First ice is an exciting time to fish. Panfish are often willing biters and relatively easy to locate during the initial weeks of freeze-up. Jigging spoons are a deadly bait for the start of the ice season. Other baits will take fish but it’s exciting to hunt active fish using spoons before the mid-winter blues set in.
Spoons: A Deadly Bait
To attract fish and target the biggest ones around, it’s tough to beat a spoon’s flash and vibrations. At first ice, I often cover water, searching for aggressive fish. Beyond calling in panfish, spoons are just as deadly to trigger bites when worked with subtle finesse moves, especially if tipped with bait.
For panfish I like spoons between one- to two-inches in length. I stick to the smaller size of this range for bluegills. Some favourites are: Northland’s Forage Minnow Jig’n Spoon, JB Lure’s Varmits, Williams’ Wablers, Lindy’s Frostee Jigging Spoon, Bay de Noc’s Swedish Pimples and Vinglas, and HT’s Chatter Spoons.
Add a Bit of Scent to Spoons
Sweeten spoons with bait unless fish are hitting with kamikaze recklessness. A dynamite panfish presentation is a spoon tipped with live maggots. The larvae’s scent can coax fish to bite when a naked Ice Jigging for Perchbait barely gets noticed. Use an inside jacket pocket to keep maggots from freezing. Also, re-bait often so spoons stay smelly.
Artificial baits make good tipping alternatives. Berkley’s Power Bait Honey Worms, Exude’s Nymphs, or FoodSource Lures’ 1-Inch Mealworms are popular options. I often tear baits in half adding only a small amount of bait to the hooks when using small spoons.
Lastly, always check a spoon at the hole after tipping it, making sure the add-on attractant doesn’t impact the lure’s action. Readjust the bait as needed to ensure a smooth-fluttering spoon.
Top First-Ice Spots
I like to start shallow when looking for first-ice panfish. As always, healthy vegetation holds fish. Edges and pockets are prime spots for perch, bluegills and crappie alike. Shallow flats mixed with clumps of weeds are prime spots to find larger fish. Areas with fallen timber and stumps can be great early ice areas, especially for crappie.
That said, don’t be afraid to try deep water if shallow areas aren’t producing. Look for them on breaks or deeper holding areas, say 10 to 20 feet deep, near shallow-water structures such as bays or weed beds. Slow tapering flats are also worth fishing. Jig the entire water column as panfish, especially crappie, often suspend over deep water.
Use a lift-fall-hold sequence to work spoons. More often than not, fish hit on the fall or pause. Use subtle moves if having trouble getting hits. Extremely light quivers and slight hops combined with long pauses works well.
Banging the spoon on bottom attracts fish, especially curious perch. On soft bottom areas this tactic kicks up a silt cloud, mimicking bottom-feeding activity. After banging bottom, work the spoon upwards slowly. After a minute of jigging swim the bait up a foot or two and repeat the sequence. Moving baits up and away from fish forces them to commit and hit, or risk letting a meal get away.
Having either a sonar or underwater camera is critical to ice fishing success. Don’t get me wrong, you can catch panfish without them. But at first ice when running-and-gunning for active pannies, these tools help you quickly determine if there are any fish in the area. Another critical benefit to flashers is they’ll display suspended fish – an important feature when targeting crappies. Furthermore, you can watch the unit’s display, monitoring a fish’s reaction to different jigging sequences as you try to trigger them to bite.
Try targeting panfish using spoons and a run-and-gun approach at the start of the season. You’ll have plenty of time for slow, finesse fishing during mid-winter. A spoon’s versatility lets you attract and trigger fish with the same lure, and only requires slight adjustments to the jigging sequence. This makes them an extremely effective bait for panfish willing to bite at first-ice.
by Tim Allard www.timallard.ca/