The Basics of Using Ice Flies for Panfish

Ever come across a tricky panfish bite under the ice? When fish get picky, ice flies are often the best solution for those nasty bites below the ice. This article gives a basic introduction to picking ice flies.

Stuck this bull 'gill on a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike

Stuck this bull ‘gill on a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike

When picking an ice fly, there are three things that I consider. First, I think about what the fish is primarily feeding on, and how big that food source is. Panfish are opportunistic feeders, especially in the winter. They will feed on many things during the cold season. However, many of those food sources can be generalized into three categories: Nymphs and Larvae, Freshwater Shrimp, and Worms. As long as I have a couple from each category, I can match almost every bite.

Size is another key factor. Colder weather makes the fish have much smaller appetites. On those nasty days when your holes freeze over before you finish drilling them, a smaller fly is often the only way to entice a bite.

Finally, I consider triggers; does it have any? What are they? In the winter panfish have a much slower metabolism, so adding little triggers can help to entice the bite. During the cold months, panfish are not eager to chase an aggressive presentation. Triggers add little twitches of movement to a fly that is activated by minimal jigging, making triggers a crucial part of a fly. I love incorporating rubber legs and marabou into my flies. Rubber legs add beautiful movement even with the slightest twitch, and the marabou breathes under water. I also add a little flash to my flies. However, due to panfish’s lethargic nature during winter, adding too much flash will end up scaring the fish. Sometimes one extra trigger could mean the difference between being skunked and having a good day on the water.

The 'Gill Shrimp. the translucency of the ice perfectly mimics a fresh water shrimp.

The ‘Gill Shrimp. the translucency of the ice perfectly mimics a freshwater shrimp.

A Slab Spike is a perfect example of a nymph pattern.

A Slab Spike is a perfect example of a nymph pattern.

Now that you have picked your fly its time to fish it. I prefer that my flies get down fast, so I rig my flies as a dropper to either a tungsten ice fly or a tungsten jig. If fishing with two hooks is not an option, I will fall back to a good ol’ drop shot rig or a single tungsten fly. Panfish under the ice have a much slower metabolism than in the summer, so I lean towards a gentle pattern of micro twitches. If the fish are too slow for a gentle jigging pattern, I’ll switch to barely moving the fly every few seconds. Any triggers will come into play here as the slightest twitch will make the flies move and look even more buggy. I always consider how the fish are reacting to my flies and jigging pattern, and I adjust accordingly.

A beautiful end to a good day on the ice.

A beautiful end to a good day on the ice.

Remember fish are lethargic in the winter so their appetite won’t be as large and they will be less aggressive. So, a smaller, more mellow fly is sometimes key. Ice flies are my favorite way to fish in the winter, and the perfect way to fish any bite.

Tight Lines,



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In the winter, fish have a much slower metabolism than in open water, so panfish and trout can get pretty finicky under the ice. Although they may shy away from a big bait, I’ve seen many fish swim up and inhale the fly.

Tight lining has taken the ice fishing scene by storm in the past few years, and for good reason. This highly productive technique utilizes quick-sinking tungsten in combination with realistic ice flies that turn timid, cold-front fish into biters. Hand-tied in Minnesota, our flies are made to withstand fish after fish.

Spikes (mayfly nymphs) and scuds are a favorite food source for winter panfish. The Slab Spike, with its segmented body, rubber legs, and chickabou tail, it closely imitates a small mayfly nymph. The ‘Gill Shrimp is the realistic match of scuds that inhabit lakes. The movement of the chickabou and ice-dub body entices even the pickiest of fish.

Pile of bluegills on Gull Lake that fell for a #14 Slab Spike in an afternoon of fishing, and this is the middle class.

Pile of bluegills and crappies that fell for ice flies on an afternoon of fishing.


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Tight lines on the ice,

3 Brothers Flies



Winter has settled in here in Minnesota, and it’s been a particularly harsh one this year. It seems like most of the time temperatures struggle to stay above zero or in the single digits, but only the harshest of frigid subzero days have kept us off the ice. Chasing crappies and bull bluegills over on the “crappie hole” has taken most of our time this winter.

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

Fooled this crappie with a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike ice fly

The “crappie hole” is our home water, and where we’ve spent most of our time on the ice. Though hardly considered a lake by Minnesota standards, the pressure the little hundred-acre lake receives is insane. The number of weekend anglers that take up residence on the ice surpasses the population of more than a few small towns. Despite the armies of ice fisherman that hit the water each winter, the lake sustains a surprisingly decent population of crappies, bluegills, bass, and pike. It’s not a Mille Lacs or Lake of the Woods, but the murky little lake holds its own special charm. sunset on the ice

The first few ventures on the ice during the last week of December weren’t particularly productive, but we caught a decent number of fish each time. On about our third trip, we caught up to the bull ‘gills on a “remote” weed bed that only had a handful of ice houses within a hundred yards. We found bluegills holding in the weeds in ten feet of water, with crappies roaming the flats in fourteen feet of water, which is the deepest the lake hits. Ice flies and tungsten jigs tipped with waxies produced plenty of bluegills in the day and crappies low light. I fished a new TUNGSTEN Slab Spike (which is now available on Fishing Gear!!:) on a tight lining setup and put some nice fish on the ice. The tungsten bead got it down quickly and allowed me to fish it solo, which was great for hole hopping and active jigging.bluegill and crappie dinner icefishingbradens crappie in the dark


Stuck this bull 'gill on a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike

Stuck this bull ‘gill on a TUNGSTEN Slab Spike

Fishing has been pretty good this year, and we’ve had some great times on the ice chasing panfish. A trip up north is in the works, so hopefully we’ll catch up to a few walleyes. And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for recent reports from the ice.

Tight lines,


Bluegills, Bucketmouths, and Bowfin on the Fly

We hit the lake last weekend for a couple days of chasing some bass and panfish. The fish have moved into their summer patterns but there were still a few bass to be had in the shallows.

fighting a largemouth bass on the flyI caught this bowfin on a variation of Rich Strolis’ Hog Snare just before dark in the canoe. He put up a great fight on the fly rod.

One mean-looking fish

One mean-looking fish

I caught a good sunrise–but not much else– early the next morning. The mist and the super calm lake made a very picturesque morning.101_5099

101_5104 Braden and I got out in the rowboat and fished docks for bass with spin rods later in the morning. He thought he snagged a log on his Rattle Trap, but then it started moving….he managed to land this beast of a 20″ bass after a good battle in the weeds.

20" bucketmouth right up in the shallows

20″ bucketmouth right up in the shallows

We paddled up the creek a few times to the outlet of another small lake searching for some bluegills and bass. Moving water always seems to attract fish, and despite the crazy pressure from the local bait fisherman, the little hole below the culvert produced lots of ‘gills on the fly and a few bass. The bluegills were thick and ravenous. Braden rigged up a homemade tenkara rod with a stick and hammered the fish. He got some curious looks from the locals :)

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill


Nailed this 17″ largemouth on a chartruese meat whistle at the culvert

fly-caught largemouth

Grandpa caught this nice crappie while trolling for walleyes

27 incher

27 incher

The Bite:

Largemouths have started to move to deeper summertime haunts, but there were still plenty of fish in the shallows on the docks and shorelines, especially in low light. Fish jigs slowly crawled along the bottom in clear water or crankbaits in the murky water

Crappies were in the weeds in 3-8 feet of water

Water Surface Temp was 74


Tight Lines,



Favorite Panfish Flies: Part One: Streamers

Part one of Noah’s three-part series on panfish flies.

Small panfish will take almost every thing that moves and is colorful, but if you want to catch slabs consistently you have to fish flies that are designed for panfish. Big panfish eat meat, and streamers are a great way to catch slabs consistently. These five patterns are all fantastic streamers for panfish, producing in every environment. They are also pretty quick and easy to tie. They are overall great flies. Enjoy!

Pink Punch

If I had to pick one fly for my panfish box this would definitely be the one. I created this great warmwater fly in August of 2012 and have fished it in small streams,  lakes, and quarries.  Fishing for greenies, sunnies, ‘gills, crappie, and perch, I’ve never found a spot where it would not produce. Here’s the recipe:

Thread: Pink or Black 6/o
Hook: # 12
Bead: Silver Conehead
Tail: Pink Marabou or pseudo marabou
Body: Fluorescent Hot Pink UV Ice Dub
Collar/veil: Fluorescent Hot Pink UV Ice Dub (touch dub it to get a nice scruffy collar)
noah's favorite streamer for big panfish

Pink Punch

Nice crappie that slammed the Punch

This is a great fly and my absolute favorite to fish.


Noah’s Minnow

The Noah’s Minnow is a great fly for panfish, bass, and even trout, and definitely one of my favorites. It is especially good for wary fish in clear water.

Thread: Any color of 6/o
Hook: # 12
Eyes: Black or silver bead chain
Tail: Marabou, crystal flash (opt.)
Body: Wrapped marabou same color as tail

Olive with some Krystal Flash in the tail. This is also a great little streamer for trout (Conner caught his biggest brookie on one of these, a fourteen incher in northern MN).


Flash Bugger

The flash bugger is a good fly for aggressive panfish, and in stained water conditions. You can tie them in many different colors to match your fishing conditions.

Hook: #12
Thread: 6/0 any color
Bead: 1/8″ copper
Tail: 1 generous plume of marabou (any color)
Body: Eztaz (any color)

My favorite Flash Buggers

 DNA Mini Clouser

The DNA Mini Clouser is a great fly for big bull bluegills, and especially crappies. Big panfish eat meat, and the profile and shine of the DNA Frosty Fish Fiber looks almost exactly like a small minnow. They’ve got cool transparency and look really nice in the water.

Thread: Black 6/o UNI
Hook: #8-12 wet fly
Eyes: Black or silver bead chain
Over wing: Chartreuse DNA Frosty Fish Fiber, tied on bottom of shank
Under wing: White DNA Frosty Fish Fiber, tied on top of shank

These are all great flies for panfish, and quick and easy to tie.

Redear(?) that slammed a #4 Meat Whistle tied on a saltwater hook! Slab panfish want meat, and streamers are a great way to consistently hook the big ones.

Tight Lines,



Gills and Gators – Florida Farm Pond Fishin’

“Sure, just watch out for the gator.”

The words resonated in my head as I walked toward the pond that reportedly held some bass and panfish. Moments earlier, my ears perked up when I heard the owner of the small citrus-picking operation mention a little pond in the corner of the grove – and a gator. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to ask.

“Any fish in that pond?”

“Yeah, there are some bass, and a few tilapia,” she replied.

“Mind if I fish a little?”….

An orange grove was the last place I expected to be tossing a fly in southwest Florida, but the prospect of catching a big Florida bucketmouth sent chills of excitement down my spine. Only about a hundred feet long and half as wide, the pond was small, if not tiny, easily in range of casting a fly to the other side. A little grove of palm trees hung over the water, breaking up the grassy bank. I imagined a largemouth lurking in the shade, waiting for a helpless baitfish to wander by.

Then I spotted her. Eight feet of massive gator was sitting on the opposite bank sunning herself — out of reach, but still far too close to be comfortable. With one eye on the beast, Braden grabbed a #4 rusty brown Meat Whistle and tied it on with a Rapala knot.

I was on gator watch while Braden probed the depths. The murky water was full of tiny minnows. Occasionally, something would erupt on the surface, sending the minnows scattering and fueling our excitement even more. One restless corner of our minds was always on the gator, no matter how much we focused on the fish. Braden ran the Meat Whistle through the middle of the pond and along the shore, but nothing showed any interest. After a few minutes of fishing, he decided to shift gears and switch to a panfish fly. He tied on a #12 Flash Bugger and repeated the process, hitting every little fishy spot in that corner of the pond.

A few minutes later I took the rod and headed over to the other side of the pond. The gator kept an eye on us as she lazily sat on the bank. The uneasiness was beginning to wear off, but it’s hard to be completely comfortable (or at least it should be) with an apex predator staring you down. I cast my flash bugger deep into the shade, and started stripping it back. The line tightened up, and I set the hook on a fish! As soon as the gator saw the rod bend, she launched herself into the water and started cruising right at us…I stripped in line and yanked the 6-inch bluegill onto the bank, using the backbone of my eight weight to my advantage. The gator was getting closer with every moment. Braden snapped a quick picture before I fumbled with unhooking the fish, chucked it back into the pond, and took off in a hurry! We tried to fish some more, but every time Braden started casting, the gator would slowly sneak toward us, forcing us to get out of there before she got too close. Today was an awesome experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Tight Lines,


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