Ice fishing electronics continue to get more sophisticated and advanced by the year, helping hard water anglers locate fish and maximize hookups. Steve says the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope is a great tool. You can see fish and structure with live, easy to interpret scanning sonar that looks both down and sideways. One of the challenges in the winter, he says, especially if you’re panfishing is looking for schools of fish that may be roaming. A lot of times, before the technology you get with Panoptix, anglers would cut dozens if not a couple hundred holes and just walk hole to hole with down viewing sonar. Now, Steve says, with Panoptix you cut a hole and spin sideways and identify a school of fish 80 feet in one direction, then you can move over, cut a hole and get on those fish. It makes ice fishing efforts far more productive. With the down mode you actually have a massive amount of bottom coverage which allows you to cover as many feet wide as the depth of the water, he says. So you can see the fish that are coming in or see fish that are rejecting you and it really allows you to tweak your patterns to start getting on fish faster. Another huge advancement for ice fishing is electric augers, he says, like the RAZR Ice Auger that runs on a 24V or 40V lithium ion battery. Not only do they cut tremendously well, but they also provide greater mobility to move to the fish easier than it was even just a few years ago, Steve says.
If you want to be successful ice fishing you can’t always sit in one spot and wait for the bite to come to you, you have to move. Constantly fishing the areas that have been hit hard since first ice may not produce many bites. Steve says some species, like crappie, don’t react to pressure as much as other species like walleye that are notorious for not liking noise and pressure. One of the keys to catching fish, Steve says, is to get on good structure while also staying away from all the other anglers. If and when your favorite structure gains the attention of other anglers and starts getting hit too hard, causing the fish to leave, Steve says it’s time to relocate. To do that, he suggests anglers use the map package on their sonar to seek out areas that are similar in nature, but get them away from other anglers and into fresh unpressured areas.
If it’s panfish you’re targeting, Steve says during the winter, crappie and other panfish will start to roam the main lake basins looking for bloodworms and other things that like the soft bottom. These are good feeding areas for them. The challenge is that those panfish can be anywhere in the large basin and that’s where having side scanning ability like that with the Panoptix LiveScope really can become key because it allows anglers to find those fish that would normally be very difficult to locate. When fishing for panfish in the winter, Steve says in the past he has leaned on live baits. Now, however, he likes to use small spoons as he finds the small treble hooks have a higher hooking percentage for him over some of the traditional jigs. One of the most difficult things in the winter is detecting a bite, Steve says. A lot of times the fish will slide up slowly and suck the bait in, but not necessarily move. Steve says he has found that he hooks more fish with small spoons as it is easier to detect subtle up bites through the ice.
Finally, Steve talks about the past deer hunting season where he shared a special hunt with his son. Steve’s son Pierce has been hunting with his dad for years and shooting guns his whole life. By law in Minnesota, a hunter is only allowed to hunt as an apprentice under another hunter for two years before they must complete a firearm safety course that is required to get a hunting license. At the point where Pierce needed to take the firearm safety course in order to legally hunt, Steve said there were some challenges. Because Pierce has Down syndrome, Steve wasn’t sure if he would be able to successfully complete the eight week course and pass the accompanying test. Furthermore, he notes that if Pierce were to pass the test he would be able to legally hunt without supervision and that made Steve uncomfortable. So, working with the state, Steve talks about how they were able to get the law changed to have a modified firearm safety program that caters to hunters like Pierce. With the new law in place, it allowed Pierce the opportunity to hunt during the Minnesota deer season. “We went out opening morning of Minnesota deer season this year with his first ever deer license. He had a 120 yard shot and he hit the deer perfectly. The deer ran about 50 yards and then fell down the Grand Canyon of Minnesota,” Steve jokes, “which made it very difficult for dad to get it out. But, it was a moment I will treasure my entire life.”
Looking back on the experience, Steve says it was a special moment and the response to Pierce’s story was heartwarming as it got national media coverage. Steve talks about the great athlete Pierce is, the impressive things he is capable of doing when given the opportunity and more importantly, the very big light he shines and the exciting journey he has taken his family on.
Listen in as Steve Pennaz, host of “Lake Commandos” on Sportsman Channel, Sundays at 10:30 a.m. ET drops by The Revolution to talk ice fishing gear, tactics and more. You can catch previous seasons and episodes of “Lake Commandos” anytime on MyOutdoorTV.