Ice Fishing Panfish Presentations

Ice Fishing Panfish Presentations

The old saying "variety is the spice of life" certainly holds true when it comes to hardwater panfish expeditions. Lakes offering a diversity of perch, crappies, and bluegills are fertile fields for creating fond fishing memories. Maximizing success on waters where a panfish potpourri is on tap often hinges on assembling a selection of lures that see you through the presentational twists and turns of a multispecies day on the ice — along with strategies for deploying your options in a logical order. Another key is keeping it all manageable, so the process of stocking your tackle box and choosing which lures to fish, and when, doesn't become so overwhelming that it takes the fun out of the wrangle.

Seibert's Three-Step

Guide Scott Seibert plies a simple but efficient three-step presentational program that begins with a bang and ends in finesse. "I start big and flashy, with an 1/8-ounce Clam Speed Spoon," he says. Though this jigging spoon is fresh on the market this winter, Seibert, an Ice Team pro, put prototypes through their paces last season. The spoon has a chain and matching epoxy dropper, available in #12 treble and #8 single-hook options. When fishing the treble, Seibert adds two to three eurolarvae per tine, while the single hook fits five to eight.

Once the first, most aggressive fish are on the ice, he tones things down, tying on either a Maggot Drop or Duckbill Drop, both of which are dainty new jigs in Clam's Dave Genz Tungsten Drop Series. The Maggot Drop hangs vertically, while the Duckbill dangles horizontally. Both are dressed with maggots or tiny softbaits offering quivery appendages, such as Maki Plastic's Jamei or Maki. "Rig plastics so they hang horizontally, even on a vertical jig like the Maggot Drop," he says. "And, if the fish are finicky, don't be afraid to trim the tails."


Step three is a #12 or #14 Ant Drop, also new from Clam. "Made of tungsten, it hangs at a 45-degree angle," he says. "It's perfect for one or two maggots or spikes, lightly hooked in the blunt end so you barely pierce the scent sac, but the bait remains live and wiggly. Fish it with a subtle bouncing action, and if that doesn't get them to bite, it's time to punch holes somewhere else."


On South Dakota's panfish-rich southeastern lakes, veteran guide Joe Honer's multispecies trips target mostly perch and crappies, plus the occasional 'gill. Assaults are launched with a 1/16-ounce Northland Forage Minnow Spoon, or similar-sized jigging spoon such as a Kastmaster or Johnson Splinter — with one treble tine removed. Common tippings include an ample array of waxworms, hung chandelier-fashion on the remaining tines, or a supple softbait like a 1-inch Berkley Gulp! Alive! Cricket. "Don't jig the spoon like you would for walleyes," he says. "Start high and shake it down to the fish."

Honer's follow-up drop, should the fish play hard to catch, is a small, easy-quivering, horizontal-hanging jig such as Berkley's Atomic Mite, Wishbone, or Fry. Northland's Hexi Fly, Custom Jigs and Spins iconic Rat Finkee, and a host of similar standouts also fill the bill. Small softbaits are stellar dressings, though Honer concedes, "It's hard to beat a maggot when things get tough."

Rather than wander through an endless progression of lures, Honer focuses on fishing these two tactics — small spoon and horizontal jig — with precision. "People change up too much sometimes, looking for the perfect lure or color," he says. "More often, action is key." For Honer, the right action invariably includes perpetual motion. "Raise and lower your jig while quivering," he says. "Never quit moving it, not even when you're getting bit."


While action is crucial, Honer's final tip for plucking as many panfish as possible from a given hole centers on the lure's position in the water column. "Always stay above the school," he says. "When you pull fish out of the pack, the rest freeze up or flare away. By trimming off the top, you can catch far more fish before it's time to move."

Fearsome Foursome


Longtime guide Jeff Sundin earns his keep in northern Minnesota. With a territory spanning a multitude of A-list lakes within a 100-mile radius of the Deer River, he's often faced with multispecies panfish scenarios. To help solve the presentational pickle of any given outing, he wields a four-pronged approach that starts with a predictable first strike and ends wherever the fish take him.

"I rig my first rod with something bigger and heavier than necessary for most of the fish I expect to run into — something I can drop in fast to quickly get a handle on the situation," he says. "Often, that first lure is an above-average size Lindy Frostee Jigging Spoon, 1/8 ounce or larger, jammed with waxworms — at least one on every hook, and one sideways across the trebles. If I'm in a predominantly perch area, with crappies mixed in but few sunfish, I may opt for a rattling jigging spoon, dressed in similar fashion.

"Let the spoon fall to about 2 to 3 feet off bottom and see if you can get fish to follow it up," he says. "Panfish require a much softer jigstroke than walleyes. Wobble the rod tip like you're wagging your finger at someone, and watch your sonar like a hawk.

"In a decent hole, this first spoon presentation should produce four to five fish — typically jumbo perch, crappies to a lesser extent, and occasionally a sunfish," he says. "It's not unusual to catch sunfish on a spoon. It may be unusual to spoon up big numbers of them, but there's nothing stopping you from tying on a Fat Boy or other horizontal jig, once you figure out you're on top of a school of 'gills."

Which brings us to step two. "The second rod is rigged with a small, bug-type jig," he says. While the Fat Boy and jigs with similar stocky profiles work well, he commonly favors a Lindy Bug or Ice Worm. "Option three is my old standby — the Frostee jig," he says. "A #4 or #6 is perfect. Skin-hook a crappie minnow parallel to the spine, so it hangs horizontally."

The fourth prong of Sundin's plan is adaptation. "Be prepared to mix and match," he says. "A lure box with a variety of jigs, spoons, and plastics helps you improvise." He offers the following cautions. "If the first fish on your first drop is a sniffer, it's time to move. Also, downsizing when small perch are in the area can be frustrating."

Finally, Sundin maintains that mastering a handful of core panfish tactics is better than becoming the proverbial Jack of all trades. "I don't do 80 things, but I do a half-dozen well," he says. "Focusing on these keeps me in my comfort zone and area of expertise. Sometimes I struggle when I get too fancy."

Triple XL Bluegills

Veteran guide and In-Fisherman friend Jon Thelen offers another option in the presentational palette — a super-sized strategy that quickly targets the largest bluegills in any setting.

"We tend to think small when it comes to bluegill baits, but large lures have a place at the table, too," he says. One of Thelen's top choices in XL options is a horizontal-hanging, rattling hardbait that swims on the drop. Lure colors depend on water clarity, but flashy chromes and golds are good all-around picks.

"I tie a 11â'„3-inch Lindy Darter direct to 3- to 4-pound monofilament mainline, which is strong enough to handle the incidental bass or pike," he says. "Then I tip the trebles with waxworms or eurolarvae, and drop the bait just above the level of the fish."

Lure in position, Thelen begins a subtle lift-fall-pause-jiggle move. "The Darter draws curious bluegills close. Some big fish hit the bait, but most slide in for a better look. That's when the secondary attraction of livebait jiggling on the hooks seals the deal. Lift the lure 6 feet and let it swim down on a slack line. Let the bait come to rest slightly higher than the fish, hold it still a few seconds, and jiggle the hooks with a back-and-forth of the rod tip, with slight up-and-down quiver."

Thelen's Triple XL program attracts the biggest 'gills on the block. "A five-incher has no interest in hitting a bait this size," he says.

*Dan Johnson, Harris, Minnesota, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications and director of All Creation Outdoor Media. Contact: Guide Joe Honer, 320/260-6143, joeguidesyou.com; Guide Scott Seibert, 612/759-0845, sksguides.com; Guide Jeff Sundin, 218/246-2375, jeffsundin.com; Guide Jon Thelen, 612/720-3837.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Select Lure Options for Giant Pike

Select Lure Options for Giant Pike

And handful of lure options produce big pike early in the season.

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Glenn Walker talks us through the soy-based technology that makes Lure Lock cases spill-proof and scent-proof. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

Softbaits for Smallmouths

Softbaits for Smallmouths

Doug Stange uses softbaits from Berkley to entice finicky smallmouth bass.

Trailer Bass

Trailer Bass

Doug Stange introduces us to some terrific jig trailer lures for largemouth bass.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles


Spring is prime time for pike. The Prespawn and Postspawn periods offer excellent odds at catching Pike & Muskie

How To Catch Pike In Spring

Dan Johnson - April 26, 2016

Spring is prime time for pike. The Prespawn and Postspawn periods offer excellent odds at...

It was an August evening and I was wading the flats in Brewster, MA with my cousin. Here you can Other Fish

Must-Have Striped Bass Tackle

Rick Bach - May 04, 2017

It was an August evening and I was wading the flats in Brewster, MA with my cousin. Here you...

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is simply a matter of putting a good bait in the right in front of them. Catfish

8 Best Catfish Rigs - When, Where and How to Use Them

In-Fisherman

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is...

To guide your carp quest, we've lined up the best carp baits that are easy-to-fish natural baits and commercial options. Other Fish

Best Carp Baits Today

Dan Johnson - June 29, 2018

To guide your carp quest, we've lined up the best carp baits that are easy-to-fish natural...

See More Trending Articles

More Ice Fishing

Pre-baiting an ice-fishing spot to attract your targeted species, and chumming your hole while you're fishing, may be the most overlooked facet of the sport. Ice Fishing

Baiting for More Ice Bites

Gord Pyzer - March 12, 2019

Pre-baiting an ice-fishing spot to attract your targeted species, and chumming your hole while...

Ice Fishing

Live-Scanning Panfish Under Ice

Cory Schmidt - February 12, 2020

Catching whitefish, what more could the winter angler ask for? Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing Giant Whitefish

Gord Pyzer - January 01, 2016

Catching whitefish, what more could the winter angler ask for?

Ice Fishing

Portable Shelters in Ice Country

Doug Stange - January 29, 2020

See More Ice Fishing

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now