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Submitted by Joel DeBoer

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April showers may bring May flowers – but they also bring an end to winter and some terrific late-ice opportunities for bull bluegills, jumbo perch, and slab crappies! Where ice conditions permit, now is an excellent time to scour bays, coves, and backwater areas for hard water panfish. Green weeds and wood such as submerged logs and stumps, while classic and productive structure, are not the only places anglers should begin their search. Bottom composition changes such as sand-to-gravel, rock-to-mud, etc. also form an edge of sorts and can attract and hold good numbers of panfish.

When fishing large bays or flats, changes in depth, even as subtle as only 1 or 2 feet will often be the ticket to finding the proverbial “mother-lode.” Locating the best areas to fish, the “spots on the spot”, almost always requires quality electronics. Whether using a flasher such as the Marcum LX-3tc or the LX-7 digital sonar, electronics are your eyes under the ice and can help eliminate unproductive sections of water quickly. Some models, such as Marcum’s LX-9 even combine digital sonar with an underwater camera in one unit – the ultimate in ice fishing technology.

Tackle selection for late ice panfish needn’t be complex or confusing. For bluegill jigs I prefer Northland Mud Bugs and Gill-Getters with #14, #12, and #10 hooks. For crappies and perch I’ll again use the Mud Bug but with a #8 hook, as well as the #8 sized Bro Bug and the Hexi Fly in both #8 and #6 sizes. While tipping your jig with livebait such as waxies or mousies can certainly be effective, there are times when plastic offerings really shine. Berkley Gulp! Alive! Waxies not only are more durable than the real thing, but come in bright colors that perform well in stained water or low-light conditions. The Gulp! Alive! Fish Fry has a long thin tail that undulates with the slightest movement of the rod tip and big panfish find irresistible. As for keeping all those small jigs accessible, simple – a small box such as the foam-lined Plano 3582 Small Fly Box works perfectly and will keep your lures organized and readily at hand.

More on ice fishing: Ice fishing news from around the state | Your ice fishing photos | Build a map | Read ice fishing reports | We're blogging about ice fishing

Tackle selection for late ice panfish needn’t be complex or confusing. For bluegill jigs I prefer Northland Mud Bugs and Gill-Getters with #14, #12, and #10 hooks. For crappies and perch I’ll again use the Mud Bug but with a #8 hook, as well as the #8 sized Bro Bug and the Hexi Fly in both #8 and #6 sizes. While tipping your jig with livebait such as waxies or mousies can certainly be effective, there are times when plastic offerings really shine. Berkley Gulp! Alive! Waxies not only are more durable than the real thing, but come in bright colors that perform well in stained water or low-light conditions. The Gulp! Alive! Fish Fry has a long thin tail that undulates with the slightest movement of the rod tip and big panfish find irresistible. As for keeping all those small jigs accessible, simple – a small box such as the foam-lined Plano 3582 Small Fly Box works perfectly and will keep your lures organized and readily at hand.

A Frabill Straight Line 241 Bro Series Combo, either the 24” ultra-light or any of the three quick tip models, is ideal for hard-water slab panfish. The beauty of the straight line reel over a more traditional spinning reel is the elimination of line twist; this means no unnatural lure spinning and thus more bites from even finicky fish. It has made such a difference for me that I do not even use spinning reels for ice-fishing panfish anymore.

I spool my 241 reels with neon lime Sufix 832 Advanced Ice Braid. The vivid color makes it easier to detect subtle strikes on days I’m not using a spring bobber, and also aids in knot tying. While the bright color of the line is helpful to me above the ice, it can be a deterrent to fish below. To combat that problem I use Sufix 100% Fluorocarbon Invisiline Leaders, even in dark or stained water, at the end of my line to offer the most stealth of presentations.

Whether venturing out on a four-wheeler or on foot, remaining mobile is the key to finding and catching late winter panfish consistently from day to day. Be able and willing to drill multiple holes and keep on the move, even if that means leaving a spot that was hot the day before. If the fish are not there or won’t bite despite your best efforts, don’t fret – late ice usually means you’re only a move away from finding more active fish. As with any fishing, but especially with late ice, use your head and always live to fish another day. Enjoy the jumbos of April! I’ll see you on the water…

Joel DeBoer is a Professional Musky Guide, Author, Internet Personality, Outdoor Educator, and Tournament Angler. He can be reached through his website at: http://www.wisconsinanglingadventures.com. Joel will be sharing hunting, fishing, and other outdoor-related information through the perspective of one of North-Central Wisconsin's most successful and accomplished guides.

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