By Dan Johnson

Bluegills and crappies roaming deep basins are providing solid action on lakes across the Ice Belt. But it’s always good to keep another angle in mind when you hit the lakes from now through ice-out: emerging beds of green weeds.

While a lack of sunlight due to deep snow cover and thick ice kills off many beds by midwinter, the process reverses itself as warming temperatures and longer days open the shades on the underwater world—allowing vegetation to make a comeback. These emerging beds attract winter weary bluegills and crappies, which filter in from deep water to enjoy the ample forage and rebounding levels of dissolved oxygen.

One of my favorite salad bars lies where a large, shallow bay meets the main body of a large, natural central-Minnesota lake. As soon as resurgent vegetation makes a comeback in late February or March and hits heights of 12 to 20 or more inches, panfish take up residence, offering fine sight fishing for both crappies and ’gills. It’s a nice break from plying depths of 25 feet or more on the main basin.

Sometimes shorter sprouts do the trick. I’ve hit the mother lode of crappies, with bonus sunfish mixed in, over beds of 3- to 5-inch-high coontail and cabbage popping up next to taller vegetation.

In both cases, an underwater camera can be a great ally in the quest to find promising greens, along with panfish relating to them. Once you’ve located a prime patch, drill a few holes and pop from one to another, testing the water for hungry customers below. If you have a portable shelter, pop the top and hunker down, watching the drama unfold beneath your boots.

A variety of presentations take panfish in the weeds. Horizontal-hanging bug imitators like the Lindy Toad, Tungsten Toad, Fat Boy, Ice Worm, Slick Jig and Bug are all top picks. But it’s worth having a handful of vertical baits, such as Frostees, Rattl’n Flyer Spoons and Frostee Spoons just in case. When big crappies are keying on baitfish—or even juvenile panfish—a small Lindy Darter can really be dynamite.

While the deep basin bite might still be firing on all cylinders, don’t forget to keep the green pattern in mind. As winter winds down, it can quickly become the hottest thing happening for putting panfish on ice.