Outside Chance: Skinny water panfish


by Jack Payne

Early season panfish is the time from ice-out until the pre spawn, spawning time.  “At ice-out panfish will be in the warmest water to be found,” said Chip Leer, a radio and magazine contributor. This does not always mean the shallowest water. It can often be fish feeding just under the surface.

We tested the water temperatures using my Temp Hawk probe at both surface and down 10 feet. Early season temperatures can drastically change from the surface down even just 5 feet. Ten degrees is not uncommon.  The same can happen in wind-protected bays and coves.

“Many anglers only fish the very shallow waters, never giving the adjacent waters a shot,” said Leer. Fish move in and out of the shallows all day, often by the hour. The best time to fish in the early season is during the warmest time of the day. This will continue until a few weeks before the spawn.

On a calm day with the sun beating on the surface bluegills and crappies can literally be seen with their backs out of the water. Once the new weed growth has started fishing patterns will change.

Chip is also a fan of being on the move until fish is found. He likes to move forward 25 to 30 feet between casts. “I am a fan of being pro- active, using lures that I can fish quicker than the traditionTwister tails, grubs, small spinners and even mini crankbaits is what Leer likes to throw. Once fish are found then he will often slow down a work a spot over.  Some of my favorite early season lures includes the Whip R Snap, Whip R Knocker and the Rival Worms, all from Stopper Lures. A great lure combination that puts the hurt on the fish is the Missile Float and a fly or a black gnat.  You can pound a set spot and work it thoroughly.
Another good technique is a Carlisle Float, maybe a slip, maybe a clip on, depending on the depth and an ice-fishing teardrop. I like glow colors and bright colors. You should carry two types of teardrops, one with the tie loop in the center and on top of the teardrop and another on the nose or tip. Two vastly different actions. Stopper Lures carries a full and great line-up of teardrops.

“Anglers should work their rod tips and make their lures pop a bit and expect the fish to hit as the lure slowly falls,” said Leer. Leer loves some type of scent, either impregnated into the bait or rubbed on.

Teardrops are light and sink slowly, perfect for a pop and twitch retrieve. The float keeps the teardrop from sinking out of the strike zone and provides a nice strike indicator. A smushed wax worm gives off a lot of scent.

Floats are deadly at picking apart a school of fish. The key to float fishing is balance. A missile style float will rarely go under, instead stand up or rock. This is because you are tying your main line to the skinny end and a leader from the fat bottom to your lure.

Carlisle floats come in many versions. Pick the smallest float that you can possible use and make sure that the tip only is above the water line. Some floats come with weights on them for aiding in casting distance. Some use a rubber spring or band that your line goes through.

“Anglers really need to learn how to use side scan or side view,” said Leer. There are countless videos on YouTube showing how to use this feature. Basically you are looking for shadows, and yes, you can spot beds and suspended fish. Cruise a shoreline using your polarized glasses, make a note of what you see and then back of 30-50 feet and try side view.

Think skinny water in the early spring, might be shallow water or fish just below the surface that are suspended. Use a faster approach in locating them and then slow down and pick them apart with a float and teardrop or a float and a Whip r Snap lure.