Catching ice-out fish of any kind can chill the talents of the best anglers.
The trick is in the tackle, techniques and an ability to understand how fish react to the weather as it begins to warm up and begin their pre-spawning rituals.
Panfish expert - and close personal friend - Paul Liikala of Cuyahoga Falls takes ice-out panfishing to near its extremes.
However, I can’t argue with his success. And his how-to knowledge can be adapted by anyone. That fact was brought home a couple of days ago when Liikala and I made our way to a small Northeast Ohio lake that is known for producing early-season crappie.
Problem is, after spawning the crappie seem to vanish from the lake, leaving it to us and others to focus on trying to catch them - and bluegills/sunfish - during their pre-spawn and spawning stages.
The problem is, though, this is the time of year when the weather is fickle and that often produces fickle fishing conditions, says Liikala.
So my good fishing friend goes armed with the same small, brightly colored jigs he uses to catch panfish through the winter ice.
Among these lures is Northland Fishing Tackle's "Hexi Fly" in the larvae bug pattern.
It is bright with a pattern that includes a wing design.
"I've talked with the folks at Northland and they've given me some really good advice. I've also seen that if you twitch the rod and make the float bounce a little you can entice crappies and bluegills into biting, even if you don't tip the jig with maggots," Liikala said. "It is amazing how much detail at close range a sunfish can see."
Though Liikala does pack wax worms and river chub minnows on his excursions he typically relies on maggots. They seem to work better and are more durable than are the more fragile wax worms, Liikala says.
Liikala also believes that light lines and at least a tippet made from fluorocarbon line is best for the oft-time finicky ice-out panfish. Ditto for the approriate-size foam plastic or balsa wood float.
To assist in boat control, Liikala likewise believes that the use of both bow-mounted and stern-mounted anchors is a good idea.
And it is encumbered upon the angler to find the warmest water possible. That means to go looking for where there is a mud bottom in shallow water and preferably where the wind has "stacked" up the warmer water, Liikala says.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn