Some of the best bluegill, crappie and perch fishing occurs early on in the ice season on ultra-clear water. Shallow weedy bays are the first areas to produce and excellent fishing can occur over water only two feet deep!
It’s true, these are areas that most anglers walk right past because they believe that good-sized fish can’t possibly be that shallow. But in reality you can catch some of the biggest panfish of the season if you follow some basic presentation ideas.
Many anglers I know will make a quick trip before or after work. These prime times of 4 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. are when panfish really get active.
A bucket, auger & a jigging stick
All you need is a bucket, a hand auger and a good jigging stick.
Once on the spot, drill four or five holes, but don’t clean out the slush. In shallow, clear water, fish spook easily and a clean hole provides more sunlight, which spooks the fish. But if you leave the slush, they will move right in on your jig.
For years I only used one jig on my line. Custom Jigs & Spins size 10 black Ratso is the perfect jig for shallow clear water. It has a Finesse Plastic tail that entices the fish to bite. I’ll usually use it plain, without bait or I’ll add a single spike for contrasting color and scent.
Armed with my Ratso, it was simply a matter of drilling a few holes and catching fish!
Bluegill and crappie will relate differently under the ice even in water three feet deep. A crappie prefers to look up to feed, so you’ll want to fish from just right under the ice to halfway down.
Bluegill are more active near the bottom. I’ll drop the Ratso down to the bottom and raise it up maybe six inches and jiggle away. Jiggling your rod as you slowly lift is effective for bluegill, while jigging as you let the Ratso fall from the top of the ice to halfway down is best for crappie.
Drag out your tent
If I’m setting up for a day on the ice, it’s time to drag out the tent. The black fabric of allows one to see every bit of the action down below if you peer down the hole as you fish. It also seems that after awhile, provided you are quiet, panfish actually get attracted to the shade that the black tent provides as well as the activity of catching fish.
It’s also nice to have an underwater camera. Set the camera up a few feet away from your tent and set the viewing screen inside. The camera lens can be set to self rotate so you can see the fish as they move on in. You can use the handheld remote where you can zero in on the fish as to approach your jigging. Yes this really is cheating!
Once I’m set-up in the tent, I like to be rigged and ready with some of my favorite jigs. Two pound test line is expensive but worth it. It is thin, doesn’t coil, and is virtually invisible to the fish (and unfortunately my eyes).
I’ll use 24 to 26" Ultra Light Rod which offer a lot of fun to fight the fish. I’ve also got my Custom Jigs & Spins Finesse Spring Rod ready. The Finesse spring rod is only 12 inches long and is basically a spring bobber you can fish with. If you lean over the hole and watch the fish, you can use the spoon lever on the rod, and jig the tip without moving your arm. When you fish in ultra-clear shallow water sometimes the slightest arm movement will spook the fish.
My favorite jigs
Jig selection starts with the Ratso, but you’ll notice that you might catch an aggressive fish here or there, but many more fish move in on the Ratso and shy away. When you are outside the tent, that doesn’t matter because you should only fish a hole for a few minutes until it dries up and then move onto the next hole.
But back in the tent, I want to catch every fish I see (except those little two to four-inch potato chips), so I’ll use the Custom Jigs & Spins ‘Gill Pill. This jig was designed especially for shallow clear water. The sizes 14 and 12 are super tiny yet heavy enough to fish with. Troy recommends a rapid fire jigging motion to attract fish and to get them to strike. We like to tip them with spikes, eurolarvae or a waxworm. Some great colors are available like red glow, frog, clown, gold and fire tiger.
This ice season give shallow water panfishing a try, especially in shallow ultra-clear water. Try some of the jigs and techniques I’ve outlined and you’ll be a believer too!