Ice-Out Panfish: Score Big With The ScoutLook Fishing App

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Soon after the ice leaves your favorite waters, panfish will be on the move. Nothing helps you follow this important transition on your local waters, like the historical data logged in your ScoutLook Fishing app. 

IceoutLEAD 600Not all of us tread on ice in the winter to catch panfish, but most anglers don’t waste any time chasing their favorite pan-sized targets once the ice cap is gone. “Ice out” —which is occurring right now across much of the upper Midwest—is a term used to explain the time when all the ice has melted and early spring tactics come into play. But typically, before any major transition there are a few more weeks of true cold-water angling. Even though the air is warm it takes a while for the water temperature to rise enough to start the transition, and during this period ice-fishing techniques can continue to work in open water.

As the water warms panfish make larger migrations, a process that begins in smaller, shallower waters, and gradually moves to larger, deeper waters. Through it all, nothing helps you pinpoint these historical movements (dates, critical temps, etc.) like the handy, take-it-everywhere log in your ScoutLook Fishing app.  If you’re not making use of this convenient data-storing feature, it’s time to start.

Locating ice-out panfish can be difficult if you fish larger bodies of water, as the fish will move around a lot as spring weather fronts move through, forcing wild swings in water temperature. If your only options are large bodies of water, your best bets are locating “transition routes” from deep water into spawning areas. Ice-out panfish will usually be in deep water, but if you know their spawning grounds you can use the ScoutLook Fishing app water contour info to follow creek channels, or simple contour changes, out to the nearest deep water. With a good fish finder, you will see the fish “stacked up” in certain areas at a certain depth. The fish will move up as the water temp rises and will usually follow those contours and channels, as they make their way into position to spawn.

ICEOUT Crappie 600Small ice-fishing-type jigs continue to produce immediately after ice out, when cold water conditions ensure fish activity remains relatively low.
Another option for anglers who can’t wait to get out there and search for a few ice- out panfish is to seek small bodies of water. Small, shallow lakes or ponds (especially those with mud bottoms) offer the earliest action after the ice melts because they warm the fastest. If you have access to several of these smaller lakes you can eventually come up with a seasonal plan based on which body of water warms the quickest, and holds the most-active panfish. A boat is nice, but often not a necessity, on these small lakes. Where the shoreline is swampy or lakeside brush is thick (and where the bottom is hard enough to wade), try donning some waders and using a fly rod rigged with small wet flies or nymphs to pick off the predictably active, shallow-water fish.

Just because the ice has melted doesn’t mean the fish are active. In some cases the lack of an ice cap can actually cause a more-fickle bite, and a great answer is tiny “do-nothing” ice jigs. These tiny jigs will continue to trigger bites from moody cold-blooded panfish for several weeks after ice-out. A great way to present these tiny jigs is under a small bobber. This works especially well if you are fishing from shore. If you are using flyfishing gear, try a dropper off the back of a popper to keep the fly in the strike zone longer.

Tiny flies and artificial lures are nearly always a good bet for early panfish, but when the water is cold and the fish are cruising, searching for the ideal water, a live minnow or grub can often grab their attention like nothing else. Remember: While brush and other heavy cover is always a great place to start during the early season, panfish are moving around a lot now and will follow transitions from deep water to shallow. You might have to locate those creek channels and ditches leading into spawning areas—and be patient as the fish come to you. Keep moving along these channels until you find the largest concentrations of active fish.

Earlier I mentioned having a “seasonal plan” if you want to extend your panfish season, by first targeting smaller, shallower lakes, then moving to larger bodies of water as water temps rise. To make the most of this approach on your local waters, keeping a journal is essential.

CRAPPIE LOG 600Here is a screenshot of one of the author’s ScoutLook Fishing journal entries from his desktop computer. Notice the highly detailed weather bar at right; you can also view your locations using a detailed satellite view, complete with water contours.
Advancing technology has made journaling easier than ever, and a great example is the Scoutlook Fishing App logging feature. This is a powerful tool you keep right at your fingertips at all times. Anytime, anywhere, you can check the current weather conditions, or check the extended forecast to see what is heading your way.


The Scoutlook Fishing App has a great journaling feature that allows you to input important info instantly. Another cool feature? When you snap a photo of your catch, the entry automatically saves all the weather conditions at that precise moment. Instantly, you have an information-filled entry right in your phone, data that you can use to compare from season to season. And while the information gathered from just one year can clue you into deadly patterns, once you accrue  several seasons worth of personal observations, you will have a way to predict, with deadly accuracy, the best fishing times and locations. And it’s all in the palm of your hand.

I have tried keeping journals the “old-fashioned way,” with pen and paper, and even tried using journals with waterproof pages. In the end, they were just too time-consuming, and too much trouble—not to mention easy to damage or misplace when you need them most. ScoutLook Fishing’s “built-in” journal feature makes things much easier, and maybe more importantly, much faster to enter the truly important information. And with all the thoughtful “add-on” details included in the app log, I now consider logging with ScoutLook an essential activity—and one I heartily recommend to all serious anglers.



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