Tackling Tough-Bite Midwinter Panfish
It’s gut-check time for anglers across the Ice Belt. The first-ice honeymoon is history—and with it the relatively easy fishing of early winter. That’s not to say good fishing is gone. Far from it. With the right techniques and mindset you can still score banner panfish catches.
Just ask Lindy’s Dave Genz. Father of the modern ice fishing revolution and designer of storied ice fishing lures like the Lindy Genz Worm, Genz Bug and Fat Boy, Genz flat-out catches panfish when other anglers can’t. But even he adjusts his tactics as winter wears on.
“A big key is not fishing areas that have been pounded since first ice,” he quipped the other day as we drilled our way along the outskirts of a heavily fished shanty town, looking for refugees. “Most of the fish that were there when winter started have left in 5-gallon buckets.”
The “release in grease” philosophy isn’t the only mitigating factor. Changes in oxygen levels, vegetation, food sources and other environmental factors can reduce the fishes’ activity levels and appetites, as well as usher in changes in location—both in relation to structure or cover, and within the water column.
In fact, oxygen levels wane in some lakes to the point where the bite dies until incoming meltwater restarts the action at late ice. Bottom line? Your success hinges on rolling with the punches, seeking out unpressured fish and systems where environmental conditions foster fish activity throughout the dead of winter. Overlooked pods of panfish in deep, well-oxygenated lakes are a prime example.
Even then, presentational tweaks can mean a big difference. I favor a two-rod attack. The first sports a small jigging spoon such as a 1/16-ounce Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoon
, tipped with a downward-facing minnow head or trio of waxies or spikes. My presentation isn’t as animated as it was at first ice. Sharp lifts are fewer, jiggles longer, and rises slower. Often enough, this subdued spoon dance attracts passing pans, and triggers as many or more strikes as those scratched up by nearby buddies finessing microscopic jigs beneath spring bobbers.
“Because the bait is rotating on the treble at the bottom of the spoon, it’s easy for the fish to suck it in,” adds Genz, who is also a fan of spoonfeeding panfish when other anglers downsize. “When there’s nothing on sonar, I’ll fish a Frostee
rather aggressively—pumping it up and down. Then, when a fish comes in, I tone it down and shake the lure with little quivers that make the treble dance.”
For panfish that pass on the spoon, my second rod is rigged with a small horizontal jig like a Lindy Fat Boy
. “That’s my favorite, too,” says Genz. “I tip it with maggots or spikes and fish it with short jigging motions so it kicks; you don’t want to use big rod movements. After you catch a fish, it’s important to slide the knot on the line tie so the lure always hangs horizontal in the water, that’s a key to the Fat Boy’s success, especially when fishing is tough.”
These are just a couple of tricks for using Lindy’s ample arsenal of winter lures to ice more fish at midwinter. Others include tipping a size 12 Ice Worm
with a live minnow, rocking softbaits or spikes on Lindy Bugs
, and using the 1 1/3-inch Lindy Darter
to jar reaction bites out of tight-lipped pans. But those are all topics for another day. For now, keep the faith and keep fishing, adjusting your locations and tactics to catch more fish all winter long.
By: Lindy Team