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Ice Fishing for Panfish: A Great Winter Family Activity

For northern-state anglers, ice fishing for panfish is a great family activity. The whole crew can be involved, and chances for everyone to enjoy success are pretty good, especially if your chosen angling location is one with a good population of panfish species, i.e. yellow perch, bluegill, and crappie. These fish are usually abundant and prominent in most northern lakes and ponds.

Pick the Right Place

The first thing to do if you’re considering taking the family ice fishing is figure out what body of water you can visit that has a good population of panfish. Some places, for example, have plenty of small to medium-size perch, while others have larger specimens. Some lakes and ponds have all three species, though one may be more prevalent than the others. A lake that has a small population of large crappie may not be as good to visit as one with a large population of smaller crappie. If you know one lake better than another, that may be a better choice, at least for an initial family visit.

Not everyone has the ability to pick from a number of different bodies of water, so you may have to go with what’s closest to you or where you have access. But if you can fit your goals, such as quantity of catch over quality, or one species over another (cold-water yellow perch are hard to beat for winter table fare), to your family’s experience and ability, you’ll come out ahead.

Plan for The Conditions

Of course, it’s going to be cold when you’re ice fishing for panfish, and maybe you can only go on a certain day or days of the week. But if the kids are young and not used to spending hours on a frozen lake, at least pick a low-wind, mild, sunny day. Wearing appropriate footwear and clothing goes without saying, but have a supply of toe warmers and hand warmers to put inside boots and gloves if needed. Obviously you can spend time teaching the kids how to fish for panfish, but if they’re cold or miserable, what they’ll learn is what they don’t like. Comfort comes first.

And that also means attending to food and beverages. Invest in a good container that will keep hot chocolate or hot cider warm for hours. You know what will keep your kids happy when it comes to sandwiches and munchies, but nothing beats PB&Js in my book. Bring what they like.

Be Quick

When ice fishing for crappie, bluegills, or perch, you may need to be mobile and to dig a lot of holes. And if you have enough gear for each family member, multi-hole drilling is a lot better done with an ice auger.

If you can drill holes quickly, and you have your gear in good order, then you can get lines in the water quickly and get people engaged in fishing right away. It’s not a good thing to have to fix, untangle, and otherwise service gear while your out in the cold on the ice. Ergo, have your act together.

Finally, Let Them Do Other Things

Cross-country-skiing or ice skating on frozen lakes, if conditions permit, are fine ways to occupy the kids while parents tend to tipups. Let ‘em have fun. If they’ve been ice fishing before, and like it, or if they’re already avid anglers, then involve them in the rigging, bait tending, and other chores that go along with ice fishing for panfish (as well as other species).


Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.