flies for panfish

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,

Noah

 

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Top Flies for Panfish

Big panfish eat few flies consistently, while smaller fish swallow everything that moves. In order to catch big panfish you’ll need a box that can adapt to water conditions and fish location. Here are the flies that help me catch more big fish in a variety of conditions:

  Pink Punch

The scruffy collar pushes water and the cone head gets it down, making this fly a good option for murky water or aggressive fish. The pink color makes it irresistible to crappies, and the ice dub gives it a translucent minnow effect.

Thread: Pink or Black 8/o UNI
Hook: # 12-8
Bead: x-sm Silver Conehead 
Tail: Pink Marabou or pseudo marabou
Body: Pink Ice Dub in a dubbing loop
 

pink punch crappie streamer

 

the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

   Noah’s Minnow

The Noah’s Minnow is a great fly for picky panfish. The marabou tail twitches in the water driving the most skittish fish to bite. The natural colors and bead chain eyes make it a natural option to throw. I created this one in 2010 and have put it through many renovations, but this is the “finished” product (for now).

Thread: Black 8/o
Hook: # 8 to #12
Eyes: Black or silver bead chain
Tail: Marabou, crystal flash (opt.)
Body: Wrapped marabou, same plume as tail
Extra Weight: 3-4 wraps of .025 round lead free wirethe final fly
 fly fishing for big bluegills

  Flash Bugger

The minnow-like characteristics of flashy estaz followed by the flowing marabou make the flash bugger a killer fly for panfish. It is really easy to tie and extremely productive in murky water or for aggressive fish. My favorite color combos would be pink\blue, pink\chartreuse, gray\blue, chartreuse, olive, and brown (tail\body).

Hook: #8-12
Thread: 6/0 UNI
Bead: 1/8″ copper
Tail: Marabou (any color)
Body: Eztaz (any color)Flash bugger
A nice perch on the flash bugger

A nice perch on the flash bugger

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

 DNA Mini Clouser

The DNA Mini Clouser is a great for big bluegills and crappies. The profile and shine of the DNA Frosty Fish Fiber looks almost exactly like a small minnow. They’ve got cool transparency that makes them 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
 

 

 

 

  Panfish Gurgler

This fly is bullet proof, doesn’t sink, and pushes a big wake – a great combination for big bluegills. Both fish and fisherman can track this fly in low light conditions. It will produce any time in shallow water, but the hottest bite is sunset.

Hook: # 12
Thread: 6/o UNI
Tail: Any color of marabou
Body: Palmered hackle
Back: Any color of thin foam
Legs: Centipede legs
Marker: black permanent
the Panfish gurgler a great fly for topwater crappies.

The Panfish gurgler, a great fly for topwater  panfish.

 
 
 

  Soft Hackle Telico

When the fish are less aggressive, you’ll need a subtle fly. The soft hackle will entice the picky fish, making it a must-have for a versatile panfish box. Also add a bead to get it down to deeper fish. This fly has saved several of my trips from being skunked.

 
Hook: #14 wet
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Bead: 3/32 gold copper bead
Tail: Lemon wood duck flank
Body: Yellow GSP or floss
Rib: Copper wire
Shellback: Pheasant tail fibers, folded over body and rib
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Rust brown/white hen hackle

Tellico Soft Hackle

Tellico Soft Hackle

 

Tellico Nymph

Bead Head Tellico Nymph

 slab bluegill on the fly mn
 
 
bluegill dinner fly fishing

All the flies combined

Tight Lines,
Noah
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