Early-Ice Panfish: Setting Up for Success

Category: Ice Fishing

 Nov 2nd, 2023 by sworrall 

Modified Nov 2nd, 2023 at 11:09 AM

Early-Ice Panfish: Setting Up for Success

St. Croix pros Joel Nelson and Justin Soffa share two early-ice panfish tips that will reap rewards all season long

PARK FALLS, Wis. (November 1, 2023) – Collectively, crappie, bluegill, and perch are the most-targeted species through the ice. Their appeal extends to experienced anglers who crave the hunt for the biggest specimens of each, as well as more-casual anglers looking to catch a lot of fish while keeping a few for the frying pan.

Minnesota’s Joel Nelson and Michigan’s Justin Soffa agree that early ice is one of the best times of the season to enjoy panfish success. Why? The St. Croix pros say concentrations of bluegill, crappie, and perch will usually be right where you left them before freeze up.

“Finding fish can be one of the more challenging parts of ice fishing throughout the season,” Nelson says. “But anglers who fished open water in the fall have an advantage once early ice arrives, because most panfish will still be using the same areas – generally wherever there are still good weeds in shallow water or suspended over soft-bottom areas in bays and basins. These are the areas bluegill and crappie anglers should focus on at first ice.”

Wherever the panfish are, Nelson says anglers can expect to encounter larger predator species like pike, bass, and walleye as well. “Setting up your panfish rods correctly will extend your fun and allow you to do battle with these larger fish,” he says. “Setting your drag the right way is really important.”

Nelson says the most significant mistake many anglers make is testing their drag by pulling line directly off of the reel. “It all starts with a quality reel that’s got a smooth drag,” he says. “The line should pull off smoothly at any drag setting without any choppy starts and stops. Instead of testing and setting your drag by pulling line directly off the spool, grab your jig in one hand and simulate a hookset with the rod in the other hand. You want the drag to respond by smoothly paying out a bit of line while maintaining a deep bend in the rod. With the rod fully loaded up, give another downward tug on the jig. More line should come off the drag smoothly while maintaining the same deep bend. Using this technique, the key is finding the right drag setting that protects your line and knot without breaking and without maxing out the rod. Complete this process on the ice, as temperature can affect your drag.”


Justin Soffa says a longer ice rod can also help when encountering larger predators. “They’re better tools for fighting the bigger species like bass, walleye and pike that are often encountered when targeting panfish, but there are numerous other benefits that come from using a 36” rod for panfish applications, like the increased leverage they provide for hooksets,” Soffa says. “The 36L model in the new Panfish Ice Series has been one of the most talked about and anticipated ice-centric product releases from St. Croix since Croix Custom Ice. It’s a superior tool for hole hopping, especially at early ice.

“We fish a lot of big perch in Michigan, and we’re often drilling a ton of holes and moving around trying to locate fish with our electronics,” he says. “It’s often the same drill for crappie anglers. Overall, anglers are moving around a lot more because of live sonar. A 36” rod means you can stand further back from the hole when fish are spooky at early ice, when fishing shallower water, or when crappies are up against the ice right under your hole. A longer rod also makes it easier to get the tip of the rod closer to the hole to minimize the effects of wind on the line, making for much better presentations.”

Soffa adds that longer rods are becoming increasingly popular for inside fishing as well. “Short rods used to be the rule for fishing inside, but flip-over shelters, hub shacks, and wheelhouses are all trending larger and taller, so there’s more room in many cases to fish a longer rod. With live sonar, you now need more holes inside the shack as well. A longer rod means you can sit further away, and with side entry on so many shacks now, you can sit a longer rod down quickly and exit cleanly if you have a flag go on a tip-up outside.”

Precision-Matched Panfish Performance

St. Croix’s popular Panfish Series of open-water spinning rods provides panfish aficionados with resolute, high-performance tools in the lengths, powers, and actions necessary to target all manner of panfish with a full range of today’s modern techniques. New for 2024, St. Croix Panfish Series Ice Combos bring the same benefits and abilities to ice anglers, plus the convenience of purchasing these panfish-optimized tools with an included, precision-matched winter-ready spinning reel.

Consisting of three models ranging in length from 28” to 36” and covering ultralight and light powers, St. Croix’s new Panfish Ice Combos support optimized panfish presentations while offering extreme durability, high-quality components, and precision-balanced St. Croix performance. Panfish Ice rods are crafted from precision-taper ultra-sensitive solid carbon (SC) blanks with bite-indicating hi-vis tips. Guides are lightweight and durable stainless steel, while reel seats support multiple hand positions. Precision-matched 800-size spinning reels feature 8+1 bearings, aluminum spools, low-temp lubricating lithium grease, and one-touch folding handles. Retail prices are just $95 to $105, making Panfish Series Ice Combos a value that’s as serious as their performance. They’re available for purchase at St. Croix dealers worldwide and online at stcroixrods.com.

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About St. Croix Rod
Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for 75 years.  Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing.  The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls, Wisconsin and Fresnillo, Mexico.  With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.

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