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Brad Laabs column: Rods and fishing line make a huge difference out on the ice

We are down to the last three weeks of the gamefish season (walleye, northern, bass), but the open season for panfish continues until it is not safe on the ice any more.

Thursday, the groundhog saw his shadow, so we have at least six more weeks of winter yet! The bite for walleyes in this area in February is considerably slowed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., not that some don't get caught during the day, but odds are not in our favor.

The northern pike and bass bite during daylight hours will keep improving right up until the season closes for gamefish on Feb. 26. The best bet for consistent daylight-hour fish activity, besides northern and bass, is to focus your attention on sunfish, crappie, and perch.

It won't be long before the tullibee chasers also get excited for the improving activity that typically starts in the middle of the month.

When it comes to targeting a specific species, it is not just location that is critical for increasing your odds. Besides the obvious bait and lure choices that need to be considered, ice rods and line make a huge difference for putting fish on the ice.

Rods for panfish should be light to ultra-light action with sensitive, flexible tips. Some years back, the "spring bobber" tips were introduced. Since then, add on spring bobber tips, or slide out ultra-light tips have been introduced to make some rods multi-species.

Some creative ideas, no doubt, have been introduced, but for the cost of ice rods, I think the investment is well worth getting species specific. New blanks on the market for making ultra-light panfish rods have such a fine tapper, you can see the bite on the rod tip without feeling it for those finicky biting panfish.

When fishing these light action rods, you fight them with the rod and reel. Point the tip down toward the ice hole and don't try to manhandle the fish with just the rod. Your line, and the drag on the reel, along with the rod, work in cooperation to do battle with the bigger hard-fighting panfish.

Stick to the 2-4 pound line for the panfish. If you like the hard lines (no stretch super lines), then tie an 18-24 inch 2-4 pound leader line on the set up.

The abrasion resistance and feel of the super lines is hard to beat, but the light mono or fluorocarbon leader helps for line-sensitive fish. You can tie the two lines together, or use a small barrel swivel to connect your leader to your main line.

The super lines don't get the line memory, or have the line twist issues, of the monofilament lines. The barrel swivel also takes the twist out of the line, and it's very important to have the panfish jigs not spin or twist when working a school.

Many panfish anglers have also switched over to the fly rod-type reels, as they diminish the chance for having line twist problems. I am still a spinning reel guy, but then I focus mostly on walleyes, even when they are more difficult to pattern.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)