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How To Fish Early Season Ice For Panfish

Early season ice is one of the best times of the season to fish, and this is especially true with panfish. Once winter settles in and ice begins to form, giant schools of panfish will begin the process of migrating shallow to gorge out during the early winter months.

If you can catch an early season ice bite at the right time, you’re bound to have a day you won’t forget. Once the ice reaches 5+ inches in thickness, it’s a good time to walk out and start fishing. Remember, there is no such thing as completely “safe” ice and always use caution. Fish with a partner and carry safety tools like a spud bar, ice picks and rope. It’s a lot better to have it, just in case.

Early Season Ice Breakdown

During early ice, pods of crappie, bluegill and perch will begin to migrate into the shallows in search of nutrients rich vegetation holding both forage and oxygen. Look for channels leading to bays and shallow flats containing weed growth. Focus on the sparse weed clumps, transitions, and defined edges. The greener the weeds, the better.

If you’re fishing in a lake lacking vegetation, fish the same areas of the lake, but focus on rock piles, wood, brush and fish cribs. Fish are on the move throughout the shallows this time of year, requiring anglers to drill multiple holes to find these roaming dinner plates. I like to drill holes in a Z pattern from the weed edge back to the bank, in order to find where the fish are hiding. Once I can locate fish, I’ll begin to set-up for the day.

early season ice lure
As far as equipment, use the lightest line you can get away with. I spool up 2-4 lb line paired with a sensitive rod, which helps me detect swipes from light biting fish. If you’re on a finicky bite, try adding a spring bobber for added sensitivity. Crappie are known to inhale a bait and swim upwards towards you, making them virtually impossible to feel without the sensitive rod or spring bobber. Tungsten jigs with plastics are the deal this time of year but don’t forget about a spoon or jigging rap. Use natural colors in clear water, and try using more vibrant colors in stained or snow covered water. If the bite gets tough, try adding a wax worm or spike to trigger some added action.

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