Early Ice Season Panfish Breakdown
By Scott Olson | December 21, 2022
My name is Scott Olson. I’m a resident of the Black Hills in South Dakota and have been on the ice since I can remember. Ice fishing is what I live for in the outdoors and each year, I enjoy it more and get out more. I also enjoy educating others through public seminars or in-store events on ways to catch fish, be more efficient and comfortable on the ice, as well as volunteering for ice trips with veteran’s groups and active servicemen/women on our air base here to spread the joy of ice fishing to them as well as show them a way for me to thank them for their service, whether past or present.
With most of the Ice Belt areas of the country literally on the ice now, let’s go over the targeting of the type of fish a majority of ice fishermen and women target on early ice—bluegills, crappie, and perch, the panfish species! By the time of first, many panfish have returned to the shallow areas on the lakes around us. Baitfish, young of the year fry, aquatic insects, and other forage are clinging to the green weeds, ample cover and oxygen, and sunlight that can get through these areas easily. As long as the sunlight can penetrate the ice on top and snow remains scattered, these weedy areas will hold the forage and the fish that eat it through the early months of the hardwater season. Scouting for locations like these in the late fall can pay dividends on the early, but honestly, we don’t always have the time to do this kind of activity. We know places that have traditionally held panfish in the past and while the saying goes “don’t fish memories”, those locations can still hold fish if you didn’t do much homework leading up to first ice. On most lakes, if you can find the weeds, you’ll find the panfish.
Once you’ve got that spot picked out for the early ice trips, you need to make sure your ready to go. This includes ensuring you have all the proper safety gear and that your fishing gear itself is ready, spooled up, and species and technique appropriate. You’re more than likely not bringing ¼ spoons with you going after pannies after all and this is especially true when looking what reels to use as they are the most direct connection between you and the fish. As a true believer and user of Piscifun’s lineup of ice reels, I always 3 reels ready to go when pannies are the goal.
First, there’s always a rod fitted with the ICX-5 spinning reel and 3# or 4# monofilament line on it. I will typically use this reel and rod setup for jigging small spoons or glide baits for a more aggressive presentation. These reels are hardcore and do not freeze up, even under the worst conditions that I’ve put them through. The drag is super smooth and its folding handle makes it so much easier to store them in rod cases.
Next, I’ll have the ICX Carbon inline reel ready to go with 3# fluorocarbon line, tipped with a 4mm tungsten jig and plastic. The reel is super smooth and line comes off almost effortlessly with any size lure. This setup is my most commonly used one due to using jigs most of the time for regular or low pressure days.
But for those heavily pressured fish locations or high barometric pressure days when the fish are being super finicky, I always have an ultralight spring bobber rod armed with the ICX Precision inline reel at the ready. This super compact reel excels as a highly controllable, light line reel for those days. With 2# fluorocarbon line spooled on it, this reel sees 2.5mm and 3mm tungsten jigs on its line, usually in a vertical presentation, which I find works best on those hard bite days. Both of these reels have carbon fiber drag systems, easy to use triggers for lure descent control, and keep working even with snow and slush in them.
The early ice time is and can be some of the best fishing of the year. The fish are packing on the food in preparation for the leaner months to come when the ice gets thicker and lack of sunlight kills off the shallow water plants and sends the fish out deeper. It’s a great time to get on the water and try out some new tactics while the fish are hungry, but always keep safety in mind and make sure you’re tailoring your gear towards the fish. Appropriate tackle, rods, and reels can help you to catch more fish and making sure the gear will work regardless of the conditions is also something to look at. My Piscifun ice reels haven’t let me down yet and have reeled in large amounts of fish since I started using them several years ago. I don’t see that changing. So try out the first ice bites this season, stay safe, and keep those pannies coming topside!