Don't use the same panfish presentation over and over. Here's how to switch it up

When it comes to catching black crappies, bull bluegills and yellow perch, we all have favourite presentations we stick with through thick and thin. But you can pay the price for being a zealot by overlooking the fact most lures are pattern specific. In other words, they produce best under a narrow range of weather and water conditions. So, if a particular day’s conditions don’t conform to the pattern, you could be out of luck. That’s why you should start each day on the ice as a generalist, not a specialist.

Instead of assuming your favourite panfish presentation will produce, begin with a small lead-headed jig dressed with a generalist plastic body, such as a Custom Jigs and Spins Finesse Tail, a Northland Fishing Tackle Slug Bug (pictured above) or similar-type dressing. These minuscule soft-plastics with vibrating tails represent many things—from mayfly and chironomid larvae to fish fry and minnows—but nothing specifically. In other words, they offer the fish a buffet from which to choose.

I like to begin by gently quivering a 1/32-ounce jig to get a feel for the bite. If I find the panfish are coming up off the bottom to smack the lure, I’ll fine-tune my presentation, switching to a longer tail dressing and/or a different, usually lighter offering, such as a white jig with a pink body for crappies.

If further experimentation confirms the fish are feeding on baitfish, I’ll switch over to a small soft-plastic minnow or tiny bucktail, continuing the fine-tuning process to determine if the fish are eating yellow, black and orange perch fry or predominantly white-and-silver emerald and spot-tailed shiners. On the other hand, if I’m catching most of the fish close to the bottom, I’ll fine-tune in the opposite direction, switching to a darker jig and soft-plastic combination, mimicking a tiny crayfish, chironomid larva or mayfly.

When you begin each day with a completely open mind, you may well end up using your favourite lures. But you’ll have arrived at your destination through a super-smart, step-by-step, fine-tuning process that many other times will take you in a completely different direction with results better than you ever expected.