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Ice Fishing Bait for Winter Panfish

Are You Packing the Best Ice Fishing Bait?

If you’re not used to the cold and darkness that winter brings across the northern fringe of the country, you might think it’s a depressing time of year to be around. You’d be wrong, since the frigid conditions also mean it’s time for ice fishing season! But how do you know you’re using the right ice fishing bait for whatever fish species you’re targeting? First, start by reading this live bait guide, which is a great resource for several fish species (e.g., crappies, bass, trout, and walleye) throughout the year. And if you really want to key in on panfish this upcoming ice fishing seasonstart watching ice fishing videos and keep reading below for some ice fishing tips.

Types of Panfish Bait

These days, it’s easy to get confused about which bait you should use. Take a stroll through a sporting goods store and you’ll be overwhelmed by aisles of ice fishing supplies and specialty baits that all promise to help you catch fish. Plastic worms or grubs, artificial baits, and live baits are the three basic categories of ice fishing bait used by most anglers.  

The artificial fishing baits have some benefits over traditional live bait – namely, they are durable and can often be used for more than one bite. Plastic baits can be used dozens of times as long as they’re not damaged, but live minnows or worms don’t usually hold up well past a single strike. You can also keep a package of artificial ice fishing bait inside your coat pocket very easily to stay mobile.  

But there’s nothing more dependable on any body of water than ice fishing with live bait. Of the live bait for ice fishing (especially when targeting panfish), minnows are a perfect choice. On some occasions, wax worms also work well. But if you’re into mobile ice fishing, you probably hate being tethered to a big minnow bucket – it’s just too bulky to move things around efficiently. That’s where the Bait Up™ containers really shine.

 

Tips for Using a Live Bait Container

Depending on which fish species you’re after, the minnow choice should also change. For example, when you’re ice fishing for panfish, you should seek out shiners or fathead minnows. Generally speaking, minnows in the 1- to the 2-inch range is the right size for catching crappies or bluegills. Any bigger, and you’re getting into a minnow size that should be used for targeting walleye. 

Likewise, your bait container should also change depending on the size of the bait you use. The Bait Up 20 container holds 20 ounces of water and small bait options (or less of the larger sized baits). The Bait Up 35 container carries 35 ounces of water and can fit either more of the small ice fishing bait or a good amount of medium-sized live bait (usually 1 to 3 scoops of average crappie minnows). The floating basket raises the bait up out of the water so you don’t have to get your hands as wet and don’t need to carry a separate net/scoop. Then when the bait needs a change of water to re-oxygenate, simply invert the container and drain the water out the bottom without losing any bait. Then submerge it into the water of the ice fishing hole to refill it.  

As for ice fishing tips for crappie, simple is usually best. Sensitive ice poles and light 2- or 4- pound test line is the perfect combination. Use a small float with a bobber stop set to the approximate depth you’d like to fish. Bait ice fishing lures for crappie or a plain hook with a minnow (hooked right under the dorsal fin). Add a split shot or two about one foot above the bait, and let it sink. If you’re using fishing electronics, you can adjust the depth to wherever you see the fish. If not, try setting your bait about 1 to 2 feet off the bottom as a starting point. Aggressive (and hungry) crappies tend to be suspended in the water column versus right on the bottom, but it’s a start. 

Ice Fishing Challenges

Unlike fall fishing conditions where you might have the lake to yourself, ice fishing seems to really stack people up on some waterbodies. People always gravitate towards other anglers, especially if they’re fishing in the vicinity of a known piece of structure or honey hole. While many lakes can handle that fishing pressure, sometimes it can also really reduce the fish activity. In these cases, it’s better to strike off on your own and find a new honey hole. Slip your Bait Up container lanyard over your shoulder, grab your other ice fishing equipment, and use a lake contour map to find a new spot. Weed lines in shallower water are often overlooked by almost everyone who ice fishes, but they still hold good schools of crappies, especially earlier in the year when the vegetation is still healthy. So the next time you see a village of fish houses clustered over a deep hole in the lake, try fishing the perimeter of the lake instead. 

 

Another challenge with ice fishing is (spoiler alert): it’s cold outside. When you leave an uninsulated container of water on the ice, it usually doesn’t take long before ice starts to form inside it. While it doesn’t really affect the ice fishing bait in the short-term, it can affect how well the basket works. To solve that issue, simply keep your container within a backpack/cooler if you’re on the move or use a portable fish house. You can usually hang it from one of the metal supports along the ceiling of a fish shelter, which keeps it off the ice and up where the heat rises. It will never ice up in that location and you can keep an eye on when the bait needs a new dose of water. 

This winter, make sure you’re using the right ice fishing bait on the water. Artificial baits are usually made to mimic live baits. So why not go right to the source, the way nature intended them to look and smell? With the portable Bait Up containers, you can easily cover a larger area faster. And that usually results in more fish on the ice. 

Stream Fishing 101 | Live Bait Tactics for Bass and Trout

Stream Fishing with Live Bait for Catching More Bass and Trout

Stream fishing is much different than casting a line into a calm lake for bass and trout. The constantly moving water not only affects your fishing techniques but determines where fish can be caught. Successful anglers on the lake often struggle fishing streams and rivers. This is because it is not easy knowing how to read a river for fishing. By understanding where to find fish, the best tackle setups, and successful stream fishing techniques you will have more hookups with live bait on your next stream fishing trip.

Where to Find Fish in Streams

It’s hard to catch bass or trout, regardless of your fishing tackle, if you don’t know where to find them. River and stream fishing requires you to understand how fish relate to the current and structure within the water. Good fishing spots are going to be around areas of structure such as downed trees or large rock outcrops. However, don’t solely focus on these areas when thinking about where to find fish in streams. The best stream fishing spots are those that provide fish protection from current and predators, as well as provide an abundance of forage.

The 3 Best Trout Fishing Spots in Streams

  • Undercut Banks – To avoid predation, trout seek out undercut banks for security. These areas also provide ample prey for large trout making it a prime location to fish for trout. Fish these undercut banks by casting upstream and allowing the current to push your trout fishing bait under the bank.
  • Riffles – Riffles are usually overlooked by anglers when stream fishing. However, riffles are the go-to place for trout when they are actively feeding on live bait. Fish riffles either from downstream or cross current to avoid spooking trout. Floating a minnow through a riffle downstream to an awaiting trout is also highly successful.
  • Deep Pools – All anglers head to deep pools first and for good reasons. Fast water enters pools, usually from a riffle, slows down and then leaves again at a fast rate. Focus your fishing on these two “ends”, where the water enters and leaves the pool. Look for trout in the upper two-thirds of the water column, which means they are actively feeding on live bait and more easily caught.

The 3 Best Bass Fishing Spots in Streams

  • Islands or Large Rock Outcrops – In streams with a lot of current, fish for bass on the downstream side of islands and rock piles. The calmer water here provides a resting spot for large bass and the food they prey on. In bodies of water with a lot of current this sometimes can be the only place to fish. Cast upstream on the edge where the current meets the calm water to trigger bites.
  • Vegetation – Most streams don’t have extensive weed beds like a lot of lakes. Here, vegetation refers mainly to shoreline vegetation. Overhanging trees and shrubs, especially those that are partly in the water, are bass magnets. Fishing with live bait is most effective around vegetation. Cast a live minnow to the edge and let it drift by positioned bass.
  • River Bends – Bends have it all, including both current changes and structure. These are collection areas for drifting trees and also a collection area for food. Fish for bass on the inside edge, or eddy, from a downstream position.

Stream Fishing Tackle Setups

Most stream fishing techniques to catch bass or trout with live bait don’t require heavy tackle. You are not flipping dense weed mats or pulling five pounders from sunken timber. As such, your fishing tackle should be on the lighter side.

Trout fishing rigs should be 5- to 7-foot light or ultralightweight spin casting rods. Rods with a sensitive tip but firm butt end work best for feeling bites and setting hooks. Match the rod with a small, quality fishing reel designed for 2- to 6-lb test line. Select reels that are durable and have a fast-retrieve to be able to fish a variety of live bait techniques. Finally, fishing line can make or break how successful you are. Use 2-lb test line in small, clear streams and move up to 6-lb test for targeting larger trout in big rivers. A good option is a small diameter braided fishing line with a fluorocarbon leader approximately 6-foot long. The braid will hold up well while the fluorocarbon leader will be near invisible to trout.

River or stream fishing for bass requires a little beefier setup. Step up to a 6- to 7-foot spin casting rod in light to medium action. You can also use a baitcasting rod rig (7-foot, medium weight), which is better for fishing larger minnows rigged on spinners. Again, good quality reels go a long way when casting and reeling all day. Fishing line can vary here based on the live bait fishing techniques you are using. Choose either monofilament line in 8- to 10-lb test or fluorocarbon line in 6-to 10-lb test for most situations. A braid/fluorocarbon fishing line combo similar to your trout fishing rigs is another good all-around setup for fishing live bait for bass.

Stream Fishing Techniques to Catch More Bass and Trout

Now that you know where to find fish in streams and the best tackle to use, let’s focus on successful techniques and baits for stream fishing. Once you have found the areas that hold fish, try one of these three stream fishing techniques with live bait.

  • Jigging – Small 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jig heads tipped with live bait for trout work well in most trout fishing spots. Heavier jigs (1/8- to 1-ounce) can be fished a variety of ways for bass. Tip jigs with a fathead minnow for trout or large shiner for bass and work these through riffles. A football jig head works well paired with a live crayfish for fishing rock outcrops and river bends.
  • Drop Shot – This effective stream fishing technique works equally well with trout and bass. Drop shot rigs consist of a large weight tied below a hook. This technique gets the bait to the bottom and lets the current move the bait around enticing bites. Use live bait like minnows for trout or larger minnows and crayfish for bass. Make sure your live bait is alive for maximum effectiveness.
  • Upstream Casting – Current is your biggest challenge when fishing streams and rivers. Remember that the natural food bass and trout feed on are drifting downstream. Upstream casting utilizes the current to your advantage and creates a natural lure presentation. Upstream casting is effective with minnow spinner rigs. Cast upstream, let the spinner rig drift with the current, and keep the slack tight until it gets just up from you then start to slowly reel. Many times you will get bites on the drift before you even have a chance to reel.

In conclusion, the hardest part of stream fishing for bass and trout with live bait is knowing where to find these fish. Once you know where to find fish, stream fishing techniques like drop shotting live bait or upstream casting minnow spinner rigs can become effective. Take these stream fishing tips for bass and trout with you next time you hit the water.