If you had to survive in the wilds of winter, catching panfish through the ice may be your ticket to good health.
Winter panfish are abundant, cooperative, and at times easy to find. In recent years anglers using under-ice cameras have confirmed many more panfish are schooled tightly in weed beds than once believed, especially during daylight when they’re hiding from predators. Green weeds are best, but even dead brown ones hold bluegills and other sunfish.
Another tip for finding schools of sunfish is to locate tip-up ice jockeys working for pike and bass. The periphery areas of “tip-up towns” often are ice fishing hot spots jammed with sunfish on which pike feed.
If crappies are your winter target, spend time choosing the best lakes. Flowages or reservoirs having standing timber are choice, especially mid-size ones in the 1,000 to 5,000 acre range. Crappies suspend in standing timber frozen in ice, and often aggressively hit minnow baits, jigs, and small ice spoons tipped with minnows.
For yellow perch, think shallow, sometimes just two or three feet of water, and work the weeds. Broad flats with mud bottoms full of green weed clumps like cabbage are choice. Small bare minnows work, but many anglers prefer jigging with standard ice dropper rigs. This consists of a flashy jigging spoon (hook removed) in the ¼-ounce size, fitted with a 6-inch length of 4-pound test fluorocarbon leader tied to a small ice jig like a little Lindy Fat Boy. Thread on a couple maggots, a small minnow, or a few waxies, and get the perch skillet fired up.