2-Pronged Approach to Catch Early Ice Panfish

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There’s always a big rush to get out on the ice as soon as it forms across the ice belt, and while it can be some of the best panfish fishing of the year, it shouldn’t come at a deadly cost. McKeon “Keys” Roberts shares 2 proven presentations for early ice panfish, how to choose lakes with the best potential, and how to read newly formed ice for safety.


McKeon’s early ice panfish approach revolves around two tactics that cater to the moods of panfish. A spoon is used first to gauge these moods and is best when fish are active and aggressive. If the fish are lethargic, Keys switches to insect replicating soft plastics to ease them into biting. Traveling light is preached to increase mobility and ease of access to backcountry lakes.

Schooling panfish are nomadic roamers — staying hot on their trail is made easier with less and lighter gear. Once schools are found, the right rod reel combo aids in detecting the most tentative bites. Roberts opts for an ultra-light, ultra-sensitive rod with light fluorocarbon line spooled on inline reels to reduce coiling and unnatural (spinning) presentations.