Explore Small Streams for Winter Panfish

Even in cold climates, winter doesn’t necessarily mean the only fishing option you have is huddling over a hole in the ice.

Odds are within a few miles of you there are several small streams that hold panfish this time of year, and if they’re still flowing, you can try your luck at limiting out on species like bluegill, rock bass or crappie.

What to Look For

The word “stream” here basically applies to any body of flowing water small enough to let you toss a stone from one side to another. One beauty of these little gems tend to be their convenient location. You simply don’t have to travel far to find one. When you find a stream near you, look for any cover — fallen trees, boulders or ledges at the water’s edge — where panfish like to hold up.

Think Like a Hunter

In the colder months, many predators would gladly snatch up a careless panfish, which means any fish you find will likely be ready to streak for cover at the slightest intrusion. For this reason, you’ll want to creep along the bank, staying low so as not to make your profile large enough to spook the fish.

Plan of Attack

When you find a big hole or long stretch of deeper water in your stream, hunker down and prepare to work it thoroughly. Drop successive casts about a foot apart, covering a variety of depths until you locate the fish.

I also have great luck when I cast my bait onto the shore and jump or pull it into the water. Panfish get a bit crazy when a bug stumbles into the water’s edge, and a small lure—a Beetle Spin, for example—can have the same effect. Stick with small baits and use the lightest line you can get away with.

You May Need Watercraft

Though you can fish most small streams easily by wading or walking the banks, a canoe or even a float tube (a chair resting atop inflatable pontoons that you steer with flippers) can be much more productive in some cases. Not only can doing so allow you to cover more territory, but some locations may be only reachable this way.