Panfish Power!


When it comes to ice fishing, more effort has undoubtedly been put into panfishing than gamefishing. Looking back on thousands of hours I have spent ice fishing and jig making, two things are certain: a fish is a fish as long as it is the same species, and each species reacts, eats and attacks prey differently.

I spent a lot of time staring at a spring bobber, wondering what was going on down below. I spent more time watching a flasher, wondering what was going on down below. But perhaps the time I spent watching bluegills react to my baits with an underwater camera was the biggest eye opener of all—until Livescope came around, that is. The difference with Livescope is that you can view and search a much larger area than with the use of any other electronics. And you realize that there are a whole lot of fish down there…I mean a whole lot of fish!

Bluegills are an ice fisherman’s best friend. They are readily available, school up, hide in relatively shallow water near weeds and can be easy to catch. They feed like piranhas when there is competition from other bluegills. Small fish are peckers; they peck, pull and jerk your rod tip. But those bigger, loner pie plates are slow movers. I call ‘em sniffers. These toads will move within inches of your dancing jig, until in one motion, they inhale and suck in your bait. If your bait is too heavy, your rod is too stiff or you are not paying attention, you will never notice. In shallow-water, light-jig situations, I prefer an UL (ultra-light action) pole like a St. Croix Legend Spring Rod; a light spring bobber tip is the only way to detect strikes.

Ice jigs for bluegills need to be tiny. I like a size 12 or 10 Custom Jigs & Spins Demon in shallow water. It is lightweight and easy for a bluegill to inhale, and the flutter-on-the-fall action really entices the fish. Add a juicy wax worm or a few red spikes and you are good to go!

Another top choice is a size 10 Ratso. The Ratso will hop and dart about, kind of like an underwater bug or small minnow. Jiggle and pause, jiggle and pause…do it long enough and bluegills can’t resist them!

When those fish get a little deeper, it’s time for tungsten. The Tütso is a newer creation that has a tungsten ball head and a finesse plastic body—the same tempting body as the Ratso.

The difference between the Tütso and Ratso is the weight. Being nearly twice as heavy as lead, a tungsten Tütso jig will get down quickly, plus it will hop differently when you jiggle your rod tip. You must get the right jiggle motion down. (I’s always a good idea to drop a jig down the hole a little way and give it some jiggles, lifts and falls to see what it does before letting it plummet down into the fish zone.)



Crappies inhabit the same areas as bluegills, but will also suspend over deeper water, usually at the same depth as the top of the weed edge. Crappies also feed at night, so dawn and dusk are prime times. Crappies approach a jig differently than bluegills. They usually move right in and gulp the bait right up. Up is how they feed, and their hinged mouths are like vacuum cleaners!

Because they can be anywhere in the water column, a flasher or Livescope is the quickest way to locate and catch them. Because a camera will only work in a certain depth range, finding crappies with a camera is hit or miss and a lot harder. The flasher/Livescope lets you watch your jig sink and watch the crappies move up upon it. Get ‘em to move; shake ‘em up!

A jigging spoon is a premier crappie locator. You want a lightweight, action spoon with a bend or a distinct shape, as opposed to a heavy slab spoon. Slender Spoons and Demon Jigging Spoons are my top choices. Glow variations (like Wonderglow) are go-to colors; waxies, spikes and minnows are the baits. I have also had tremendous success with the RPM3 balance minnow bait with no bait for larger crappies that are suspended.

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My go-to rod in this situation is an Eyeconic 32” Medium Fast with a Frabill Straight Line 261 reel spooled with 3-pound-test Maxima Chameleon line. This rod gives me the action needed to bounce and jiggle these baits the right way. This is a great combo for larger panfish.



If you are fishing in shallow, weedy areas and catching bluegills, try raising your jig up a few feet to attract nearby crappies. Sometimes, they are even right under the ice. When fishing deeper water, move your locator around in different holes until you spot suspended fish before you start fishing. Put the odds in your favor instead of fishing empty water.

Perch are opportunistic feeders; they scurry around the bottom, noses down, stirring up the muck and munching on anything and everything within sight. If pigs could swim, they would be perch. They swim up and down in the water column, happy to eat whatever is in their path.

Perch like bugs and shiny things. They will eat a jig like a Ratso, the tungsten Tütso or a flashy Slender Spoon fluttering about! Perch are attracted to action; catch one and the commotion will bring in more.

White bass are schoolers. They hang together and compete for a meal—any meal. I’ve caught them on everything from a tiny 3 mm Tungsten Chekai jig to a 1/4-ounce Slender Spoon and size 5 RPM Minnow…a bait meant for walleyes! When times are good, go big; white bass are aggressive. When times are tough (like a barometric pressure swing), you have to go tiny.

When it comes to ice fishing, panfish have the power! Whether you are after bluegills, crappies, perch or whites, they all fight well, and taste great fried up. What more could you ask for as an ice fisherman?


    Walt Matan has been a writer and television host for MidWest Outdoors for more than 30 years. An avid ice and open-water fisherman, he currently lives in the Quad Cities on the shores of the Mississippi River. He is the chief lure designer for Custom Jigs & Spins and B Fish N Tackle, Follow/like Custom Jigs & Spins, B-fish-N Tackle, Walleye College and Walt Matan on Facebook.