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The "Game" Panfish

The "Game" Panfish

Fishing for crappie and bluegill is fun, challenging, & different every day

Ice fishing is gaining popularity year after year, and many anglers are opening their minds to the various species roaming under the ice. Northeastern Ontario is very well known for its walleye, lake trout, brook trout, and yellow perch fisheries. However, with the exception of a select few anglers, most people know very little about the fantastic crappie and bluegill populations that thrive in our waters! 

The French and Spanish River systems along with the Greater Sudbury, Nipissing, and Restoule areas are all filled with excellent opportunities to chase down these tasty panfish. Now be warned: they aren’t for those who want to sit and wait for a bite, so if you are up for the challenge, Northeastern Ontario and her operators have you covered!

Panfish are on the move

Winter’s cold temperatures have slowed the metabolisms of some of the shallow water predators like bass. The result is that panfish tend to school and become very active under the ice. These conditions create a perfect opportunity to hunt these fun-to-catch and tasty fish.

Crappie and bluegill tend to cruise suspended off of bottom and roam in areas with green vegetation, mud transitions, brush piles or docks and dock pilings. Think of areas in the summertime when you were fishing for bass and you saw a school of bluegill or crappie—what did it look like? Probably something similar to what was just mentioned. Now keep those areas in mind and plan a trip to test your luck for them.

Look for old docks like these and other structures to fish under for crappie.

Are You Up for the Challenge?

These finicky panfish aren’t for the everyday angler; I don’t say this to be condescending in any way, but hard work, knowledge, and the right gear are required to have a successful day targeting these panfish. And this separates the "pros" from the "Joes." The fish move daily and quite often hourly, so be prepared to punch a lot of holes in the ice, change out baits, and possibly go for a while without a bite.

Electronics are one of the best ways to increase your chances of finding the right schools and understand what mood they are in. Trusting and learning your unit will help to avoid wasting time, and fishing holes, when fish aren’t showing up on your unit. This is one of the biggest lessons that I have learned in both open and hard water – trust your electronics!

Crappie and bluegill don’t strike and tug at your rod in the same manner that a perch, walleye, or trout would. In fact, crappie in particular have a reversed jaw structure which causes them to bite in an upward direction. This causes slack to be put in your line rather than feeling a pull. Weird, I know, but once you see it you will understand and look for it every time.

Selecting the Right Gear

Now that you have a good understanding of the importance of electronics and how the fish react, let’s get to the business end. Ultra-light rods, light line, spring bobbers, floats, tiny jigs, micro tubes, and pin head minnows. (For more ideas of what to have in your winter tackle box, read here.)

The light action rod will help to detect even the lightest bite, and when teamed with a good quality spring bobber, you will see your bait lift as the load is removed from the rod tip on an upward bite. The light line, tiny jigs, micro tubes, and grubs all serve the same purpose of finesse. Even though these are small, generally active fish, it doesn’t mean that they will strike anything placed in front of them. I have had days where colour and size made a world of difference between an amazing day or going home scratching my head. This is also an advantage to having electronics: if you know you are fishing to fish, you can quickly determine if your bait is working or not.

The author with a feast of crappie.

Don't Be Afraid to Switch It Up!

If you see fish on your electronics and they are not reacting to your chosen bait, switch it up! With that in mind and wanting to become a better and more successful angler, resist the temptation to be lazy and thinking that they will eventually bite; change colours – start bright and move darker to see what they prefer.

Size and presentation are also very important changes to make in order to achieve success. If you see the fish are streaking through the water column on your electronics, this generally means they are active and want to feed. Make them react to your bait choice, or impart random action to your lure. On the other hand, if they approach your bait and don’t chase, downsizing your presentation and using a softer, almost dead stick approach could be the ticket.

Tyler Bisaillon shows off a French River specimen.

This may seem like a bit to take in, but once you get on the water and start putting thoughts into action, the results will follow—so will the confidence to specifically target these species. I didn’t learn overnight, and I'm still learning with every single outing I take. Take a chance this winter to fish for something new, or make the trip to the Northeastern region for the quality fishing you have been looking for. Did I mention that crappie have been caught up to 16” in the region?!
Tight lines (or in this case, slack lines) and safe travels on the ice! Safety is number one and no fish is worth your life. Planning a trip to Northeastern Ontario? Get in contact with our ice fishing operators!

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