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The Ultimate Ice Fishing Gear Guide for Panfish

What comes before ice fishing? A whole lot of anticipation, product research, and purchasing. In fact, a big part of the fun of ice is preparing for the season, and when it comes to early ice the first category I prep for is panfish. I’ve kept notes and over the years I’ve compiled a list of my favorite products that have helped me turn over more trophy fish. This is my gear guide for ice fishing panfish and we will cover:

  • Rods
  • Reels
  • Line
  • Lures
  • Plastics/Baits
  • & More for success this season

Ultralight Rod Setup is a MUST For Ice Fishing Panfish

Panfish Gear
The TUCR Bullwhip and Precision Noodle are two favorite ice fishing rods for targeting panfish.

The first item you are going to need is the right rod. If you want a full breakdown on choosing the right early ice panfish rod then read my guide right here. If you want a quick briefing of what I use and why – then keep reading.

When it comes to panfish, having the right rod actually does matter. If you can’t identify a biting fish good luck catching it. In fact, the number one thing that I see affects panfish success the most is the lack of a light enough setup.

So how do you choose the right rod? The first question you have to ask yourself is your budget. The best rod is the one that fits your budget AND has a light enough action to detect the light bites. One way to work this if you don’t have a budget is to simply add a spring bobber to the rod you have.

If you have a little bit of a budget to work with then you need to ask yourself about quality. Your higher-end rods are going to be ultra-sensitive to detecting the lightest bite (superior to a spring IMO), have a quick transition to a heavier backbone for hooking those bigger fish and give you significantly more control over the presentation.

Best Ice Fishing Rod for Panfish: TUCR Bullwhip
The sensitivity at the end of the rod is key in detecting panfish bites.

My gear includes 2 TUCR (Tuned Up Custom Rod):

The noodles are my go-to for bluegill and my bullwhips are my go-to for crappie, however, depending on the size of the fish and the bite – they are very interchangeable. The difference between the two is really in the backbone, and if you can only afford one… I recommend the Bullwhip.

Light Line is Key for Panfish

Next, let’s talk about the line. There are 3 types: monofilament, braid, and fluorocarbon. Mono is affordable, has stretch, and is less visible than braid. Braid is the toughest, most sensitive with no stretch (and difficult to use with small jigs), and very visible – while fluorocarbon is invisible with less stretch and more strength than mono.

I have found, over time that the stretch of mono is very valuable when retrieving panfish.

The lighter the better in most instances. For me, 4 lb mono is the perfect compromise between the two. However, if you have two rods I recommend setting one ultralight for bluegill and one a little heavier for bigger crappie (or even chasing those 10″ gills).

My bullwhips have 4lb mono while my precisions often have 2 lb. Many anglers will go with straight fluorocarbon – which is a fine option too. However, over. the years I have learned to like the stretch of mono in these situations. It helps eliminate the spit-out factor and also lets you absorb some of the hookset, therefore, reducing the chance of pulling the line out of the fish’s mouth (particularly with the tiny mouths of bluegill). Try to find a quality mono, or else line memory becomes a real problem quickly. I also recommend finding small barrel swivels to help eliminate line twists which is a problem associated with the line memory.

Choosing a Reel

When it comes to choosing a reel, I don’t have any particular brand or type I go with. I used a Black Betty inline reel for a long time, but have had so many issues with it that by the end of last year found myself going back to a traditional spinning reel. I currently use a Pfluegar TRIONSP20X and a JM Series Elite Series Reel. Both options are affordable and will get the job done. If you have any suggestions of game-changing ice reels, I’d love to hear about it!

In-Line vs. Spinning Reels for Ice Fishing

The biggest benefit of the inline reel is the quick fall and that it eliminates line twists. I found that I still had line twists. If you haven’t tried an inline before it may be worth the investment, especially since technology has improved since when I purchased my Black Betty in 2018. Just make sure you have a spinning reel on hand.

Picking the Perfect Jigs for Panfish

Early Ice Trophy Crappie
16″ Early ice crappie caught on a Mo Glo jig tipped with a crappie minnow.

Tungsten is all the rage right now – but there is a place for lead and glass jigs too. Why? Because they all fall at different rates.

The one person that convinced me that the tungsten standard wasn’t the end all be all for fishing was Ana -who oftentimes outfished people by slowing down techniques and fall rates. When it’s a tough bite she could outfish me 10:1. Times have changed of course ;), but great thanks to her sharing some of her more finesse techniques I’ve become a much better panfish angler.

Tungsten: Tungsten is great because you can get a smaller jig to fall faster. This means getting down to the school of fish faster, downsizing when you can’t connect on a fish, and the ability to have a little bit more sensitivity and control with the added weight. Tungsten jigs should be part of every angler’s arsenal.

Lead: The perks of lead include a slower fall rate, lighter (less ability to detect the jig when biting), and cheaper price. Also, I find that lead jigs come with a greater variety of size and shape than it’s tungsten counterparts.

  • Crappie Mo Glo’ Jig: The exact jig I got my biggest fish on last season. Also great for open water tipped with minnows (thanks to it’s horizontal presentation). Use code nicole15 for discounts.
  • Impulse Rigged ZooPlankton: The number one bait crappie seem to eat all winter long – zooplankton. Perfect to have on hand during early hours and midday before the zooplankton show up.

Glass: Glass jigs are the latest push in the fishing world – they are going to flow slowly like lead, be less toxic than lead but have a larger size. Again, plenty of trade-offs here, but one more tool to add to the kit. I don’t have much for glass in my tackle box but what I have used I” ve been happy with.

Ice Fishing With Live Bait AND Plastics

Bobby Garland crappie baits are highly effective for both open water and ice.

When chasing panfish I will almost always have waxies or crappie minnows with. However, for those times I forget it, I accidentally kill them (which happens way to often) or have that unplanned trip… I keep plastics on me. Sometimes I mix them because it sure is nice knowing something is on the end of my line when I lost that bait. Not to mention there have been plenty of open water and ice fishing days where plastics were the only thing I needed. Just make sure you have lot of them on hand – and that you change them out frequently.

  • Itty Bit Slab Slay R (nicole15 for discount): Now down to 1.25″ this a perfect compliment to any lead jig, and perfct for both open water and ice.
  • Bobby Garland® 2″ Swimming Minnow (nicole15 for discount): Perfect math with the Mo’ Glo jig for that perfectly horizontal presentation.
  • Itty Bit Mind R (nicole15 for discount): Another option for the finesse fisherman – pair this with a tungsten toad or Mo Glo jig.
  • Kalins Crappie Scrub: I’ve been a big fan of the Kalins Crappie Scrub for open water but – they aren’t a bad option for ice either. Grab them for fall fishing and keep them around for early ice.

Ice Fishing Panfish Shopping List

Below is a quick summary of all of the gear for panfish.

Rods: I’m a big fan of Tuned Up Custom if you can afford it.

Reel: No preference – just makes sure it fits. What I’m using:

Line: I like mono or fluoro for panfish (especially mono). Just watch line memory.

Tungsten: Tungsten is great because you can get a smaller jig to fall faster. This means getting down to the school of fish faster, downsizing when you can’t connect on a fish, and the ability to have a little bit more sensitivity and control with the added weight. Tungsten jigs should be part of every angler’s arsenal.

Lead: The perks of lead include a slower fall rate, lighter (less ability to detect the jig when biting), and cheaper price. Also, I find that lead jigs come with a greater variety of size and shape than it’s tungsten counterparts.

  • Crappie Mo Glo’ Jig: The exact jig I got my biggest fish on last season. Also great for open water tipped with minnows (thanks to it’s horizontal presentation). Use code nicole15 for discounts.
  • Impulse Rigged ZooPlankton: The number one bait crappie seem to eat all winter long – zooplankton. Perfect to have on hand during early hours and midday before the zooplankton show up.