Inside The WildSide - Seasonal Solutions

Panfish – Where To Fish First Ice
By Chip Leer

Chip Leer With Panfish

Early winter offers savvy ice anglers some of the hardwater season’s best panfish fishing, for a variety of reasons. First, hungry panfish prowl predictable places that are often overlooked by other anglers. Plus, the fish are active for longer periods of time, more willing to chase baits, and eagerly swim farther to get a meal than at virtually any other time during the winter.

Northland Tackles Forage Minnow Spoon, Tungsten Sliver Spoon and Mitee Mouse Jig and Impulse shapes Crazy Legs, Water Flea, Mosquito Larve and Skeleton Minnow.


Since the panfish are on the bite, finding the fish is more than half the battle to sliding them onto the ice. A variety of structure and cover may attract fish, but healthy green weedbeds can be panfish magnets, especially for broad-shouldered bluegills and other sunfish.

Productive depths range from as shallow as three feet down to the deep weed edge, which may lie in 10 to 15 feet of water. Keep in mind that all areas of the bed are not created equal when it comes to attracting fish. Use sonar and an underwater camera to find sweet spots such as points, open pockets, holes and travel corridors within the bed.

Active panfish hit a variety of presentations. Northland Fishing Tackle’s 3/32-ounce Forage Minnow Spoon is a great choice right now, loaded up with a piece of plastic, waxworms or eurolarvae. Horizontal jigs like the Bro Bug and pint-sized heavyweights like the tungsten Mitee Mouse are top picks, too. To cover your bases, pack a manageable variety of your favorite panfish lures and tippings and see what the fish prefer.

Safety First! Wear a Vest and Carry Ice Picks and a Chisel


First ice is also a time for extreme caution. Wearing a life vest, keeping ice picks handy, and checking the ice every few feet with a spud bar or chisel can help prevent tragedy while you’re enjoying all the great panfish action early winter has to offer.

The downside of the first-ice blitz is the fish can be more vulnerable to the effects of cold fronts and other adverse environmental conditions—so time your trips to coincide with stable or otherwise favorable weather.

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Based in Walker, Minnesota, noted fishing authority and outdoor communicator Chip Leer operates Fishing the WildSide, an outdoor sports marketing and communications company. For more information look to