Recently I have received emails from several people wondering about how to target panfish through the ice in northern Minnesota. Rather than giving away GPS coordinates and hundreds of hours of labor in finding these northern gems, I thought I would share with everybody the approach that I use in finding the fish on lakes that I target.
The first step for me is obviously printing out or purchasing the best quality lake map that I can come across. Some of the computer chips will also have the lake maps for the larger lakes which works for the GPS, but not for all of them just yet. I will then find out any information from anybody willing to share with me such as: local bait shops, Resorts, or other fisherman on the lake. With any of the info that I obtain, I will then find places on the maps that look promising and prepare to drill many holes. Crappies and Bluegills really tend to school up in the winter, and they are usually in one of two places. In the weeds, or suspended over a deep hole. I will usually locate the largest concentration of green weeds (a large bay or shoreline) with deep water nearby, and drill many holes ranging in all depths of the weeds. I will at times drill as many as 50 to 100 holes before I even wet a line.
Once I drill all the holes I usually fish them fairly quickly to find any active fish. I start as shallow as possible and work my way to deeper water. If I don't locate anything in the weeds, I continue to move out to the deep water and do the whole program all over again. The only difference with the open water, is that I may not even fish until I graph anything in the holes that I have drilled. Weeds may obstruct the vexilar's view, but in the open there is no mistaking those red lines that show up, and they are almost always suspended off the bottom which makes them easy to see. Once a school is spotted, I fish them instantly and catch what I can before they move away. Having all of the holes already pre drilled makes this part easy, because I will just move again until I find them. More holes might be necessary to stay on the fish, but they don't usually move too far once you locate their area.
It seems like a lot of holes at times, but I have found that on many lakes they will be in the shallower weeds early in the day, then move out and suspend in deeper water during midday, then head back to the shallows at night. This may make your first holes good as gold right before dark, and you don't have any auger noise to spook them when they move shallow to feed.
Every lake that I target for Bluegill and Crappie seem to give me a different pattern. It takes a lot of patience, persistance and hard work to find them, but the rewards can be worth it. Never rule out anything on any lake. I have caught them in 2 feet of water on one lake and drove ten miles to another lake to catch them in 35 feet of water on the same day. As a general rule they will be in the thickest bay of weeds or in the deepest water close by. Hope this helps a little in your next journey on a new lake. Fish On!