Sight Fishing Early Season Panfish


In west central Wisconsin I generally will target early ice blue gills in protected forest ponds/lakes or I will concentrate on smaller bays off of bigger bodies of water for early ice adventures. In the fall if I get a chance between deer stands and pheasant fields, I will get the boat out on some of these areas with my Marcum camera and a GPS. I like to try to search area with in walking distance of a ramp or access that I am planning on using first ice for a couple reasons, one I don’t like to walk far, I’m guilty of being kind of lazy that way, and two to keep from having to walk across ice that could potential be weak or thin.  I like to look for green weeds, which is why I like to go as late in the year as I can so that I can eliminate more weeds that have already died off. That is where a colored Marcum camera is a must to see the type of weed and of course how green they are, this is also a great time to mark cribs, stumps, break lines and deep weed lines even if I don’t plan on fishing them first ice.

crappie on iceI try to stay as light as I can without leaving behind any tools that I could need. I normally will take my Otter Cottage and throw whatever I might need in it and just pull that out. There are a few extra things I always take with on early ice and lots of time anytime on the ice. I always like to go with someone else for safety or if I’m going alone I tell someone where I’m going and when to expect me back. I also recommend taking or wearing a life jacket, just incase. I always remember a rope and my safety spikes and keep my Spikes around my neck because if I need them…I will need them now! Once I can get a machine on then I will start bringing more rods and the gas auger and maybe some more tackle.

Early thin ice I like to use a Lazer hand auger because it’s light and now it’s easier than ever with a drill adapter. This makes it simple just grab the drill from the garage, a couple extra batteries, hook it up and go. The reason I still like to take the shack with early season and not just a sled is not to get out of the elements but rather it is an invaluable tool in my sight fishing arsenal.

When I am sight fishing, often times I will hardly use my flasher but my camera will definitely get a work out! I will drill out the area I want to fish or am searching, preferably by weeds that I found scouting in the fall, or another piece of shallow water structure. The ergonomics of a camera is not quite as handy as a flasher but I’ve found a trick which makes touting it around the ice much easier. I’ll attach a strap so I can hook it around my neck and have it right in my face, and still have the ability to use both hands to drop a camera in the various holes as I’m walking around looking for fish. It really allows me to cover a lot of water relatively quick, without having to get up and down from the ice, or moving the shack hole to hole. Glare is a problem I’ve run into with hole hopping with a camera during high sun periods of the day, so I will take a towel or my jacket, and drape it over my head when I’m looking for fish.

When I find the fish I’ll pull my house over and start fishing! Remember when you’re drilling holes in the house, to put them closer to the tub of your fish house as if they are too far away then you’ll be leaning further forward which can make for an uncomfortable day.

bluegill and Lx5 tallMy typical set up for sight fishing panfish is a 19″ Tuned Up Custom Maestro sight fishing rod. This short rod allows me to get right over the hole, again making the experience more pleasant and productive. Pairing this with a reel is easy for me, because I am generally sight fishing in shallow water. An in-line fly style reel is a must as it acts more as a line storage device, and provides a “spin free” presentation. I prefer the 13 fishing as it is inexpensive and effective. I’ll string it with 4 lb. Sufix Ice Magic mono, for a stealthy approach.

Since the introduction of VMC ice tackle and Trigger-X soft plastic baits, I’ve found a few winning recipes! The mustache worm was a staple during the ’13-14 ice season, as it offered a fantastic presentation for bluegills and crappies alike. Another bait that produced well is the spike tail as I can work it in two distinctly different ways. I can use a quick, short snapping stroke and get the bait to dart, calling panfish in and then switch to a vibrating like stroke and the tail flows perfectly, giving me a solid one two punch! A lot of the time fisherman like tme using camerao alter their presentation as the fish gets closer to hitting the bait and in many instances the fish won’t respond positively. In many cases as the fish grows nearer, I’ll continue the same jigging stroke I called the fish in with, as they liked something about it. If this doesn’t work, I’ll often times switch to a more finesse jigging stroke.

This is one of my favorite ways to fish on hard water and is an invaluable learning tool that can be transferred to fishing with a flasher.  I  learn a lot about how your jigs and jigging strokes look and how fish react to your presentation, and you don’t need much to do it.

That visual learning is priceless and will without a doubt make you a better fisherman! You don’t need a camera or a flasher though they do help, but I did it for years growing up with just an auger and what I call a peg rod, a handful of jigs and a tin of waxies. Add this to your arsenal of early season tricks, and it will get a new level of understanding and not to mention it’s an absolute blast!

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Bryan Myers

Bryan lives in northwestern Wisconsin, where he spends most of the cold months targeting crappies and bluegills. “My specialty is probably catching basin crappies, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for sight fishing bluegills.” His home Full Bio ›


  1. Hello Bryan
    It each and advise a ice fishing team in New Richmond WI. I’m looking for a pro to meet with my team members. Looking for someone as close as possible as we would be unable to offer compensation. If you can think of anyone in your network of colleagues that would be interested please forward their contact information . Thanks

    Jeff Albarado
    New Richmond H.S.
    715 338 8434

  2. Hello Jeffrey

    Last year I got the chance to help out a local high school ice fishing team and it was incredibly rewarding. I’m not sure who took more from it-the kids or me. I’m sure it is very rewarding for you as well and I would love to figure out a way to help you and your team out. I sent you a friend request, feel free to message me. Thanks for supporting our youth and encouraging them to fish!

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