The art of ice fishing made incredibly simple, you see the fish, see the fish take the bait, you catch the fish! Wham bam, easy peasy…when it comes to catching panfish through the ice, there is nothing better than seeing it for yourself. In Michigan there are many lakes that are crystal clear once the ice covers them, and at first ice the dark coops start to dot the lakes!
When I first started peeking through holes in the ice, I used my Fish Trap Pro and then a few years ago I finally upgraded to a Kenai Pro. It was moving up to a high rise as far as the seat arrangement went. The Kenai gives you a more comfortable view down the hole, which after a few hours your back and neck will begin to greatly appreciate the elevated view.
Speaking of holes, although when of thinking of fishing for crappie and gills through the ice, your first thought might be of using a six inch auger, it would not be my first choice. I run a 10 inch on Lake Erie for the big walleye, on the inland lakes for run and gun fishing off the bucket, I switch over to a six inch, but when it comes to sight fishing, the 8 inch rules the day. Its like watching the fish on a big screen, but it also allows you to visually scan around for holes in the weeds. Being on weeds is a good thing, sitting on top of a hole or runway through the weeds is like being on the golden brick road when it comes to sight fishing. These are the best spots, because the bigger fish are hunkered down in the thickest sections of a bed. After doing it for a while, you will begin to realize that the smaller fish locate up above, while the older fish will creep out to investigate your bait.
One of the keys to increasing your hook up rate, is the bait you put down the hole. Smaller is better, said only an ice angler in search of panfish worth putting on the wall. While most situations call for something along the lines of running a #12 hook when hole hoping looking for the aggressive fish, not when peeking down a hole. Most often you will want a #14 hook, but have a wide selection of #16’s in your jig box just in case the fish are finicky. This can be caused by too much fishing pressure, but a front coming in can cause the fish to be tightlipped also.
At first light, or when that clock ticks at 8 am for the beginning of a tourney, I like dropping down some plastic. I want to maximize what the hole will have to offer, and re-baiting is not what I want to spend my time on. The plastic must mimic something that the fish love to eat, and more often that means a wiggler, more commonly known as mayfly larvae. There are number of plastics that will do the trick, but I have become confident in using MATDI’s from Maki baits the last couple of years. Confidence is the key, if you don’t trust your jig and bait combination, don’t bother dropping it down the hole. Another key for using plastics, is to hold the fish’s attention is drop down something that glows, and I like red or a pink glow at first light.
As the day progresses though, the fish tend to switch their tastes over to something alive. They may not want that active movement required by using plastic, and will want a more subtle approach. That means that smaller jig comes into play, with less movement. Just give it enough wiggle to gently move your livebait and bring those big fish out of the weeds to investigate. Here is a little tourney secret, when the fish bite just enough of your bait to miss the hook, don’t panic! Give your rod a little jiggle and more often than not the fish will think the livebait is trying to escape and will gobble up the rest of it!