Ice expert Bob Bohland offers practical tips that will help you catch more big bluegills, crappies and perch. Bob Bohland spends two-thirds of the year waiting for the ice to return, and when the ice is on the lakes, he spends every minute he can fishing. Bohland’s not opposed to open-water fishing, and he certainly does his share. It’s not the same as fishing through the ice, though. The good news is that Bohland lives in Minnesota, so he’s able to enjoy a pretty long season.
Bohland fishes for everything that swims and could offer helpful insights about how to catch virtually any Minnesota fish. Panfish are his passion, though, so we asked for his insights about how to catch more crappies, bluegills and perch. Bohland makes an ongoing study of panfish habits and habitat, and he has learned the little things that can make a huge difference.
1. Hunt Schools
“If I don’t see a good school of fish, I’m not going to waste my time fishing,” Bohland said as he dropped his flasher’s transducer into a hole, glanced at a fishless reading, lifted the unit and moved to the next hole.
Bohland often uses a “hunting” approach, drilling dozens of holes in an area where he expects the fish to be and moving steadily from hole to hole in search of fish. And he’s not looking for singles. Bohland won’t stop and fish until he finds a big school of fish.
“Schooling fish are far easier to catch than singles,” he said. “They get competitive, and one wants to get the bait before another one does.”
2. Seek Suspended Fish
Bohland has observed that suspended bluegills and crappies usually are feeding fish, while those that hold tight to the bottom tend to be tough customers. Yet the fish that are cruising high tend to be ignored by many ice fishermen.
It’s not that Bohland won’t ever fish on the bottom. Sometimes that’s where the food and the fish are. If he sees schools of fish higher in the water column, though, those fish will get top priority.
3. Know your Forage
Not all panfish lakes are created equal – and food for the fish ranks among the biggest variables. If the perch and crappies are all eating minnows and you’re trying to allure them with a tiny insect imitation, it’s like trying to talk a buddy into lovely steamed vegetables when he sits down to eat a steak.
Consider the fertility of the lake, the cover and the part of the season. All offer clues about what the fish are apt to be eating. Before you fish, do online research. Fisheries divisions sometimes publish lake reports or research that provides good insights. On the ice, pay attention to what those fish you do catch spit up.
Any time you take panfish home, check out the stomach contents of at least a few. Journal what you find so you’ll have that information the next time you fish those waters, whether that is the next day or a year later.
Generally speaking, highly fertile lakes are bug heavy, and the panfish tend to have eyes for insect-sized offerings. In less fertile waters, the fish feed more on small shiners or even young bluegills, so Bohland might start with a baitfish imitation such as a Frostee Spoon instead of a Lindy Bug.
4. Over or Under?
Conventional wisdom says to always keep your baits above the fish, and if Bohland were only targeting crappies, he would agree.
Bluegills’ eyes are different, though, he noted, and a ‘gill can see stuff that’s lower than its own position in the water column. Bohland has found that by working beneath a suspended school of bluegills, he often can trigger strikes from fish that won’t come up to grab exactly the same offering presented directly above them.
He’ll either take a Micro Slick Jig and drop it just beneath the fish, or he’ll drop a Lindy Toad all the way down and pound the bottom with it.
5. Know Your Ice Jigs
Head shape, eye placement, eye angle, color schemes, hook size… Every element of an ice jig gets careful consideration during development stages, and different baits, although sometimes similar in size and overall appearance, work best for different tasks.
The Lindy Bug, as the name suggests, imitates an insect with its narrow profile, and it rocks with the gentlest of jiggling motions. The Lindy Toad, which is surprisingly heavy for its size, works great for pounding the bottom and getting the fish’s attention in weedy lakes. The Slick Jig, meanwhile, dances and darts and swims in a fairly wide berth when it’s worked. Left motionless, it hangs horizontal, like a tiny baitfish.
Invest some time tying on different ice jigs (and other ice lures) and watching them in the water as you vary presentations. Even if a bait isn’t the ideal option for that particular day, the chance to see how differently two seemingly similar jigs look in the water is well worth a bit of lost effective fishing time.
6. Oppose the Grain
“It amazes me how many people think that when it gets tough they immediately have to put on the smallest bait they have,” Bohland said. “When 90 percent of the fishermen are using 1/100-ounce jigs, that’s when I like go to a jigging spoon or even a Lindy Darter. A lot of times that will prompt a big fish to attack.”
Bohland pays attention to what anglers around him are doing; but not because he wants to copy their approaches. Instead, he wants to know it if everyone is doing the same thing because often a highly contrasting approach will produce best.
One of Bohland’s favorite specific techniques for providing a totally different look is what he calls the “Flash & Pound.” He begins by removing the treble hook from the back of a Frostee Spoon and tying that spoon to his main line. He then ties about 2 feet of leader to the back split ring that formally held the treble hook, ties a small Slick Jig to the end of the leader and adds wax worms or other live bait to the Slick Jig.
He’ll often pound the bottom on the initial drop to raise a ruckus and then jig the rig off the bottom, occasionally dropping it to pound the bottom again. The pounding and flashing gets the fish’s attention, and when they get close they seem unable to resist the small-profiled dancing Slick Jig.
7. Go After Hours
Panfish of some sort often will bite throughout the day, but Bohland has learned that the biggest crappie bite best in the middle of the night. He pointed out that a crappie has a huge eye, relative to the size of its body, and can see in very low light. The gives a big fish a major hunting advantage when it’s dark outside.
Bohland will position himself over a thick weedbed and work gaps in the weeds with a big noisy offering such as a Rattl’n Flyer Spoon. If fish come close but don’t attack, he’ll cut way back on his jigging motion, and often the fish will attack.
By: Lindy Team