Sometimes, the skill of catching winter fish lies with the little details and not just with the art of finessing the fish. I find this fact to be especially true of the panfish I love to target during the cold water season.

Although there have been numerous articles written about jig selection, it is one of the small details I see anglers ignore time and again. The jig is the key to attracting fish, getting them to bite and bringing them to the surface.

Although color can be important, I am going in a different direction, starting with the size. The basic rule of thumb anglers like to follow is this: use the smallest jig you can possibly get by with for the conditions you are fishing. Variables that need to be considered are line weight, depth of the fish and species.

Jerry Carlson with a big crappie

No matter what other conditions are involved, it is absolutely imperative that the jig is heavy enough to keep the line hanging straight down. There cannot be any curls in the line. If memory curls are visible, anglers must either go to a heavier jig or lighter line.

It is impossible to get accurate bite detection at the surface of the ice if the fish has to pull out the curls in the line first. Winter panfish are often very dainty eaters and one must be able to identify the tiniest of bites. I use one, two and three-pound-test for all of my panfish angling.

The weight of the jig I use is dependent on my line weight but also the depth of the water. The deeper the water, the heavier the jig.

Although panfish are mainly devouring miniature plankton and invertebrates in the winter, it doesn’t always make sense to utilize a tiny, lightweight jig. It simply takes too long to drop a small jig into 40 feet of water. Small jigs are also difficult to work in really deep water as the feel for what the jig is doing is lost. This is especially true when tightline jigging.

The shape of the jig can have a lot to do with its weight. As ice fishing expert, Dave Genz, always says anglers need to fish with jigs that are small but fish heavy. For this reason, tungsten jigs have become extremely popular.

bluegill through the ice

Although I almost always start with Clam’s Drop Kick jig when targeting crappies, I will scale down to something with a smaller profile for bluegills. Gills have tiny mouths compared to crappies and my hooking percentage increases when I use smaller jigs for gills.

One other factor that is rarely discussed in fishing circles is the sharpness of the hook. Panfish have bony mouths that can dull a hook quickly. I frequently touch up the point of the hook with a stone to keep it razor sharp. Sharp hooks increase your hooking percentage significantly!

If I am not using a tungsten jig and my hook is small, I will usually open the gap of the hook so it protrudes out from the shank. This little trick can make a huge difference in the hooking percentage. I don’t recommend this procedure for tungsten jigs as the hooks are more brittle than standard jigs.

Ice jigs are key components when working panfish during the hard water season. By monitoring the small, seemingly insignificant detail of choosing the correct jig, ice anglers can improve the end results.

About The Author

Jerry Carlson

Jerry started his outdoor career in 1987 when he began writing for Outdoors Weekly. He currently writes about a 130 articles a year for various publications in the Midwest. In addition to writing and giving numerous hunting and fishing seminars, Jerry does weekly radio shows on two St. Cloud, Minnesota stations; WJON and WWJO. He also authored a book called Details for Locating and Catching Fish. Hunting and fishing photos and articles written by Jerry, along with his email address, can be found at Jerry fishes all species but prefers crappies in the winter and bass in the summer. He also loves to hunt Canada geese in the fall.