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Panfish tend to ride high late in the ice fishing season

Finicky fish require subtlety, coercion and an all-out finesse commitment to get some action. But the tides are now turning.

As the days lengthen and the sun warms frozen lakes with greater intensity, fish become more willing to eat larger meals. In fact, they'll seek out bigger portions to satisfy an increasing appetite with less effort. From early March until ice-out, the metabolic rates of perch, crappie and bluegill continually increase as their bodies yearn for nutrients, giving these species reason to feed intensely for long periods of time.

The spawn is months away, but the preparation process has already begun and these panfish require more food to function at an optimal level, taking in the nutrients critical for final development of their 25,000 (perch), 50,000 (bluegill) to over 100,000 (crappie) eggs. Anglers interested in some of the best ice action of the year should capitalize on this period of increased activity and make it a priority to get on the lake.

Late ice becomes a time of transition; the snow begins melting, auger holes actually expand instead of freezing over and environmental changes, which ultimately lead to open water, directly impact the fish.

Water produced from melting snow and ice begins seeping through any open crevice, creating warm flowages that attract fish because of the increased water temperature, aeration and unified supply of forage attracted to these points of interest. Fish that once adhered to the bottom have now taken flight, floating purposefully close to the underside of the lakes icy sheath. These fish are at the height of activity, jockeying for position to get first crack at a meal.

Locating eager biters requires effort equal to that put forth during any ice excursion, but the late ice period causes panfish to situate higher in the water column compared to their mid-winter haunts. Perch, crappie and bluegill also move into much shallower locations, exploring flats and crests in just a few feet of water.

Your well-stocked tackle box may already possess miniature jigging favorites and tipping the hook with a grub is sure to put a keeper on the ice, but because these fish are so aggressive, your best bet may still be sitting on the shelf at the tackle shop.

Artificial and all natural tails allow you to catch more fish between threading on a new attractor, and maximize your time on the lake, keeping your hands in your gloves instead of your waxworm box.

And when the fish are extremely active, the plastic or biodegradable material stays on the hook longer than conventional larvae. However, if the fish seem lethargic you may need to switch back to live bait.

As you venture out for the last few weeks of the ice fishing season, make safety a priority. The absence of snow creates a slick surface and ice cleats provide the traction needed to prevent a painful fall. They also keep you from spinning in circles while auguring a hole!

Always carry ice picks and a rope and as the ice deteriorates, wear a PFD. It's wise to use the buddy system, but keep some distance between you while walking out to your destination. Avoid dark spots on the lake and if in doubt, stay on shore. No fish is worth falling in for.