During the winter, I typically spend the first and last part of the hard water season focusing on various species of panfish. My favourite among these species is definitely black crappie, but I enjoy targeting bluegill and pumpkinseed as well. What’s not to love about these feisty little scrappers? The colours on these fish can be so vibrant and beautiful. For their size, they can grow quite large and put up a great fight on ultra-light gear.
As the season progresses and other species are closed for their spawning season, panfish are open all year long to be targeted. Panfish can often be found in sheltered bays and areas without current, so these areas tend to have safer ice in the early or late season. Please always use caution and check all ice when venturing out at any time throughout the season.
As the ice season progresses, crappie, bluegill, and pumpkinseeds can be found located somewhere between their eventual spring spawning grounds and wintering areas. If you’re not sure where these areas may be, a bathymetric (depth chart) map is a great place to start. Spawning occurs in shallow bays and sheltered areas where the water warms first. Northern shorelines receive the most amount of sunlight, causing these waters to warm up more quickly as well as areas with dark bottoms. Bait will move in to the warmer waters and the panfish will follow suit. Typically, the nearest structure with an adjacent basin is where panfish spend the winter. Leading up to spring, they will move along points gets closer to the eventual spawning grounds.
Some great resources for maps are the Navionics app (which has a fee), and there are free maps available through Fish ON-Line and the Angler’s Atlas website. The Fish ON-Line website also has a search tool if you’re looking to find out where certain species of fish are located throughout the province.
Like most species, crappie, bluegill, and pumpkinseed will feed heavily leading up to the spawn, making it a great time to target them. Panfish are wonderful for introducing kids or newcomers to fishing, as it provides an opportunity to get into numbers of fish and have an action-packed fishing experience. I enjoy spending some time targeting them each year, both through the ice and on the open water.