pound tests it’s manageable on a spinning reel and has low-visibility in the water.

I use the same jigs and Gulp bait that was mentioned earlier. I rarely use live bait, as I’ve come to the conclusion that the Gulp bait works just as well if not better. I will replace the foam bobber with a weighted torpedo bobber to get additional distance on my casts. Last year I started using small tube jigs that are just large enough to allow me to push Gulp maggots up inside the tube body.

Try “culvert jumping” this spring. I think you will find it simple and fun fishing. Good luck and I hope to see you on the water…

You can reach Wayne Ek at Agape Fishing Guides,

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