Ice Fishing for Bluegill and Panfish

Ice Fishing for Bluegill and Panfish

This post will focus on ice fishing for bluegill and panfish. These diminutive game fish are prized by anglers ice fishing just as they are for those fishing open water. Bluegill and panfish put up a great little fight on ultra light tackle. They can be aggressive in winter, making them a prime target. Finally, and perhaps most important, they are fantastic eating!

ice fishing for bluegill and panfish

Like many other fish species, bluegill and panfish will exhibit a seasonal migration under the ice. Generally, this is a reverse pattern of summer. Early and late in the ice fishing season, bluegill and panfish will be found in fairly shallow water at times. They will generally concentrate over cover, especially weed beds. They may be found in water as shallow as 5 feet deep.

Ice fishing for bluegill and panfish

Special thanks to Scott Mackner for help with this article! Scott was born and raised in central Minnesota and still lives in his home town. He grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping and loves everything outdoors. Scott has an excellent YouTube channel with a bunch of helpful videos. He is sponsored by Tuned Up Custom Rods.

In the coldest parts of winter, bluegill and panfish will be found a bit deeper. They will stage up on drop-offs and channel edges. Generally speaking, water between 10 and 25 feet deep is the best place to search for them. They are often concentrated during this time, and it can be difficult locating them. However, once found, a bunch of them can be caught in short order.

ice fishing for panfish

Ice fishing tackle for bluegill and panfish

Ice fishing rods and reels are pretty basic. For the most part, they are smaller versions of ultra light tackle that anglers use when open water fishing. The biggest difference is the length of the rod. Since anglers will be standing close to the hole, a long rod is a disadvantage. Anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish generally go with fishing rods between 24 inches and 36 inches long.

Anglers can read an article on ice fishing tackle and gear

Reels used when ice fishing for bluegill and panfish are the same as those used in other applications. The most part, they are the lightest versions available. A quality ice fishing rod and reel can be purchased for under $50.

Anglers can shop Amazon for an ultralight  ice fishing rod and reel combo

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. ”

Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

Lines are very important when ice fishing. In the cold water, there is very little algae growth. Therefore, the water is very clear. Successful anglers seldom go above 4 pound test, with 2 pound test being preferred. Several manufacturers make line specifically designed for ice fishing. They stay supple even in the very cold weather. Light line will also result in much better action for anglers using artificial lures. Jigs and spoons will have a more lifelike presentation on this lighter line.

ice fishing for panfish

Ice fishing for bluegill and panfish with live bait

Many anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish use live bait. The most popular live baits are wax worms, mealworms, nightcrawlers, earthworms, and small minnows. Wax worms and mealworms in particular are favored bluegill and panfish baits. They can be fished alone on a very small hook with a split shot. Most often, they are fished on a tiny jig head. In fact, anglers almost always tip their artificial lures with some type of live bait.

ice fishing for bluegill

For the most part, these baits are easily obtained at most bait and tackle shops that cater to ice fishermen. As long as they are not exposed to the freezing cold, they should remain alive healthy for quite a while. If possible, baits should be kept at room temperature. Many ice fishermen simply keep their waxies in their winter coat pocket. Minnows are bit more troublesome and must be kept alive in an aerated bucket. Live minnows will catch fewer panfish and bluegill, however they will catch some of the larger specimens.

Ice fishing for bluegill and panfish with lures

Bluegill and panfish can most certainly be caught by anglers using artificial lures as well. As mentioned above, most effective technique is often to combine the two. Tiny jigs are by far the most popular artificial lure for panfish and bluegill. These come in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and colors. In most instances, jig heads weighing 1/32 of an ounce that are brightly colored work best. Anglers can go up or down in size as needed given the current fishing conditions. Modern jigs are made of Tungsten, they are very dense. This allows for more weight in a smaller package.

ice fishing for yellow perch

Bluegill and panfish jigs

Anglers can purchase jigs either fully dressed or plain so that they can add their own grub body. While most anglers have gone to the jig and grub design, some still prefer a jig dressed with some type of material. In most cases, this is marabou. Marabou has an incredible lifelike action and the water in response even the slightest movement. This makes it perfect for anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish.

ice fishing jigs

Just as with jig heads, the selection of grub bodies available to anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish is extensive. Some do not resemble anything that swims in the water. However as long as they are brightly colored and have a natural motion in the water, they will catch fish. This set up makes it easy for anglers to quickly and easily change color combinations along with body sizes and shapes.

ice fishing with live bait

Scented soft plastic bodies can give anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish a great advantage. The GULP line of baits is a perfect example of this. The 1 inch Gulp Alive Minnow is a terrific bluegill and panfish lure. Not only has the action of a soft plastic bait but the scent of a live bait. It is an excellent and productive combination.

Ice fishing spoons for bluegill and panfish

Spoons are very effective ice fishing lures as well. They are available in the tiniest of sizes, which is well-suited for the small mouths of bluegill and panfish. Gold and silver are the most popular finishes. However, of late brightly colored neon finishes have become popular. As with all fishing, anglers should experiment with colors and sizes until a productive pattern emerges.

ice fishing for crappie

Generally speaking, gold works in low light conditions and silver works better in the bright sun. Therefore, gold is the best choice early and late in the day and on cloudy days. Conversely, silver is the best choice midday and on bright sunny days. The brighter neon colored spoons are a better choice when fishing deeper water.

Techniques for fishing for bluegill and panfish through the ice

The primary challenge when ice fishing for bluegill and panfish is to locate them. In the wintertime, fish tend to bunch up into larger schools. It is important to take in the current conditions such as time of year, weather, and local fishing reports. Local bait shops are excellent sources of information, especially when anglers purchase bait and equipment there. Online resources such as forums or fishing reports can be helpful as well.

ice fish finder

Click to shop Amazon for an ice fishing fish finder

Anglers should drill a dozen or so holes in either a crisscross or grid pattern to get started. Ideally, these holes will cover a variety of depths as well as several types of cover. The primary cover bluegills and panfish we use in the winter is submerged weed beds and fallen timber. They will also relate to breaks such as points, drop-offs, and channel edges.

An electronic fish finder can be a huge advantage in this situation. Anglers can quickly determine if there’s any activity under the the hole. Often times, the fish will be suspended. Knowing the depth that which they are holding is crucial so that anglers can present their baits at the proper depth. It is best to present the bait or lure to the fish a little above where they are holding. Fish almost always feed up, and bluegill and panfish are no exception. Aggressive fish will rise a few feet up to take the lure or bait.

Successful anglers vary the baits and presentation

Often times the smaller fish are initially the most aggressive. If smaller fish become a nuisance, anglers can step up to a larger lure or bait. They can also be a little bit more aggressive or change up the jigging motion. Sometimes that is all it takes to get the larger bluegill and other panfish to bite.

ice fishing basics

Anglers fishing without an electronic fish finder will simply have to cover the entire water column. It is important to have some idea of the depth of the water being fished. An angler can do this by lowering the lure or bait all the way to the bottom. Then it is reeled up about halfway and the jigging process begins. The lure or bait should be lowered in 1 foot increments and given plenty of time to work until it reaches the bottom. If no action occurs, it is time to move onto the next hole.

If no fish rise to the bait, anglers should very slowly lower the bait to the fish a few inches at a time. It is important to be careful and not give the bait too much action as this will spook wary fish. Gentle upper movements of the rod tip of 6 to 10 inches while allowing the bait to flutter down naturally is usually the best approach. If the bait gets down into the school of fish and no strike occurs, it is time to try another lure or bait.

Rigging up for panfish and bluegill ice fishing

The easiest way to start ice fishing for bluegill and panfish is to simply tie a tiny jig onto the end of the line. 1/32nd ounce is a good place to start in water that is around 15 feet deep. The jig can then be baited with a live waxie or meal worm or a soft plastic bait can be added. This can be tipped with a bait as well. In deeper water, a split shot can be added 18 inches or so above the jig. It is important not to place split shot to close to the jig as it will adversely affect the action.

Another rig that works well for anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish is to use a small silver spoon and a dropper. This rig uses a spoon without a hook which is tied to the line. A 12 inch leader is tied to the hook end of the spoon, followed by a small live bait hook. This hook can then be baited with a waxy, meal worm, piece of nightcrawler, or live minnow.

This is similar to what salmon anglers use when trolling in the Great Lakes. The spoon provides weight as well as some flash. Once attracted to the spoon, hopefully the fish takes the baited hook below.

Ice fishing for bluegill and panfish with tip downs

Tip downs are a great option for anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish. They allow for multiple holes to be fished at one time, as they do not need attending. A tip down is a device which holds a rod in place over the hole. When a fish bites, the rod tip jerks down, thus the name.

ice fishing with tip ups and tip downs

Since the rod is not being actively fished, this situation requires the use of live bait. The angler baits the hook, drops down to the desired depth, than sets the rod in the tip down. He or she then moves on to the next hole and repeats the procedure. Is important to keep an eye on the rods as they sit in the tip down. Panfish are quick and can strip the bait off the hook. It does not do any good to have a bare hook with no bait on it.

fishing for panfish

Tip downs are excellent for anglers learning a new lake as it allows them to cover a fair amount of water in a short period of time. They are also fantastic when fishing families with young children. The kids do not have to hold the rod are actively fish, they can fool around and play them when a rod goes off there is a chase to see who can be the first one to grab it!

In conclusion, anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish will hopefully find this article helpful!















Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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