How to Catch Panfish in Mid-Winter Doldrums
Scott Olson | 02/26/23
Introduction: Mid-Winter Doldrums in the Ice Belt
As most of the Ice Belt is hitting the middle of the ice season, we enter into what I like to call the “mid-winter doldrums.” During this time of the season, nearly all plants and weeds in shallower waters have died off and depleted the area of oxygen to keep fish and their prey there. Fish scatter and head out into deeper waters, looking for food and the higher oxygen concentrations further out in the lakes. Unfortunately, once this happens, it becomes very difficult to find fish as they are constantly on the move and are harder to pattern.
Why Mobility is Key in Finding Fish
For starters, staying in one place will probably not be an option. Movement and mobility are key when it comes to first finding these schools of fish, then trying to stay on top of them as they keep moving. Aiding in the need to be mobile, ice this time of year along the Ice Belt areas is usually at its thickest of the season, so moving around on ATVs, snowmobiles, or vehicles is much easier and safer.
Using Lake Maps and Sonar to Locate Fish
While thicker, though, it is important to remember that no ice is always safe, so be sure to check on the ice depth periodically. Many species of fish, like crappies and perch, will roam over the sandy basins in most bodies of water, following the migration of tiny invertebrates in the middle of the water column or roaming over the mud and sand constantly looking for tiny bloodworms or insects hiding on the bottom.
How does one look for these basins or find muddy flats that meet up with what little structure may be forty feet down or more? It is where having a lake map (digital or paper) and a good flasher or, if it can be afforded, forward-facing sonar becomes the difference between locating fish or going home empty-handed. Use lake maps to pinpoint areas where fish could be, such as a slight hump or depression, anything that could break up the flat terrain in a deep basin area. Drilling holes will be necessary unless you have a forward-facing sonar unit. Spot-check each hole for any marks. Tungsten jigs or spoons will get down fast and could hold the school’s attention longer. But as soon as the schools are gone, move on to the next hole.
Getting Fish to Bite: Importance of Presentation
Once you find some fish, then you have to be able to get them to bite. Your presentation is key in turning negative fish into biters. Here is where inline reels shine in the winter, as notoriously finicky panfish will not usually go after a lure that is spinning underwater in an unnatural way.
I have found that Piscifun's inline reels excel at helping to get these fish to bite. There is almost no spin on the lure since the line goes off and comes back on flat rather than being twisted onto a spool like on a spinning reel. The ICX Carbon and the new ICX Frost reels are great at getting the line off fast and getting the lure down to the fish. I'll even use them in deeper water to present the fish with a more natural look. But on those high-pressure, negative bite days, the ICX Precision shines. This compact little inline is the best reel for ultralight line, meaning 2# test or less, and tying on a 2.5mm jig with a waxy, red spike or a microplastic on the hook. The long handle allows great control of the descent, and the reel's size is very beneficial for cadence control over the jig. These features make it.
Finding and catching fish can be difficult and discouraging in the mid-winter doldrums from mid-January through February each winter. Fish are scattered and can be lethargic if you do find them. Your patience will be tested, but using your gear to your advantage is important. Choose the spot, then find the fish. Once you find them, do your best to follow them. You'll drill dozens or hundreds of holes during the time, but having a plan, good flasher, and quality gear, like any of Piscifun's inline reels, can help swing the conditions to your advantage. Keep moving, and you may be rewarded a bounty of fish when others have packed up and gone home.