LATE ICE PANFISH
By Ken Poor
The normal pattern for icefishing is fast action at early ice, slower action during January and February, then back to the fast action until ice-out. Late season ice fishing always provides good numbers and larger than average fish. As this year’s icefishing season winds down – whether you are after bluegills or crappies – with safe ice on most of our local lakes there is still plenty of time to get in on the late season action.
On large lakes food is scattered over a wide area and schools of panfish must constantly move around to locate their next meal. When fish tend to move around a lot, such as on a large lake, they can be tough to locate and each time you head out to the lake you will have to begin a new search.
Smaller lakes normally provide the most consistent action for late ice panfish. Once you locate active panfish on a small lake, they often remain in the same area for several days and will feed on a regular basis. If they should move usually it is only a short distance and they are easy relocate.
The small lakes I am talking about are generally less than 200 acres, shallow and have a dark mud bottom. Lakes with channels, small feeder creeks, shoreline brush or trees and cattail bogs should be your first choice. At this time of year water temperatures will be slightly warmer in these areas compared to the main lake. Both bluegills and crappie move into the shallow areas just before ice out to feed on aquatic worms and insects, larval forms of airborne insects, baitfish, and zooplankton.
Shortly after ice out the crappie will spawn in the brush or trees in these shallow locations. After the spawning season they will move out to deep water and suspend in loose schools. Once the bluegill move into the shallows, they normally remain there throughout the spring, summer and fall.
With dozens of small lakes scattered across the area it is a tough call to pick the best lake to fish at this time of the year. Every lake has something to offer if you take the time to learn how to fish it. Some of the better lakes in Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin in terms of late season icefishing include sections of the Lauderdale Chain, Hooker, Silver, Lily Lake, Paddock and the Fox Chain. All of these lakes have good numbers of bluegill and crappie.
Mill Lake on the south end of the Lauderdale Chain has a surface area of 271 acres, and a maximum depth of 40 feet. Dense milfoil, mixed with reeds covers most of the east, west, and south sections of the lake. The bottom composition in Mill Lake is primarily muck or peat except around the access channel and along the north shore of the lake where the bottom is sand or a combination of sand and gravel.
Bottom composition in the west channel off Middle Lake on the Lauderdale Chain is peat, sand, and muck. Unique features of this relatively shallow section of the lake include large patches of reeds, logs, brush, and stumps. Both crappie and bluegill are plentiful in this section of the lake.
Work the northwest corner of Mill Lake with jigs tipped with minnows for crappie and jigs tipped with spikes for bluegill. Trees and stumps are your best bet for the crappie in Middle Lake. Use the same types of jigs and bait.
The T-channel on the north end of Hooker is always a good choice for late season crappie. Work the area during low light conditions (after dark or early mornings) with Swedish Pimples tipped with a small minnow.
On Silver Lake the crappies move into the channel at the launch ramp around ice-out. If you don’t find any action in the channel, move out to the break-lines at the south end of the channel. Low-light conditions are your best choice from now until ice out. Jig the area using #2 or #3 Swedish Pimple tipped with a small minnow.
The southwest corner of Lily Lake has several trees lying in the water that hold crappie and bluegill. Work the deep end of the trees with jigs and minnows for crappie or jigs tipped with wax worms for bluegill.
The small brush lined channel in the southwest corner of Paddock Lake is always a producer for crappie and bluegill. Work the brush edges area during low light conditions with small Swedish Pimples tipped with a small minnow for crappie or a plain lead head jig tipped with spikes for bluegill.
Late season ice fishermen are working the back channels off the main lakes and the channels around Fox Valley Gardens. Bluegills are hitting small icefishing jigs tipped with spikes or wax worms. The best crappie action has been in the channels off the Fox Valley Gardens on jigs tipped with minnows.
Ice conditions can change quickly, especially at this time of year. If you are going out on the ice be very careful. Wear a float coat or life jacket and carry two ice picks or nails attached by a piece of rope. If you break through the ice, use these to pull yourself out and roll until you reach safe ice.