Ice Fishing: Persuasive Panfish Plastics

Soft-plastics are becoming fan favorites with hard-water panfish stalkers. Lifelike profiles, irresistible actions, and durability are a sampling of the reasons whey more anglers are opting to use artificials instead of live bait. Perch, crappie and sunfish can be tempted into slurping soft-plastics whether aggressively feeding or inactive.

Persuasive On Perch
A curious lot, yellow perch often fall victim to soft-plastics. Minnows, tubes, and various buggy specimens in the 1.5- to 2-inch range are common baits. I’m a long-time fan of Berkley’s Atomic Teaser Tubes for jigging both suspending and bottom-hugging perch. The spiral descent of these baits is especially effective at both attracting these fish and seducing them to strike. Two other noteworthy invertebrate imitators that’ll catch perch and other panfish are the Mister Twister Micro Mania Nymph and Micro Crawfish.

This jumbo couldn’t resist the tail-flick action of Northland’s Scud Bug.

A new star in my panfish jigging line-up is the Northland Scud Bug. The bait’s profile is designed to mimic freshwater shrimp, or scuds, which are a frequent menu item for perch in winter. In addition to a realistic profile, the plastic also features a hinged tail that flutters and kicks with the slightest rod tip quiver. This flapping appendage’s highly potent at triggering hits from fish.

Working The Water Column
When fishing plastics I swim the offering down the water column to try and attract fish in the area. After it reaches bottom I snap the rod with a few short lifts to bang the floor a couple times. This creates a silt cloud and is a sure-fire tactic to attract perch and other panfish. Then I raise the jig up by foot increments back to the surface, working in pauses and the occasional back-step. If I don’t mark any other fish, or I’ve caught the biters out of the area, it’s on to the next hole.

Functionality In Frigid Conditions
Another selling point of soft-plastics is that you don’t need to babysit them like live bait, which is particularly a benefit in extremely cold conditions. Bitter temperatures are common in midwinter, a period notorious for inactive fish. The knee-jerk reaction when dealing with fussy panfish is using a maggot or a waxworm tipped jig. Unfortunately, in nasty winter conditions live bait left on a lure when hole-hopping in search of biters will quickly freeze, eliminating its appeal. Frozen live bait requires re-baiting, causing fishing downtime and frozen fingers. Soft-plastics are more efficient and just as effective to finesse fish.

Persuasive Profiles
It’s not just the anti-freeze trait that makes these springy artificials effective for winter crappie. Today’s products are extremely subtle and deliver a fluid, natural action when jigged. Molding techniques have evolved to produce extremely lifelike baits that imitate a range of buggy organisms panfish frequently dine on. Additionally, some soft-plastics aren’t designed with flawless realism as the objective. Instead these baits are more akin to genetically engineered super-food and loaded with finesse features, such as added scent, to coerce hits from snobby panfish.

A Spectrum Of Hues
Another benefit is baits come in an array of coolers. I prefer a white, glow, or hot-colored bait to trigger bites from fussy customers inhabiting dark waters. In clear water, natural hues (red, brown, black, and green) can be quite productive. Two-tone patterns as well as infused glitter also boosts the edge plastics have over the plain patterns of live bait.

An assortment of proven panfish catching plastics.

Tantalizing Tails
Hard-baits have flash, roll and rattles, but they can’t compete with a soft-plastic’s tail when it comes to a natural swimming action. The motion of this appendage is one of the biggest advantages of plastics. This applies to many species, but the wispy micro-tail of a micro-plastic is particularly lethal at fooling sunfish.

Witnessing a bait-bluegill standoff when sight-fishing is nerve-racking. When inactive, these fish will scrutinize baits worse than an ill-tempered food critic. Presentation and profile must be flawless. Micro-plastics are frequently the miracle meal.

Deadly For Droppers
Soft-plastics also work on a myriad of dropper rigs. A small worm, bug, or minnow are excellent baits to tip a drop shot hook or to dress a dropper line dangling beneath a spoon or ice jig. Unlike live bait that can quickly be picked away by panfish, plastics are more resilient and stay on a hook longer. This gives anglers more time in the strike zone with an effective presentation to try and tempt fussy customers.

Soft-plastics can conjure up bites from even the most subdued panfish in winter. There are plenty of products available on the market, so be sure to try these pliable baits this ice season.

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Tim Allard of Ottawa, Ontario is a hard-water expert and author-photographer of the book, “Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide.”

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