How to Ice Fish for Panfish (During Tough Bites)

Ice Fish Panfish

In this short, straight-to-the-point writeup, we’re going to teach you how to ice fish for panfish.

It isn’t rocket science – panfish will be one of the easiest species to catch throughout the majority of the winter on your local lakes – but knowing how to find panfish quickly and make them bite is key to having consistent success.

We have a boatload of tips and strategies for you in this writeup!

Continue reading below if you prefer articles, otherwise, this video has all the same information:

Any links from the video can be found in the writeup below:


First things first, let’s talk about where you can find winter panfish.

Some of the key areas we fish in the mid-winter are in deeper water. Many of the fish in the lake will be moving out to the deeper basins, somewhere between 20 to 30 plus feet.

What’s great this time of year is fish like to school up a little tighter. If you find them, you can usually catch a bunch of them. The only drawback is when you’re fishing extra-large basins, the fish might be hard to find. You’ll have have to put in more work, drilling lots of holes, if you want to stay on top of them and catch them consistently. Ice panfish like to roam a lot looking for food. 

It is also important to understand that the biggest crappies and the biggest bluegills in the lake are not necessarily going to be doing the same things at the same time. You need to decide if you’re trying to find crappies, bluegills, or both at the same time.

Often times, the smaller bluegills will be running with the crappies out in the middle of the basin, but if you’re looking for bigger bluegills, try checking little insider corners on the structure – that 15 to 22 feet range, right before it dumps off into the deep basin.

On most lakes, you’ll be able to find crappies roaming, suspended over the deeper depths. Sometimes you’ll find bluegills mixed in (usually towards the bottom), other times they are nowhere near the crappies. This varies from lake-to-lake.


Anyone can catch bluegills and crappies when they are aggressive and willing to bite, but when they are tight-lipped and finicky (which sometimes happens in midwinter), you need to adjust your presentation.

One of our favorite baits when the bite gets tough in midwinter (end of January to mid-February) are the Tungsten Punch Fly Jig. I like to put a couple euro larva to the hook, keeping the profile small and simple.

If there are a bunch of fish down there and they aren’t biting a tungsten jig, try dropping just a small Rippin’ Shad (lipless crankbait) down there and see if you can get a reaction strike, just like you would for summer walleyes. 

No matter what lure you use, there’s a certain way you need to work them when the panfish aren’t in a super aggressive mood. If they are barely moving, try hanging the bait just above them, moving it as slow as you can.

If the fish is further away from your lure, you’ll want to work it a little harder to see if they will chase. If not, stick the lure right above their nose and keep it moving. Often times, they’ll come up and “breath” in enough for you to hook them.


Believe it or not, there is more to capitalizing on the mid-winter panfish bite than having the right bait and being in the right location.

Another key ingredient is making sure you’re running thin line. I’m typically running 2-3lb test on most of my panfish rods.

In my opinion, three pound is about the highest you want to use. When the fish are super lethargic and finicky, they simply sit there, staring at your jig for a long time before deciding whether or not they want to eat it.

If you’re running heavier line (4 or 6lb test), the fish are simply going to swim away more often than not.

Keeping you line as thin as possible is critical this time of year. The best thing you can do is spool up with fresh line that’s ultra-light and see if it makes a difference for you on your favorite lake. If it helps you get more bites, great! If not, you can always go back to heavier line.

Remember, the ice panfish bite is a lot better on late ice and early ice. Line thickness might not matter as much during those times of year when the fish are more aggressive. It’s midwinter when you really need to pay attention to the small details to catch more fish.

But here’s the thing, you’ll benefit from thinner line ALL WINTER for a few different reasons:

First of all, lighter line = straighter line.

When you use thick line, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for your tiny little tungsten jig to pull the line down completely straight. You can tell your line is totally straightened out because you will see the rod tip will bend down just a little bit.

The reason why having a straight line is so important is because it allows you to have better control over your jig. You have have a direct connection to your lure (you lift, the lure lifts, etc). Heavier line tends to coil, which dampens the action of your lure.

You’ll also have better bite detection with a straighter line. Bite detection is one of the absolute most important keys to catching panfish during the midwinter period, especially when the fishing is tough.

Fussy bluegills are some of the toughest fish to hook when they are barely breathing on the bait. When they gently suck it in, you need to SEE it on the tip of your rod, because you’re not going to feel it in your hands.


Having a soft-tipped rod is important for this tactic, as well.

There are a couple of different options to choose from – either a traditional noodle rod or a spring bobber rod. The noodle rod is easier to find at your local retailer and is less of a hassle with potentially disastrous tangles, but the spring bobber is great option for detecting the softest of bites. It’s more sensitive than even the best noodle rods.

Those are a couple different options – it all just comes down to personal preference at the end of the day.

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