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Late Season Ice Panfish

Late Season Ice Panfish

Rice Lake Fishing Getaway

Recognized as one of the best fishing areas in Eastern Ontario, Rice Lake offers a relaxing, calm fishing experience year-round. Your fishing package includes two nights' accommodation in our comfortable waterfront cottages with a private dock, breakfast and dinner daily, a 9.9 HP boat for two days, and a knowledgeable fishing guide for four hours each day.
From $966

The ice season will soon be coming to an end all throughout the province, so why not cap it off with some panfish?

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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.

Some of my favourite presentations include tiny spoons (such as the VMC Flash Champ), lipless crankbaits (like the Rapala Ultra Light Rippin Rap), and small tungsten jigs just to name a few. Although I don’t typically use live bait to tip my presentations, I don’t hold anything against it. I just find that soft plastics usually outlast the live bait and work just as effectively. I have a variety of Trigger-X plastics in regular rotation, like the Moustache Worm pinned on small jigs or the Berkley Gulp! Alive Minnow Heads on my spoons.

I like to remove the hook on my spoons, clip on a Fastach Snap, and thread the Berkley Minnow Head on the top of the hook before re-attaching it. This ensures the hook is properly exposed and prevents the Minnow Head from being torn off. I’ll use the spoons and lipless crank baits to call fish in, and if they won’t eat these presentations I’ll switch to something smaller like a jig. The larger presentations not only help to attract nearby fish to move in, but the largest fish of the day will often be caught on these.

Panfish (especially crappie) can move around frequently throughout the day and suspend in the water column. A flasher provides a huge advantage to quickly finding out depth, seeing if any fish are in the area, and finding out what kind of mood they’re in. It’s easy to get bites when fish are aggressive, but being able to see how finicky fish react in real time can allow you to adjust your technique accordingly and turn those lookers into biters.

Once some fish are located, drilling holes throughout the area (on and around structure), and any other points leading up to mouth of the spawning grounds, provides an opportunity to stay on top of them as they cruise around.

The ice season will soon be coming to an end all throughout the province, so why not cap it off with some crappie, bluegill, and pumpkinseed? Good luck out there!

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