March is panfish month on area lakes
March will arrive tomorrow with 11 hours and 4 minutes of daylight. We are gaining approximately three minutes of sunlight each day and have gained more than two hours of sunlight since the first of January.
There is still plenty of snow on the ground, with approximately 30 inches of ice on most lakes. The angle of the sun and the increasing length of the days will eventually cause the spring meltdown to begin.
March is a great month for panfish. Most panfish will start out in deep water at the beginning of March and end up in the shallow weed beds on a feeding binge, right before the ice goes off the lakes.
Crappies are notorious for suspending well off the bottom late in the winter, so anglers with good electronics are at a distinct advantage.
When anglers see fish suspended off the bottom on sonar, they should try stopping their lure several feet above the fish to try make the fish come to them, rather than dropping the bait right on top of their heads.
Fish located on the edge of the sonar signal may appear to be moving up, when they are actually moving closer to the center of the signal. The lines on the sonar that represent fish will get brighter, wider and more red as the fish moves closer to the center of the cone-shaped signal being sent out by the sonar.
The drop rates of lures are also a concern when fishing deep water. Some lures are designed to fish heavier than they look and will usually work better than light lures in deep water.
Small lures have to be matched with light line, or they will sink too slowly to be effective in deep water. Under most situations, anglers should be able to use 4-pound test line for panfish in the winter.
Anglers will need to maintain their knots more closely when using light line, with a quick pull test usually enough to see if the knot is still secure.
The depth of the ice is also a consideration when using sonar. The transducer may have to be close to the bottom of the ice or centered in the hole to get proper signal. Anglers must be able to see their lure clearly on sonar for the system to be effective.
Small minnows are the bait of choice for many anglers when fishing for perch or crappies, but sunfish are usually difficult to catch on minnows.
Anglers may be better off using wax worms or eurolarve rather than minnows for panfish in many situations.
Perch feeding in deep water are more likely to be insect eaters, while perch feeding in shallow water or on rocks are more likely to eat minnows and crayfish.
Deep water perch may be feeding on mayfly larvae, which would make wax worms a good choice for bait. Perch feeding on blood worms may prefer red Eurolarve, which closely resemble the forage.
Perch are greedy and will often take larger baits than some anglers might realize. A walleye sized jigging spoon with a whole minnow or part of a minnow will often catch a higher percentage of large perch than smaller lures.
Jigging minnows may also be effective for perch, especially when perch are actively feeding on live minnows.
Crappies and sunfish are more likely to prefer insects instead of minnows in many situations, which often make wax worms or Eurolarve a better choice for bait.
Anglers fishing with wax worms may only want to use one or two wax worms at a time for the best results.
Anglers using Eurolarve (maggots) for bait are usually better off using several for bait. Anglers tipping jigging spoons or jigging minnows tipped with Eurolarve should put a few on each barb of the treble hook, with the end result looking like a chandelier.
Fish may show a distinct preference for a certain size or color of lure tipped with a specific type of bait, so anglers need to experiment to find the right combination when fish aren't responding to their presentation.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.