Throughout many of the states located in the Ice Belt, ice fishing series targeting Panfish have been taking off. To name a few of the series – the North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC), Team Extreme and the Ultimate Panfish League. They each have their own set of rules & regulations, as well as sponsors and payouts. This season upon my move back to the Midwest I decided to try my hand at competitive ice fishing and joined the Ultimate Panfish League.
The Ultimate Panfish League event on Medicine Lake, MN is in the books. It was the coldest event of the year so far but the teams battled through it and brought in some decent weight to the scales. Medicine is a new lake which was voted in this year and many of the teams were unfamiliar with it when it came to ice fishing. Me and my partner, Ryan, had a free day the weekend before and decided to go and pre-fish the lake since neither of us had iced it before. This was not so much to pattern the fish but more so to learn the lake, eliminate many areas and scout out a bunch of spots to check the day before the event.
Pre-fishing is a weird concept. An ideal day of pre-fishing is to find as many spots that are holding quality fish as you can. That is usually easier said than done. I usually wind up fishing a lake once or maybe twice before a tournament. If you fish too far in advance of tournament day, you run the risk of those fish moving or the bite changing altogether. However, most anglers don’t have the luxury of being able to fish everyday so you have to make the most of your time when you’re on the water. I always feel rushed by the clock during pre-fishing which is probably a good thing – you want to cover and fish the most amount of water that you possibly can. Once you find the fish and quality that you’re looking for, you want to drop a GPS Waypoint and move on! This can be the single hardest thing to do though – actually pulling yourself away from quality fish. You run around all day looking for good quality fish and then when you find them, you move? It sounds crazy but you leave those fish for two reasons: to find other quality fish holding spots and to not put any more pressure on those fish. Come tournament day you will want to have a minimum of 5 spots that you know you can go to and catch quality fish – should you need to.
During our pre-fishing of Medicine Lake we found quite a few areas that were holding quality Bluegill. We found out that the Crappies were very abundant in this lake but the majority of them seemed to be right around or smaller than the minimum size allowed (8 inches). We had no problem finding schools of Crappies but it seemed like we had to weed through 10-15 fish to get 1 keeper.
Lining up for takeoff on tournament day we were confident that we would catch the Bluegills needed to secure a Top 3 finish but we were less confident in catching a limit of sizeable Crappies. We were in the last takeoff group and knew that we would be sharing several of our Crappie spots with other teams so we decided to focus on Bluegills early and Crappies after. We had our go-to Gill spot all to ourselves as it received zero pressure from locals or UPL teams. After an hour we had our Gills and went in search of keeper Crappies. This proved to be a tougher challenge than on our 2 pre-fishing days, we got our limit but there wasn’t much size to them. We must have caught 100 Crappies but the upgrades came few and far between.
We wound up bringing to the scales 8 Bluegills and 7 Crappies which weighed in at 5.835lbs which secured a 6th place finish out of 30 teams (see Full Results HERE). The top weight for the tournament was 6.26lbs and the Big Fish was a Crappie weighing 0.725lbs. With one UPL event to go we currently sit in a tie for 5th place in the Team of the Year race. It has been a fun rookie season in the Ultimate Panfish League where I’ve met some great people, fished some new bodies of water and learned a ton when it comes to targeting panfish. I would recommend a tournament series like this to all hardcore ice anglers out there that are on the fence about fishing tournaments or not.