Ode to the Predictability and Pleasure of Early Ice


Without a doubt, the formation of the first ice generates excitement among anglers. For those who are die-hard ice enthusiasts, this event can be quite substantial.

Although I often have a hard time saying goodbye to the hunting season, once I am on the ice for my first panfish outing, hunting season quickly fades away. My focus and energy changes to attacking the early ice.

There are several aspects of the early ice panfish season that I tend to enjoy. First of all, there is often light pressure from other anglers. Many wait until the ice is thick enough to pull wheel houses onto the lakes before they venture out. For the most part, it is the serious “pull-your-shelter-behind-you” type of angler who thrives during the early season.

I also really like the predictability of the early ice period. I have learned through experience about the tendencies of panfish to set up in the same locations year after year. Once a few of these hot spots are documented, anglers can return to these panfish holes with a pretty good assurance that fish will be found.

Many of these spots that I typically fish in the early season are within walking distance of the shore. Having to “walk” to go fishing definitely takes some anglers out of the picture. (A good pair of cleats is essential if there is no snow.)

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Provided there is enough ice to be safe, I appreciate the convenience and ease of drilling through a thin layer of frozen water. Although the Clam conversion kit that converts a portable drill to an auger works all season long, it is absolutely ideal in the early ice period.

I also like the ease of locating fish in the early season. With little or no snow, getting a reading through the ice with my Vexilar is extremely simple.

The process works like this: I carry along a bottle of water that I pour onto the ice in places I want a depth reading or where I am looking for suspended fish. After a small dribble of water is on the ice, I place the transducer on the water. This will read right through the ice and tell me what is underneath without having to drill a hole. It is a huge time saver and very effective.

As for bait, I rarely go to the lake without euro larvae for tipping my jig. However, some of the plastic bodies and PowerBait products resemble miniature invertebrates that panfish are typically feeding on. With the aggressive nature of the early-season fish, this is often all that is needed.

The early ice period comes and goes quickly as the ice thickens with winter. Even though the early ice window may be small, it offers some of the best angling of the year and is definitely one of my favorite times to target panfish.