If you're like me, deer hunting is done and the next thing on the list for the freezer is some fresh panfish. At present, the lakes in my area have approximately 4-6 inches of ice, safe for foot travel in my opinion.
Many spots around me suffered a winter kill last year, meaning the low oxygen levels killed off many lakes. The pickings may be slim so scouting and paying attention to outdoor blogs and websites are going to benefit me.
First, a couple phone calls to a few locals that are nuttier then squirrel turds. They have been walking on 2-3" of ice for a few weeks now.
Once I get a report from them that is promising, time to head to the bait shop. After chatting with someone who always says the fish are biting just to sell a product, I feel rather unfulfilled. But hey, I need the bait anyway right?
Since I'm targeting pannies (crappie, sunfish, bluegill and perch) I'll cover my bases and get some waxworms, euro larvae and some small minnows. These types of baits are inexpensive for the most part so I don't mind picking them all up, plus they'll keep for sometime in the fridge by my beer.
Once arriving at the lake, the obvious thing to do is ask people that are there if possible. If no one's around...go for a walk, look for some positive sign like blood on the ice. Barring you weren't here last night 'tossin paws' with some asshole, it's probably fish blood.
Give it a few minutes then move on. If the lake is familiar to you then hell, go where you know, but sometimes even honey holes don't produce so stay mobile. Depending on the lake, I like to find weed lines, rock piles, stumps etc where fish like to hang out.
Remember, these are the smaller types of fish which are usually the bait for bigger predators. They like cover! One of my favorite spots to fish is holes in a deeper weed bed. These are sometimes hard to find under the ice but are well worth it. Your bait is highly visible and the fish don't have to venture too far for their food.
Now, I'm not gonna tell you how long to fish. Most of these species have minute brains....if your not catching fish within an hour or two, either your in the wrong spot or the fish just ain't biting.
Start by fishing in the early morning, right before, during and after sun up. If by 10 a.m. you haven't had a tug, you may want to pack it in. Returning later in the day is sometimes worth while. The lower light conditions sometimes trigger fish to bite, especially species like Crappie.
After all is said and done, this kind of thing is fairly easy to figure out. Use the few tips given and you'll save yourself some time and even save a trip.
Who knows, you'll either come home with a load of fish or you won't bother and you'll sit in the basement and drink your beer while watching the game. Either way, sounds like a good day to me.