For successful ice fishing, target panfish with various bait

  • This perch was recently caught on the Chain of Lakes using a tungsten jig tipped with a wax worm.

    This perch was recently caught on the Chain of Lakes using a tungsten jig tipped with a wax worm. Courtesy of Evan Gregor

By Evan Gregor
Daily Herald fishing writer
Updated 1/20/2022 2:22 PM

Ice fishing season is in full swing in the area, and along with it comes a chance for some of the best and most consistent panfishing of the year.

Dedicated ice anglers have long targeted panfish species like bluegill, crappie and perch. This is the case not only because they provide a great fight on ultralight ice tackle, but they also make great table fare and generally taste better when caught out of cold water.


If you are interested in getting into ice fishing, targeting panfish is an excellent starting point. Gear-wise, you only need a few staple items to begin. For panfish species, you are going to want to use a light or ultralight rod and reel combo. The key to a great combo is one that is sensitive and can allow for easy bite detection while also having a good backbone for fighting feisty fish. On that combo, I recommend using ice-specific line anywhere from 2 to 4-pound test.

As for bait, a wax worm, spike or minnow are the standard baits you'll see most anglers using. What they choose to rig those baits on varies. Historically, small jigs have been an extremely popular choice, along with ice spoons and, in some cases, even a plain hook. During ice season, fish can be finicky toward certain baits, so it pays to change your offerings until you have success.

Once you have your gear dialed in, the most important step to a successful ice fishing trip for panfish is location. If you want consistent action through the ice, you need to fish in spots that fish tend to relate to. Unfortunately, it is a little more difficult to find these areas when you don't have a good visual. However, if you apply similar knowledge that gets used during open water, you can find fish.

Whether there is ice on the surface or not, fish like to relate to cover. That cover can be weeds, rock, wood or even things like discarded Christmas trees and artificial fish cribs. These types of structure can be located with devices like sonars or flashers, or with depth maps that show bottom contour. Panfish schools tend to move around frequently, so it doesn't hurt to keep moving until you find fish.

Similar to open water fishing, ice fishing requires a lot of patience and experimentation to find success. Once you begin, you will find that ice fishing can be every bit as exciting as fishing in open water.

If you choose to head out and give ice fishing a try, good luck and be safe out there.

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