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Light or Heavy? How to Pick the Right Ice Jig for Panfish

Posted by Walt & Poppee Matan on Mar 1st 2018

Light or Heavy? How to Pick the Right Ice Jig for Panfish

matan-light-2.jpg"As soon as the jig hit bottom, I had a big bluegill," Poppee exclaimed excitedly as his little Panfish Popper rod strained. We were testing out a new series of jigs that was really producing.

Sometimes any jig will work, but more often once you zero in on the right presentation, you can out fish the guy next to you by three to one. In our case it was Poppee with six and me with none, so I quickly switched colors and sizes.

Our trend lately has been to use small, compact, heavy-headed jigs. These jigs are great for deeper water panfish 10-40 feet down and also excellent for shallow water (in the smaller sizes16 and 14). They work well when tipped with spikes, waxworms and minnows. Traditional ice spoons offer slower falls, which should not be overlooked. Plastic can be added for additional attraction and will often work better than live bait.

Early Season Action

Early season means shallow water angling. Channels, weedy bays and flat areas with good weed growth are areas to key in on. When the ice is safe (three inches) it’s time to travel light. I’ll drag along my Frabill ultra-light, one-man tent with a small assortment of rods and jigs, hand auger and spud bar to fish in three- to six-foot depths.

This is traditionally small, light ice spoon territory. Jigs like Custom Jigs & Spins size 12 Demons and 2-Spots have a slow flutter-fall action and have been standbys for years. Their slow fluttering action is a great trigger for shallow water fish looking for an easy meal. Tipping these jigs with a few spikes or a waxworm is the ticket to nice panfish like crappie and bluegill.

matan-light-a2.jpgSmall, compact jigs will sometimes work better in these shallow water situations. The tiny size16 and 14 Diamond Jigs provides the advantage of small size and excellent hooking potential. Because the hook rides at a 45-degree angle, when a fish bites, the hook sets with little pressure. When fishing a Diamond Jig, you should use a rapid-fire repetitive jigging motion to attract the fish in and then a slow bobbing motion to get them to strike.
A new jig developed this year from Custom Jigs & Spins is the ‘Gill Pill. The ‘Gill Pill has a small, compact design like the Diamond Jig, but its nose is wider, which gives more of a fluttering action on the lift and fall.

In shallow, clear water the ‘Gill Pill really shines. I’m talking two to four feet deep! The hardest bluegill to catch are single fish that move in on your jig. They might move in quick, but then shy away. When a second or third bluegill is around, there is a little more competition and a bite inevitably occurs. With the tiny ‘Gill Pill on your line, single fish have no fear! They move right in and take it.

In weedy shallows, sometimes the bluegill will hunker down and bury themselves in the weed clumps. This usually occurs during a cold front (yes cold fronts effect ice fishing also). When this occurs, you need a heavy jig that will "pound down" through the weed stalks to get down to the bottom where the fish are hiding. The size 12 and 10 ‘Gill Pills are the perfect choice in this situation.

Mid Winter Bonanza

matan-light-b2.jpgAccording to my fishing buddy, Troy Peterson, A.K.A. Mr. Bluegill, "As the ice thickens fish will move a little deeper, and deeper water calls for heavier baits. But the problem with a heavier bait is that, usually it is too big compared to what the panfish are feeding upon. Even in deep water, panfish will feed on tiny micro creatures or bugs.

“One of my favorite jigs for pan fishing has been the size 12, 1/200-ounce RatFinkee. But once I began fishing in water deeper than 20 feet, it took a while to get the bait down to the depth quickly. I’d spend more time waiting for the jig to drop than I did catching fish.

“Switching to a bigger size RatFinkee doesn’t often work, because sometimes the fish still want something tiny. Also, I noticed that I’d get a lot less hits with the larger RatFinkees. You know when a lure isn’t working well, as you watch the action on a Marcum underwater camera. I’d drop a size eight, 1/64-ounce RatFinkee down the hole and the bluegill would rush up on it and then peck at the waxworm, stealing it off the hook. When I’d drop down in size to the smaller RatFinkee, the fish would suck it in before it hit bottom.”

The ‘Gill Pill was just what Troy had been searching for. He wanted compact bait with a heavy head and a small hook that rode at a 45-degree angle that would actually improve the hook-set and a flashy body would attract more fish. The ‘Gill Pill now comes in sizes 16, 14, 12 and 10 hooks. It has a compact, heavy, flat body for more flash and attraction. Plus, it is available in 12 color choices, including two that glow!

One of our favorite techniques is to add plastic to our ice jigs. Custom Jigs & Spins original Finesse Plastic, Wedgees and Noodels is added to Demons, 2-Spots and Rockers. It makes these baits way more effective. You can also try Ratsos and Shrimpos—two jig styles with Finesse Plastic already included.

Obviously, there is no perfect jig, but if you use the right jig for the right circumstance, you will catch more panfish this winter. Give jigs like the "Gill Pill, Diamond Jig and Demon a try this winter and you’ll be pleased with the results. To read more on ice fishing, check out or call 1-800-831-5535 for a free “Tips and Tricks” catalog. Log on to to learn some secrets from Troy.