As we get into the last weeks and sometimes the last days of ice fishing there is a phenomenon that occurs for panfish. We’re talking bull bluegills, mumbo jumbo perch, and big crappies. As the sun begins to melt away the ice with renewed intensity, panfish sense change and will adapt to micro-organisms that appear just before breakup. There are all kinds of critters from bloodworms to stages of larvae that abound beneath the late stages of ice and different species of panfish are right on target to devour everything in their path.
Many times I have taken numbers of bluegills directly under the ice in 12-16 feet of water. With the oxygen filled honey combed ice and the driving force to nourish their systems before spawning this is a ritual that repeats itself season after season. I use my Humminbird Helix 7 with Down Imaging to identify small minute organisms with fish encompassed within these masses. Small jigs and spoons from VMC offer the size and shape of just what the doctor ordered. Attach two or three wiggly euro larvae and you are definitely serving up lunch.
Jumbo perch most often are shallow at last ice and can be found with regularity in depths of 6-10 feet. Gravel, shallow rocks, and scattered weed growth will hold numbers of big perch at last ice. For this application I prefer my Helix 7 Ice with wide angle transducer cone to give me a better look at what’s available. Small spoons baited with a minnow head or a small VMC Pug Bug jig with 3-4 larvae are deadly for late ice perch. Keep drilling and moving until you find the hot hole.
Late ice crappies are quite nomadic and can be found in several depth ranges. Most often I will check depths of 20-24 feet near a shallow ledge that has a soft med bottom. Crappies are dialed into massive blood worm locations and many times will migrate to the shallows at dusk or dark. Several different baits do a good job, but I like a small 1/32nd or 1/64th ounce Tungsten Tubby jig with several grubs attached or a minnow tail or head for scent. Keep hole hopping and paying attention to your Humminbird until you locate fish.
Some of the area lakes to try for panfish are: Big and Little Cutfoot, Bass, Bowstring, and Rice lakes. All have good populations of bluegills and crappies. Call area baitshops and resorts to get up to date information on conditions and good access areas. For more information about these lakes, check out the MN DNR Lake Finder Resouce Page. With the increased amounts of snow, travel on area lakes is primarily snowmobile or definitely resort plowed roads.
Safety is always a must and at late ice it’s even more important. Always walk and use a chisel ahead to make sure the honey combed ice is strong enough to support your weight. Late ice can be very fulfilling, but caution and safety are a must. Always tell someone where you are going and it wouldn’t hurt to wear a life jacket when venturing out. The intense rays of the sun bring about nature’s change and a few nice fish and the warmth of spring make late ice worth trying. For more information regarding Ice Safety, check out the MN DNR Ice Safety Resource Page.
If you do not have Ice Fishing Equipment, but have an interest to try Ice Fishing, check out our Ice Fishing Resource Page that includes name and contacts for Professional Ice Fishing Guides.