Talk about getting some stange looks from my co-workers, but when I checked the weather and noticed a big storm front would be moving through last Saturday, there I was doing a little happy dance in my cubicle. Why? In my experience panfish, especially the big ones, really turn on just before a big storm and I was going to be at the cabin!
With pouring rain on Saturday morning we stuck it out indoors until about 2 PM when at the first sign of snow-flakes my friend Garret and I loaded the ATV and headed for the ice. By the time we arrived at the lake there were already a few inches of fresh, wet “Spring” snow. Greeted by cotton ball sized snowflakes as we headed out we knew it was an awesome day just to enjoy the wonder that is mother nature and catching fish would just be icing on the cake. Understanding that as Spring approaches the panfish are already starting to move off of their winter haunts over deep mid-lake basins and begging to stage just outside of shallow water Spring locations and armed with some new tricks from recent reports by Joe Scegura and Mike LeClaire packed with how to info on targeting late season crappies and bluegills ( Ice Fishing Crappie Tactics & Old School Gills) we decided to start our search near shallow point with close proximity to to the main lake basin.
With only a couple hours until dark we needed to cover water quickly so we fired up the Lazer Pro and each took a couple shifts punching holes until we had over 40 of them covering depths from 5-20′ along the point edge closest to the main basin. Then starting in opposite corners, Garret out deep and me in shallow, we checked every hole for fish. As time was short we didn’t plan to spend any time fishing “empty” holes so we didn’t even drop a line in the water unless we saw fish. Unfortunately after covering all 40 holes we only had dropped a line in two of them and had nothing to show for it. It was a little disheartening, but I wasn’t completely suprised as often this time of year they could be only a few feet or even just inches under the ice. And although I didn’t mark fish while hole hoping I had noticed what looked like interference in the first couple feet under the ice in a few spots. If my hunch was correct I assumed this was actually where the baitfish were holding and the crappies would most likely not be far behind so I shortened my transducer cable to maximize my view just under the ice and went back to find a hole with “interference”. Dropping my spoon down and giving it a couple of twitches almost immediately resulted in a solid red line appearing no more than 2′ below the ice and it was already in full on kamikaze mode shooting up to inhale my spoon.
By repeating this pattern of finding bugs/baitfish then jigging in what initially seemed to be “dead” holes I had quickly iced several nice crappies; however, Garret still couldn’t even find the baitfish. It didn’t take long to figure out that it wasn’t the fisherman’s fault but that his electronics were letting him down. I borrowed him my LX-7 and instantly he was the productive fisherman while I could no longer follow my own pattern. What made the difference? Actually there were two subtle but important reasons why my LX-7 performs so well for shallow panfish. First, being digital has allowed Marcum to add in additional depth range adjustments which allows me to use the full dial on my flasher which for shallow water fishing makes a WORLD of difference. Secondly – The 6 color pallet versus a traditional 3 color pallet. Essentially what this change allowed was to add 3 levels of sensitivity where if you think of a traditional flasher as having high, medium, and low where the new 6 color pallet adds in extra low, even lower, and microscopically low. The advantage that having those two features gives a person in shallow water is night-and-day!
A quick “Hey is a that squatch over there?!” distracted Garret just long and for me to steal the LX-7 back, but after a few more minutes of catching crappies they disappeared. Figuring that they must be heading shallow to feed for the evening we started moving up toward the top of the point and sure enough on the 2nd to the last hole just off the top edge of the point I found a couple solid marks. My first drop down resulted in a beautiful 9.5″ gill and noticing that there was still a mark on my screen I set her down in the snow then proceeded to top my PB gill from just a few weeks ago with an 11″ monster! It might not have changed how the situation played out, but often little things can make a huge difference so something wanted to point out how I handle a situation like this with fish on the screen. When I do get onto an active school I really don’t like to catch a fish and send it down the hole while there are other fish on the screen. Especially in this shallow water to avoid spooking the school I always wait until I can get a bait back in their face to hold their attention or with conditions like this where the weather is warm and damp enough to allow it I will set a fish on the ice for a second while I go after the next one. Not only does this often allow you to catch more fish out of a single school, but since frequently the smaller fish are up top and will chase more agressively it’s common that the 2nd or 3rd fish turns out to be the monster.
It was an awesome day on the ice that I think Garret summed up best best when he said, “This more than makes up for having to spend the day plowing snow tomorrow!”