Ice Fishing Crappies & Gills
If you are going to go out ice fishing crappies and gills you owe it to yourself to read through this strategic article with powerful information by
by Matt Johnson
We once believed that the best kept secrets for targeting winter panfish were shared at local bait shops, church meeting rooms, neighborhood coffee shops; basically those unknown locations where old-timers spend most of their time spewing the tricks of the trade. On the contrary, the modern age has drastically helped define the new set of secret shared by panfish enthusiasts when ice fishing crappies. Now, don’t go home and tell grandpa that I’m saying he can’t fish, instead just think of this article as the second chapter in the great book of panfish secrets.
#1: Stay Mobile – Portables, Augers and GPS
Yes, it might not be a secret to most, but it still seems to be the Achilles heel for most ice anglers. We sit way too long. The reason this is listed as number one on my list is because most days all it takes is a small move to put you on fish when ice fishing crappies & gills. Use the tools you have. Clam Outdoors offers a line of Fish Traps that come with built-in sleds designed to be pulled, why not put them to use. Augers are becoming more and more efficient and user-friendly, why not burn some gas or run some batteries. GPS units are readily available at most tackle shops and they are more affordable than ever, why not plan your next move and take the initiative. The secret has been out for a while, now it’s just time to take action.
#2: Location, Location, Location
This one can rival the number one spot. Locating our target is usually half the battle. We constantly tell ourselves that only if we could find fish would we then be able to make them bite. While sometimes true, the fact still stands that if you can’t find fish then you won’t catch anything. Understanding panfish movements is the name of the game. When ice fishing crappies & gills knowing that panfish will hold onto green weeds at early is a good starting point. Knowing that panfish will use main lake basins much like grazing cattle can put fish on the ice during midwinter. Knowing that panfish will once again relocate in the shallows at late ice will help take away the guesswork of March fishing. These are simple ways of increasing your odds at catching fish. Understanding the structure in the lake and then adding that information into the seasonal equation will equal rewards.
#3: Proper Gear Choice – Rod, Reels and Line
It’s still amazing how many anglers still fish in the Stone Age when it comes to gear. Too heavy of rods and line is one of the most common mistakes made when targeting winter panfish. Having the ability to feel and/or see the bite is crucial. Pool cue style rods are a thing of the past. The modern technology of spring bobbers and quick-tip rods are worth their weight in gold. Changing the rod is only step one, selecting the proper reel and line is the other half of the battle. If you are going ice fishing crappies & gills, thin diameter lines are important when going after those finicky panfish. Thicker lines only hinder the movement of the jig and also allow the fish to notice the unnatural appeal of what we throw in their face. We have three, two and even one-pound test lines available from all of the popular ice fishing line companies, you need to use them. Matching the proper rod, reel and line will make a difference and can oftentimes be one of the easiest changes to make.
#4: Fish High Percentage Lakes
This means fish lakes where you know good numbers of panfish exist. This can imply lakes with both quantity and quality. If numbers are what you’re looking for, then don’t fish a lake with a small population of crappies. If size is what you’re looking for, then don’t fish a lake with stunted bluegills. Pay attention to the DNR programs and websites for ice fishing crappies & gills. Talk with friends and locals about fish populations. No sense in going after a monster sunfish in a lake that has nothing but dinks. All you’re doing at that point is shooting yourself in the foot. This all goes back to doing your homework before hitting the ice. It will help you in both the success category as well as save on frustration and build confidence.
#5: Trust in your Flasher
We all like to bring friends on the ice, for ice fishing crappies & gills, none as important as our Vexilar. When trained properly, we can pick up even the slightest movements made by fish when looking at our flasher. Paying close attention to detail and understanding how specifics movements dictate the choices we make in jigging sequences and presentation options. As die hard panfish anglers, we need to focus on the little things that make a difference. Having the ability to shoot through shallow weeds to see our jig. Being able to cut down the amount of power needed to see our presentation. Watching one side of the red line (depicting a fish) moving giving off the feeling that something good is about to happen. These are all things we can train ourselves to see. We’ve picked our friends wisely, now it’s time to trust them.
#6: Learn to Use Finesse Tactics
It’s no secret but once again we find ourselves shying away from extreme finesse approaches. No longer can you use the excuse, “it takes too long for the jig to get down there.” Instead we need to tell ourselves that those moments of frustration make all the difference in the world. The term “finicky” is being used more and more every winter. If you are ice fishing crappies & gills get used to it. When situations turn finicky we need to oftentimes switch to finesse tactics. Downsizing to a smaller jig is the most common form. Tying on something out of your fly box is another important move. Figuring out ways to spoon-feed these fish into thinking that they’re eating zooplankton is the name-of-the-game. This technique might come with a price (mentally of course) but the rewards are great.
#7: Artificial Presentations
Ah yes, the mighty plastic. Nothing more stands out in my mind as being the most popular trend in ice fishing. Everyone is flocking to them and for good reason—they catch fish! Teaching yourself to become a plastic ice angler can and will increase your overall productivity. We have the ability to really play the whole color spectrum and size chart. We can also incorporate drastic changes in scent and texture. But one of the biggest attributes when ice fishing crappies & gills is the fact that we fully control the movement of the presentation. What the fish devoured happened because of what we just did to it. The ability to include aggressive and negative techniques without changing your presentation is now made simple. Finesse tails dance like luring appetizers that no panfish can pass up. Artificials are here to stay!
#8: Upsizing is your Friend
On the flip-side of the whole finesse aspect, we have the much underused concept of upsizing. We are quick to downsize but are oftentimes reluctant to upsize. However, I would go as far to say that it’s a fifty-fifty split on importance when triggering ice fishing crappies & gills into biting. Upsizing is typically done to match the forage, but it still gets passed up more often than not. Go into the garage and grab your open water panfish tackle box and throw it in the portable fish house. Break out the tubes, plastic grubs, hair jigs; basically all the go-to presentations we use during the open water months. They will work under the ice and the results can be amazing!
#9: Think Natural – Color Choices
We are overrun with bright and flashy colors. Chartreuse, hot pink, ten different shades of glow; colors that sometimes catch more fishermen than fish. It’s time to start thinking natural. Grab the browns, purples, blacks, blood reds… the colors that actually imitate forage in the wild. I promise you, fish will still notice your offering is there if you use natural colors. In fact, you might even see that fish are less skittish and more willing to devour whatever you throw in front of them. I’m not saying to leave the gaudy colors at home, but rather bring out your “earthy” side and see what happens.
#10: Don’t Give Up!
We will have bad days, keep pushing forward. Use what you learn from every fishing trip. No matter the outcome of a trip there is always something positive that comes from it. When something doesn’t seem to be working, try something else. Don’t get stuck in a rut and remember there is always another step that can be taken. Change colors, change sizes, change action, do something different. Oftentimes we tend to sit and stare when nothing seems to be working. Biggest rule here: if something isn’t working, change it!
These Top 10 Secrets are in no way the only list out there, they are just ways in which I try to focus on when looking to ice more panfish. Don’t be afraid to add more numbers to this list or take certain ones out. Either way, figure out a method that works the best for you and put it into action!
Matt Johnson owns and operates Matt Johnson Outdoors (www.mattjohnsonoutdoors.com) where he enjoys taking people on guided ice fishing trips and providing information about his favorite sport—fishing!
***You can contact Matt at [email protected]