Early ice is one of the best times for panfishing. Fish are more aggressive and easier to catch. They move shallow and hang around channels until they migrate to shallow weedy bays where they relate to edges and open patches around weed growth.
This is the time of the year when you can perfect your presentations for later in the year when thicker ice makes fishing tougher. Here are some techniques we tried last season that I'll share with you right now.
Glow in the dark jigs for panfish
Ice jigs and spoons painted with phosphorescent glow paint are key presentations in dark or stained water situations. They can easily be seen by hungry bluegill, perch and crappie and are usually engulfed with reckless abandon.
Custom Jigs and Spins Demons in sizes eight, 10 and the tiny 12 have long been staples in my tackle box. Newer two-tone colors with blood red, purple and blue ice heads have been effective.
Even hotter were Nuclear Glow Shrimpos and Ratsos. The pink, blue and chartreuse glow Original Finesse Plastic Tails can be jigged enticingly to catch fish without bait. Believe me it works. For years enterprising anglers have fooled panfish on plastic (more on this later).
To get the most out of your glow jigs you need to charge them with the most intense light you can find. I've used camera flashes, flashlights and even 1,000,000 candle watt spotlights. The problem with all of these lights is that they are bulky and they light up the area around the hole, which is a no-no when fishing at night.
Recently Custom Jigs and Spins found a super bright and super tiny light used by the astronauts on several shuttle missions and branded it their own. The Nuclear Flash Micro Charger is now available, and is small enough to attach to the zipper on your jacket. Look for the Nuclear Flash Micro Charger at your favorite bait and tackle shop.
Plastics for Panfish
It all began years ago when enterprising anglers sliced their own tiny plastic tails for ice fishing. They found that when fish became aggressive they attacked plastic just as well as they did in open water.
Even more interesting is that when panfish weren't aggressive at all they still went for plastic over live bait. I've had this happen many times, where a plastic tail would out produce a few maggots on a jig. When you peer down the hole and three fish are staring at your maggots and you switch over to plastic and catch one right away, then you know you are on to something.
The basics of slicing plastic is pretty simple. Start with a plastic worm and slice into thin strips with a single edge razor blade or X-acto knife. Triangular shapes work well. Try to make the tail as thin as possible. Another option is to slice off the tails on a tube jig tail.
An even better bet is to try Custom Jigs and Spins new Wedgees, Noodels and Micro-Noodels which were specifically designed for ice fishing applications. You can rig them horizontally on vertical jigs or do-nothing style hooked through the middle of the plastic. In either case, you should test out the action first in the top of the ice hole before dropping it to the icy depths.
Armed with a spud bar, bucket, auger, ice scoop, a tiny rod and a little yellow box of ice jigs and plastic, my father, Poppee made his way across three inches of ice. We were in the back of a shallow weedy bay, a prime location for early season crappie and Poppee was ready to go.
Even with the limited selection of jigs in the box, which jig to pick first is always the toughest question. Poppee usually solves this problem by using whatever is tied on the end of his line and then working from there.
In this case he had on a black size 10 Ratfinkee a good bet for early morning action. Making sure his knot was tight so the Finkee rode horizontal was his first act, then he added a small red Micro-Noodel Finesse Plastic tail rigged through the center (do-nothing) style. A quick check at the top of the hole revealed a nice action and the jig was lowered down.
A quick crappie and then 15 minutes of jigging produced nothing. An aggressive jigging motion followed by a pause was tried as was an ultra slow lift and then an ultra slow fall. He put on a larger purple noodle tail and caught another crappie on the lift and then the action slowed once again.
Next he yelled; "Walt, drill me some holes." Being younger I obliged by drilling a half dozen holes around where he was fishing. Of the six holes, two were producers so Poppee jumped back and forth amongst the hot holes.
This scenario played out numerous times throughout the season. The hand auger gave way to the gas auger, the simple bucket gave way to the two-man shack and we watched the action on the camera. As the season progresses and the ice gets thicker, you can take a lot of gear with you on the ice, but for right now it's best to travel light.
This is the time of the year when you can perfect your presentations for later in the year when thicker ice makes fishing tougher.