Panfish Ice Fishing – Burning Through

January 5, 2010 by  

By Jason Mitchell

The speed and intensity of how fish move should play a key factor in tactics and strategy.  Not always, but often when we find bluegills, crappies and perch on basins, flats and suspended over open water, these fish are on the move.  Sometimes, these fish seem to be moving as fast as a person walks.  When you watch these fish on the camera, they are on the go… seldom pausing and stopping  briefly and momentarily only when something arrouses their curiosity.  Now obviously when fish are moving like this, you have to move to find them but sometimes, we can actually do better by staying put and working an area if enough new fish keep moving in and out.  The faster fish are moving, the faster they leave you but also remember that the faster fish are moving, the faster new fish might find you.

10-6The longer you can keep these fish below you, the more fish you can catch.

This becomes even more difficult when fishing alone.  When you are out of the water, these fish immediately drift off.  The longer you are out of the water unhooking a fish, the further they drift off.  Drilling a second hole with a second line is an option an angler can use to try and stall fish but drilling and fishing that second hole slows down mobility so dramatically that if might become difficult to find the fish initially.  Nothing is faster than hopping from hole to hole with one rod, using your electronics.  Coincidently, the fish that often move the fastest are usually schooled vertically versus scattered horizontally.  These vertical schools don’t take up much room and are often harder to find with electronics because the school might be six feet high but only three feet across.  When you do find them however, the whole dial might be lit up with fish while an angler six feet away can mark nothing.  In my opinion, nothing beats a Vexilar for judging the attitude of a fish because the resolution on the display is so much better.  Anglers can tell if a fish moves or stops by the flutter in the signal.

Often when attempting to find suspended fish, we just keep dropping the transducer down as we walk from hole to hole, stopping to fish when we see fish on the dial.  A tip for finding these suspended fish is to swing the transducer from side to side slightly to pick up fish that might be just off the cone angle.  Generally, even if you get a mark or two when finding fish this way, stop and fish as you might be just off the edge of the school.   We often start out by fishing aggressively when attempting to find these fish.  Something that is heavy, gets down and pulls fish in.  For perch, Northland Buckshot Rattle spoons are extremely effective for “calling” fish in.  For bluegills and crappies, finesse spoons like Northland Forage Minnows can bring fish in from a distance.  These burning schools of aggressive fish will generally eat whatever you put in front of them so the more fish you can find by being efficient as far as getting back down into the water or pulling additional fish to you, the better.

Strategy plays a big key in how many fish you can catch when faced with this type of situation.  The following are a few tips that have worked well for us when we are trying to take advantage of these opportunities.  Also, fishing outside in the elements is often crucial for finding these fish consistently as the person who drops that transducer into the most holes usually wins.  Good outerwear like Ice Armor is a must.  If the elements are so severe that you must use a shelter, a flip up style shelter like a Fish Trap is extremely convenient

Lift the Fish High

When a column of fish first appears on the electronics, many anglers immediately attempt to pick off the easiest fish.  Instead, try this.  Find the most responsive fish (usually located near the top of the school) and lift that fish up from the school to get the rest of the fish to rise.  Get these fish up off the bottom as high as you can until they start to drift back down.  As soon as they start to drift, go after the highest fish.  Often when you can lift the fish high (especially in deep water) the fish drift down instead of swimming away which gives you more time to bring in a fish, get unhooked and back down to the next fish.  Work your way down from top to bottom and if the school disappears with just a few fish left, hook one of the remaining fish if possible and just hold the fish for awhile, as that struggling fish will often bring the school back in.  Keeping the school stacked up vertically and off the bottom is crucial.

Modify Tackle

When using horizontal baits like Northland Tackle Gill Getters or Mud Bugs, pinch the barbs down and use a plastic tail instead of bait as the tails are much more durable and make an angler much more efficient because time isn’t spent out of the water baiting a hook after every fish or two when the fish are aggressive.  On a really good bite, replace the treble hook on a spoon to a larger single shank hook with the barb pinched off so that hooks can be popped out easier.  We typically tip the spoons with bait.  One of the most durable baits (where legal) is a perch eye.  Lures that cut through the water fast are often best as the key is getting back to the next fish.  Keep a  second rod loaded.  On a Vexilar, many of the new models come with a rod holder.  If not, make your own rod holder by fastening a piece of pvc pipe to the housing of your electronics.  This rod holder on the Vexilar is convenient for easily transporting that second rod from hole to hole.

Team Work

Use other anglers to your advantage.  If you or one of your partners gets on a hot school of fish, team up in the same hole versus drilling another hole.  When you come up with a fish, have your partner drop down in the same hole to keep the school below you and stacked.  Take turns reeling in fish until the school moves off.   Then use teamwork again to find the next school of fish.  If you are fishing with a partner in a portable shelter like a two man Fish Trap, make a point to work together so that somebody always has either a lure or a fish down in the water.  The longer you can stall these fish and keep them around, the more additional fish seem to show up and the longer you have to catch them.

Force the School

When dealing with perch, bluegills and crappies, nothing attracts fish like other fish.  “Stripes attract stripes,” as the saying goes when targeting perch.  With that being said, when a few fish show up on the screen and don’t rush up to eat, experiment with lifting the fish off the bottom but not letting the fish eat the jig, just coax the fish up and see if that fish pulls in more fish.  The higher you can get the fish, the better as it seems like other fish can see it from further away.  When more fish show up, it is amazing to watch how the attitude of the fish changes from being hesitant and passive to aggressive.  More fish you can pull in below you and the higher you can get these fish to stack up vertically, the more aggressive they seem to get.  Create an environment where fish are racing and competing against each other to eat what you are fishing with.


These schools of fish that are roaming open water or across expansive flats can often be frustrating to find and stay on top of.  They are not just gone from where you caught them yesterday, they can be gone from where you caught them ten minutes ago.  These fish are burning through areas fast and the vertical shape of the school can cause frustration as you can cover a lot of fishless water before drilling that one hole where it seems like every fish in the lake is below your boots.  This situation however can be extremely productive however with a few adjustments in tactics and strategy.  Just having the mental picture of how these fish are traveling can help immensely as you make decisions through the duration of the day.

Editors Note:  The author, Jason Mitchell is credited for pioneering many of the modern ice fishing methods regarding presentations, locational strategies and the use of electronics.  Jason Mitchell also designs a premium lineup of application specific rods that have revolutionized the ice fishing industry,


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