Brad Laabs: When walleyes go away, pan fish are OK
We have arrived at the time of our ice fishing season when the walleye activity typically slows down but the pan fish activity remains steady. That is not to say you can’t catch walleyes now — you can — but the bite has changed and lacks the consistency of the earlier ice season. This dip in the catch rate will also occur around this calendar period on some of the famous walleye ice bite lakes around the state, like Lake of the Woods, Red, Winni, and Mille Lacs. So this is no knock on the quality of fishing on our area lakes.
One benefit of our area lakes is the high population of quality pan fish available. If the bite on some of the famed walleye waters is off, it can be difficult to get on a good pan fish bite. Not as much the case here. Anglers that chase pan fish still thrive at this time, but will many times need to make location adjustments to stay on top of active fish, because it is still fishing!
Once fish have been located, stealthy adjustments can be made that help coax more fish into biting. These are simple adjustments, remember, it is fishing, not rocket science.
One consideration that can help, especially with a finicky pan fish bite, is using fishing line in the 2-4lb range. Sticking to clear monofilament or fluorocarbon line with these ultra-thin diameters has been a standard for successful pan fish anglers.
For those that like the superlines with the no stretch feature because of the high sensitivity they provide, can stay with these lines, but would benefit by adding a couple of feet of mono or fluorocarbon as a leader. The lighter diameter lines are not only less visible, but also increase the response of the jigs and lure used for pan fish.
Another simple adjustment is to use a softer tipped ice rod for what can be very subtle biting pan fish. Sometimes you may detect the bite visually before actually feeling the bite when they are not in an aggressive biting mood. You will do better for yourself to have some different ice rods for the type of fish and technique you are employing. It is hard to get one rod that is appropriate for all fish and fishing scenarios. Spring bobbers added to the end of a rod have been one addition to ice angling that can make a stiffer tipped rod much more visual and sensitive to pan fish bites. The price of adding another rod and line to your equipment is really a very inexpensive investment. Some pan fish enthusiasts will still add a spring bobber to an ultra-light ice rod. Some rods are made with these spring tips, or they can be added to rods.
When pan fish are in deeper water (like crappies can be at this time of the year), it can be a slow process to get the light line and jig down to them. Adding a split shot up a foot or so above the jig can help ad the weight, but not interfere with the look of the presentation. Many crappie anglers have gone to the tungsten jigs, as they weigh considerably more for their size than the lead jigs. The smaller size jigging spoons that are used for walleyes also become a great option and will work on pan fish as well. They have enough weight to get you in the zone quickly, have great triggering action, but are also the size and profile that will work on crappies, sunfish, and perch.
Kids love catching fish, and the pan fish can be just the thing for getting kids hooked on fishing. Switching up to pan fish can keep you actively fishing when the bite for other fish is off a little.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)