Are you walking over the backs of fish?
By Nathan Krusko “Fishman”
Team Panfish Persuaders
The lakes have frozen and you have arrived at the launch or a local access point to the lake. Time to gear up and go for the long walk off to the crowd for a day of jigging. Well not so fast. Your favorite shore fishing spot for panfish is holding these same fish in the winter. Yes, that is true you are walking right over their backs in search of other fish while they wait just feet below you ready for the catching.
For many fishermen the ice means time to explore and get away from shore and go off into the deep since all fish go deep after the ice forms right. Not exactly. In many cases here in the eastern states you will find these fish in the shallows all season. These fish will move slightly as some of the weeds die if it is a hard winter but most likely they will stay put.
What to look for:
You will be looking for areas with heavy millfoil bed or cabbage weeds. The denser the better. If you can remember back to those open water days and in you favorite shore spot there was a patch that you could not even drop a line into with out getting snagged now is your time to shine. In many place these areas are teaming with fish that are feeding on the abundant supply of aquatic life. If you do not have a spot picked out from the open water season, no worries exploring will not take much. As you are looking at the lake maps try to find a flats area on an inside turn with a depth of about five to ten feet deep. Yes we will be concentrating shallow and you may even go shallower.
Getting set up:
You will want to drill as many holes as you can in the area, if you are using a power auger so as to let the fish settle down by the time you are ready to fish. If you are using a hand auger just drill a few to give your self a starting point. Now there is some mixed reaction as to the fishes action to power on non power auger activity above them so consider this, the more noise you make there is an increased chance of momentarily spooking the fish. Where to drill is much that same as in the deep. You will want to cut series of holes covering varying depths as to best cover the area.
Yes there are techniques and hopefully you will have all the options. This is the one area where both the technologically savvy and the basic can both succeed. For the techno men that are out there on a bucket, you can fish for these fish by first locating them on your sonar and using your favorite micro presentation to get the job done. This techno approach is especially important when fishing in stained water. For those lakes with clear water, this is where the fun will start. Now, for many this will be new but highly effective. If you are currently fishing from a bucket and are getting frustrated with catching few fish in these shallow areas time to get inside. Yup come in out of a cold and get into a shelter. There are many but the key here is to have it dark inside. The concept is basic at best, you will be sight fishing. That is correct fishing and catching the very fish that you see. Now this may sound simple and it is but there are a few things that you must do to ensure success. First, remember if you can see the fish then it is highly likely they can see you. Try not to wear any bright clothing and keep your movements at a minimum. Second, slow down and lower your presentation down the hole as opposed to dropping in on them. As you are jigging it is subtle movements of an inch or two that will seal the deal. Your jigging should be of a steady vibrating movement with brief pauses and in the event of no response try this at different depths by lowering past the fish but more effectively by going above them. Now, these jigging techniques can be used by the angler fishing with out a shelter or with out the use of sonar. Although since the focus is on sight fishing I will digress. If your presentation is not getting a reaction then now it is time to speed things up and jig a little more aggressively while maintaining a fluid life like movement with the jig. And if still no reaction then it is time to switch jigs. Remember since you can see them now is the time for experimentation and to let the fish show you what they want.
If you are to try this for the first time don't get discouraged if you do not see fish directly below the hole as soon as you start fishing some of the times they may be lurking just outside of your sight and will come in to see our offerings. So be patient and give your presentation a little aggressive vibration and wait to see who is just below you looking for a meal. You may be surprised by the numbers so brace yourself and don't fall off your seat. As with all other ice fishing situations be mobile, be stealthy and fish efficiently. So if you are not getting activity within a reasonable amount of time move off to another hole and try again. For every hole you try, you are essentially making another cast. So remember the next time you hit the hard water tread lightly since you are walking on the backs of fish.