tungsten ice flies

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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Hardwater

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

SAMSUNG

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,

Conner

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