Pre-Opener Panfish

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Two things that always amaze me when talking with my fellow MN fishermen… How frequently I hear that people can’t wait until opener to get the boat out and why do they put away their ice jigs for the summer when they put away the short rods?  If you haven’t been out yet you’re definitely missing out on some great fishing and if you put away your ice flies, light jigs and plastics you’re probably also missing out on a better class of panfish.

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While there’s something magical about catching big Spring panfish nothing magical about finding them.  If the water temps are below 55 and/or the sky is overcast look for them to be suspended just outside of the shallow bays.  Once the the water temps get to the mid 50’s and above start looking in shallow bays, first those with a mud bottom and then as the rest of the lake warms itself look more for the harder, sandy bays where they will spawn.  Ideally if you can find some timber with the sun shining on it even better.  The water directly around the timber can be even a few degrees warmer so the closer you can cast to it (but not getting too close with the boat and spooking fish) the better your chance of finding fish.

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Even if you don’t have a boat using a pair of waders to access a cattail shoreline can quickly put you into contact with some killer crappie fishing.  This is another reason why plastics can really shine as a pack of 1/16 VMC Moon Eye jigs, plastics, and a small box of ice flies fit nicely a wader pocket.  The key here is making a little extra effort to get away from the spots that everyone else fishes.

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Once located the key is what is figuring out what they want… Typically this is very hard in the Spring as they’re looking to eat but a few small tweaks can really increase the quality of your catch.  Very similar to what I do in the winter I usually will bring along a Bait Puck full of waxies or eurolarva that I use when I’m in search mode.  One thing I don’t do however is use them on a plain hook or jig-head; instead I have become a huge fan of the VMC ice flies tipped with a waxie.  The reason I prefer the ice fly is that fish will often eat it without any bait at all so even if my larva is burglarized by a bluegill I’m not sitting dead in the water.  The other tweak is keeping a second rod handy with a Pug Bug and plastic such as the Mustache Worm or Nymph handy so that once a school is located I can try to pick off a few larger bluegills from the bunch.

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Finally, my new secret weapon is a custom made panfish rod from Tuned Up.  I love fishing panfish on light tackle but I’ve always found the ultralight rods tend to have the action of a wet spaghetti noodle.  For years I’ve been wanting a rod that had somewhere in-between an ultralight and light action but with a good backbone and fast tip.  I had this conversation with John at Tuned Up Custom last summer while I was picking up my jigging and rigging rods for walleye and he gladly accepted the challenge.  This Spring has been my first chance to use it and they hit this one out of the park.  Why is this important you ask?  Having too noodly of a rod will greatly reduce you casting accuracy, while having too heavy of a rod will decrease your feel and also casting distance for lightweight jigs.

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Thanks for reading and see you on the water!

– Will

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Will Roseberg

Having grown up in the small town of Malmo, Minn, fishing Minnesota’s famed Lake Mille Lacs, Will comes from a small group of anglers in-the-know on north-central Minnesota lakes. He developed his skills fishing the big lake and its surrounding Full Bio ›


  1. Good stuff here Will. If I were to add anything it would be to be certain that you fish from shallow to deep on that standing wood. Lots of fish can congregate along the height of this kind of structure and by working your way from the top down you’ll be upsetting fewer fish and thereby prolong the bite.

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