This weekend marks the end of the inland water season for walleyes and northern pike. After this weekend you will need to travel to continue chasing those species.
There is, however, still plenty of ice fishing action left in our area. The sought after fish now will be the crappies, sunfish, perch, and tullibies. We are probably looking at least another 3-4 weeks of opportunity due to the solid ice conditions we are experiencing this year. Last year we had poor ice and an early ice out. This year my prediction is an extended ice season with an average to late ice out. As always, the situation is dictated by our weather and what happens with that over the next several weeks
The anglers that chase panfish regularly know the importance of matching rod and line combinations to be successful. For many of us that primarily chase "eyes", we will need to look at changing up our rods and lines to properly adapt to chasing panfish.
With the extremely reasonable cost of ice rods, reels, or combinations sold together, this is an easy adjustment to make. You want to find a rod that has an extremely flexible tip with great sensitivity and switch to 2lb or 4lb lines.
Many successful panfish anglers will use fluorocarbon lines as it sinks, making it easier to get light jigs down to the strike zone, and probably more importantly, because of the low visibility of the line making it extremely stealthy.
For those anglers that like to use braids or superlines, you can still do that by simply tying a light leader line of about 12-18" long on the line above the jig or hook. A blood knot can be used or a small barrel swivel to connect the lines. The benefit of the barrel swivel is that it helps reduce line twist. Many panfish anglers have observed that line twist can significantly reduce the attractiveness of the presentation as it will make the bait spin. Many panfish purists have gone to fly reels or small level wind reels to reduce the line twist issue and make the baits hang straight and still.
Several years ago "spring bobber" tips were developed to attach to ice rods to give them a super sensitive bite detection ability. Rods were also manufactured with these spring tips to improve bite detection and hook-ups with light biting panfish. This is a very visual detection that verifies the fish is on the business end, even though you can't feel them.
Rod builders are now making rods with very specific applications to help improve ice angling success. Great progress has been made with rods the last few years made specifically for the pan fish angler. Now, some rods have such a soft tips and action that the spring bobber isn't needed to detect the soft biters. Some fisherman will continue to use the spring bobber tips because they are so effective.
Why is bite detection so critical for some of these soft biting fish? If you have ever had a camera down to watch fish in action on your bait, you can observe how many times your bait may get "nipped at" that you never felt. Now, with cameras, highly sensitive flashers, super sensitive rods, and light lines, you will catch some of the crappies, sunfish and perch that may have stolen your bait before.
Most crappie chasers have experienced how aggressive of a feeder they can be, and when they have been back to get on that aggressive bite, have found out how finicky a feeder they can also be at times.
Like always, weather and cold fronts play a major role in fish feeding behavior. The adjustments with the proper rod and light lines can help tip the scales in your favor and help put a few more fish in the bucket (and on the table). The weather will get nice and the panfish will still cooperate. It will be six or eight weeks before we have open water so take advantage of what is available locally.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs' Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)