Fall In the Ice Belt: The Season When Panfish Become Predators

When leaves are changing colors and temperatures start to drop in the Northwoods of the Ice Belt, we transition into that special time of the year when big crappies and bluegills start feeding heavily on minnows in preparation for the looming winter ahead. In fall when water temps drop below the 55-degree mark specifically, the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini becomes a staple hardbait that any panfish angler should consider as part of their arsenal.
Lure: At 1 5/8” and 3/16 oz, the Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a micro lipless hardbait which is a little bit bigger than a crappie minnow, but a little bit smaller than a fathead minnow. The Mini is arguably the most versatile hardbait available in today’s fishing market as it can be fished in any type of water; it can be jigged, drifted, trolled, or casted; and it brings in some incredible northern pike, walleyes, and even bass while chasing large panfish.
Line: Yo-Zuri 4 lb test Hybrid on an ultra-light rod and reel set up is a great choice for chasing big crappies and bluegills in fall. Another option to consider is to break out the ice rod and reel combos spooled up with Yo-Zuri 4 lb test Ice Hybrid or 4 lb test Ice Super Fluorocarbon as much of the fall is a precursor and foreshadowing to where large schools of the biggest panfish will be lurking once the ice forms. Using the ice rod and reel combos during the fall period is a great way to get practiced up in advance of the upcoming ice season.
Location: Suspended crappies and bluegills are prime targets for using the Rattl’N Vibe Minis as some of the largest fish of these species can be found roaming basins or basin edges. It is relatively common to find schools of panfish chasing minnows 15’ down in 25’ or more of water before and after the fall turnover. Hot Perch and Green Perch are great patterns for chasing suspended fish in clear water as they have are more natural patterns and can be preferred when large panfish are keying in on specific prey like baby perch in the middle of the water column in the middle of the day. If fishing in tannic-stained water or waters impacted by the mixing of oxygen throughout the water column during turnover, then the glow patterns (Luminescent or Luminescent Perch); UV patterns (UV Purple Tiger, UV Blue Tiger, and UV Pink Tiger); or metallic patterns (Black Silver or Gold Black) come into play. These glowing- and flashing-based patterns are meant for eliciting reaction strikes when water clarity is obscured.
Fishing the Mini: Two solid ways to fish the Rattl’N Vibe Mini include working the lures above and in front of schools of marauding panfish. Slow trolling or drifting and lifting 1-2’ above located schools of crappies and bluegills works great for suspended fish as the largest of each species will often come up several feet to up hit the lure. Jigging and even casting the Rattl’N Vibe Mini 8-10’ in front of moving fish can be another solid option to consider when working the lures because the voracious feeding instincts of the largest panfish will propel them ahead of smaller fish to pick off easy meals.
When panfish turn predators in fall, it is time to stock your gear boxes with the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini as you might just catch the biggest panfish of your open water season!
Tight lines and safe fishing!
– Mark Maule