By Vincent J. Hytry
Winter is here in southeast Wisconsin and that means it’s time for ice fishing. With the early ice upon us, the focus is on panfish and to find these fish you must think shallow, real shallow (1.5-5ft).
The search for panfish begins by looking for protected bays, channels or back waters off river systems and if they contain green weeds, wood or other cover it’s all the better.
Once you find these areas you need the right tools to catch panfish and for me that starts with a good shallow water rod and reel. I prefer a 3′-3.5′ long ice rod matched with a good spring bobber – St. Croix makes a great ice rod and spring with a flat line reel to help prevent line twist.
I like to spool up with 2-3lb fluorocarbon line.. I like to use a high-quality tungsten ice jig such a Fiska from yourbobbersdown.com for various reasons. These jigs keep a smaller profile than lead and don’t require a small split-shot to keep the right line tension. In addition, they come with “sticky sharp hooks”.
Some of my go-to jigs for panfish are the Epoxy and Metallic series both from Fiskas. The Epoxies work great for all around use, tipped with Berkley Gulp Fish Fry or a couple of spikes. The Metallic series, especially the faceted round ball head, is my go-to when fishing shallow with plastics such as a GoJo or Versamite from J&S Plastics because they have a longer shanked hook, which caters to plastics.
Many anglers frown on using flashers in shallow water, but I use them to my advantage since it’s always good to know if you even have fish or cover below you. A lot of anglers have trouble in shallow water detecting their jig or and around cover, in which case you need to change your settings by either switching over to a narrow cone angle (if you have a dual beam transducer) like the 9° on my Marcum LX5 and then turning up the gain until you can see your jig as a little blip on your flasher.
Once you have your rod, reel, area and sonar ready it’s time to find fish and the key is to keep moving until you find them (a.k.a. the art of hole hopping). Drill 15-20 holes right away and spend 2-3 minutes in each one until you find where the fish are then start drilling more accordingly. This may be the most important thing about locating and staying on panfish…you rarely ever sit and wait you must go to them!
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