Hard Water Panfishing – Small Baits, Big Rewards

Hard Water Panfishing – Small Baits, Big Rewards

Hard Water Panfishing – Small Baits, Big Rewards

by January 14, 2014


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Panfish are opportunistic feeders and consume a wide variety of prey items. One group of organisms that Panfish love to forage on are referred to as Aquatic Invertebrates. Aquatic Invertebrates are animals that live in water which to no possess backbones. This term is commonly used to describe stream/lake dwelling insects.

Panfish species built well for foraging on small prey species. Their body shape is built for making subtle movements around cover (weeds, wood) to forage on small prey items. Invertebrates that are commonly fed on by Panfish include Scuds (Amphipods), Midge larvae (Chironomids) and Shrimp (Decapods).  Winter Panfish forage can vary greatly depending on the waterbody where they are found. Different habitats are suitable for different forage.Hard Water Panfish Header

Scuds (Amphipods)

 AmphipodScuds (Amphipods) prefer shallow waters clinging to plants, debris or within fine substrates. Some species are known to swim and can be referred to as “sideswimmers”. Scuds range in size from 5mm to 20mm (0.2” to 0.75”). Scuds can occur in very large numbers at times. These organisms are a major food source for Panfish in many waterbodies.

Midge Larvae (Chironomids)

Midge Larvae

Midge larvae (Chironomid sp.) are small invertebrates ranging in size from 2mm to 20mm (0.07” to 0.75”). Chironomids species are often associated with softer substrates. Panfish will forage for these invertebrates along the lake bottoms. Chironomids are often captured by Panfish as they emerge from the lake bed. Some species of Chironomids are also free swimming. A popular Chironomid larvae sought after winter Panfish are “blood worms”. These midge larvae are associated with soft, muddy lake bottoms. These can be red in colour as they contain hemoglobin that stores oxygen giving them a bright red appearance. Due to their ability to store oxygen these Chironomids are very tolerant of low oxygen environments. In lakes that have deep, soft bottom habitats Blood Worms can be primary forage for Panfish.

Copepods (Copepods) and Water Fleas (Cladocerans)

Copepods and waterfleas

Copepods and Water Fleas are small prey items usually smaller than 3mm (0.12”) in length. These tiny invertebrates can be very abundant in many freshwater lakes and are a key forage for many juvenile fish. During the winter months these can be a key forage item for Panfish, especially if they are abundant. One key point about these animals is their tendency for daily vertical movements. These little organisms may not seem like a big meal but they have a secret. They can have large daily movements vertically in the water column. Moving upwards at night and downwards again by dawn. These daily movements can be key times to target Panfish. These movements can vary depending on water clarity, water depth and habitat type. A great way to capitalize on these movements is to be on the ice when these are happening. I prefer to be on the ice during strong lunar periods. I believe these movements are enhanced during these periods.

Bait Choices

Berkley has created a great line of baits that are wonderful imitators of various invertebrates that make great Panfish forage.

1)      Berkley Atom Mite: this bait is a great imitator of forage with many appendages including Scuds (Length: 20mm/0.75in)

Berkleyatom mite

2)      Berkley Atom Wishbone and Dogbone: This bait is a great imitator of more pelagic forage like Copepods and Waterfleas. (Length: 20mm/0.75in)

Berkleyatom wishbone


3)      Berkley Atomic Fry: this bait is available in two sizes, both a 20mm (0.75in) and 40mm (1.5”) version. These baits will imitate Midge larvae (Chironomids) very well.

Berkleyatomic fry

In my next article I am going to focus on Panfish location under the ice.

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