It’s amazing how entrancing it is to watch bluegills, crappies and perch with my MarCum LX-9 can be. With my Frabill Bro-Series Ice Rod in hand and eyes glued to the screen, the cat-and-mouse game between panfish and ice jig is mesmerizing to say the least! Minutes turn to hours and before long the day has come and gone, hopefully with a meal or two of lying next to my chair inside my Fishouflage Ambush Outpost Hub.
One of the hottest trends in recent years, fishing jigs and plastics for panfish is surprisingly not utilized by many modern ice anglers although it certainly should be.
“Panfish, especially big ones, can be ultra-color specific, one day to the next and even one hour to the next, as light levels and weather conditions change,” ICE FORCE pro Joel Nelson says. “So a wide array of colors and shapes of jigs and plastics helps you solve the puzzle more rapidly to catch more pannies.” VMC’s extra-wide Pug Bug Jig creates an enhanced sonar return, making it easier to mark in deep water with lower-sensitivity gain settings on your sonar. Pairing it with a Trigger X Mustache Worm is a “deadly combination” for crappies and bull bluegills, Nelson says.
With an easy-to-rig egg sac and two tapering appendages, the Mustache Worm resembles a small fry or micro-plankton. “The ‘mustache’ action is created by jigging the bait slightly up and down, undulating the appendages, which brings the bait to life,” explains James Holst, host of In-Depth Outdoors TV on the Fox Sports North Channel. “It has proven itself to be one of the best big-fish soft baits I’ve ever dropped below the ice.” The Pug Bug’s wide-gap hook accommodates the Mustache Worm’s egg sac with plenty of room left over to bury the hook-point deep.
When finicky basin crappies or weed-line bluegills are feeding on tiny insects and invertebrates, Holst will tie on a Larvae Jig. Ready to go right out of the package, Larvae Jigs come pre-rigged with Trigger X Larvae soft baits.
“Modeled on Euro Larvae, a main staple in panfish angling for decades, Trigger X Larvae matches the size and texture of the real thing,” Holst explains. “Fish one Larvae for a finesse presentation, or stack them up to create the traditional ‘chandelier’ profile that big panfish can’t resist.” Holst will tie on a pre-rigged Larvae Jig when clear water, intense fishing pressure or cold-front conditions “have the fish in a funk,” he says.
Pre-rigged with a Trigger X Wax Tail soft bait, VMC’s Wax Tail Jig is a deadly combination for weed line-hugging bluegill and open-basin crappie. Holst slowly twitches a Wax Tail pairing in place when fish are in a finicky mood. “The subtle action turns lookers into biters,” he says. The Wax Tail Jig comes in 1/100, 1/50, 1/32 oz. sizes. “Fish the 1/32 oz. jig when fish are keying on larger prey,” instructs ICE FORCE pro Brad Hawthorne. “Drop down to the 1/100th oz. when the bite gets tough or the fish are feeding on micro-invertebrates.” Nelson considers a Glow Red 1/32 oz. Wax Tail Jig rigged with a Blood red Wax Tail soft bait the number-one crappie combo in the VMC/Trigger X line-up. “I can consistently catch big crappies with this combination, which often outperforms a variety of live-bait offerings.”
When fishing live bait under a float, dead stick, or tip-up, rig it on a VMC Tear Drop Jig , which mimics baitfish and other aquatic food. Holst rigs one when predators are looking for a meal, but unwilling to chase a lively, untethered minnow. “It pins the bait in the strike zone,” he explains. To prevent your minnow from swimming further than a walleye will chase it, thread the Tear Drop’s wide-gap hook through its dorsal fin or tail. “You need to anchor that minnow down a bit because, in cold water, these fish aren’t moving around much,” ICE FORCE pro and Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer Tom Neustrom explains. “They don’t want to chase anything.”
Many anglers allow their dead stick minnows to be too active. “Everybody says ‘I need a lively minnow,’” Neustrom says. “But if it gets too active, it could be a turn-off to the fish, because he just doesn’t want to chase it. Sometimes they’re very lazy. They want the easy meal.”
The jig and plastic panfish connection is one worth exploring if you plan to spend any amount of time on the hard water this season in pursuit or bulls, slabs or jumbos. While it’s good to have an assortment of lures at your disposal, but one Plano box of the jig and plastic options mentioned above will certainly get you in the game.
I’ll see you on the water …
Read more from Joel DeBoer.
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service, www.wisconsinanglingadventures.com.