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The right techniques put more fish on ice

January 21, 2011 by Sky Opila

In most Northern states, panfish are the most frequently caught fish through the ice. This is due in part to their sheer abundance. Panfish can be caught deep and shallow, with both horizontal and vertical presentation baits, with live bait and lures. In fact, it's pretty hard not to catch a panfish through the ice.

Crappie, bluegill and yellow perch all fall in the panfish category. While similar techniques will catch all of these fish, there are some subtle differences. So for that angler who doesn't just want to catch a panfish but wants to catch a specific one, here are some tips for targeting your efforts on the ice.


In my experience, bluegills are the easiest to catch. You can find them most anywhere and they're well known for eating pretty much anything. We've all stood on the edge of the dock and watched the bluegills attack spit or that piece of leaf you threw in the water with vigor. This feeding habit is part of what makes them such a high predator to bass nests in the spring.

Bluegills are most active in the early morning or at dusk, though they can be caught all day long. Though all panfish tend to school in the winter, bluegills are especially famous for schooling. So if you're fishing for bluegills, don't stay in an area if it hasn't produced any bites for more than 20 minutes. Once you find a school move quickly, changing baits in and out to hit the concentrations.

The largest bluegills tend to hang near the bottom and tap rather lightly. Usually if you are getting an aggressive bluegill tap it will be from a little fish trying to rip the bait off the hook but not succeeding. The light taps are generally a sign of a bigger fish.

Bluegills can be found deep and shallow. Moving around is the key to finding them.


Crappies are the ultimate flasher fish. If you don't use a flasher on the ice, you can certainly find crappie, but a flasher will definitely help.

This is because crappie tend to be a suspending fish. It's not uncommon to find crappie suspended in 35 feet of water. Working this water column up and down without a flasher can be a very time consuming task and if there aren't fish in the area, then why waste time freezing on the ice?

It is quite common to hear the phrase "crappies by lantern." This is a quite common way to go crappie fishing in the winter. All it calls for is fishing in the evening or early morning and using a lantern near the hole to light it up. The light will draw the plankton and the crappie will come to feed. So if it's too dark, try lighting up your hole. I've also had large success with minimal light but a larger, glow-in-the-dark lure that still operates in a similar fashion.

The interesting part about fishing crappie is that they generally won't go down for a bite, but they will go up. You're better off having your bait higher in the water column so they can come up to it rather than down.


Perch are more similar to bluegills in that they are not as much of a suspending fish. Placing your bait near the bottom will be the best strategy for targeting these great eaters.

A good depth for perch is around 20 feet. However, much like bluegills, perch move around a lot. So it's not uncommon to do a lot of moving around the lake to find a school of perch. Once you find them though, the action will be nonstop.

Plan to move around a lot in water anywhere from 10 feet to 50 feet. Always keep your bait near the bottom not wasting your time for suspending perch.

Across the board with all three fish, bait is your choice. They eat a lot of different things. But these tips for each species will help you have a nice, targeted day on the ice.



Cool story, thanks.
February 25, 2011 11:57 AM