I started counting my list of panfish lakes that I frequent during the winter months. Although there are quite a number that get visited each year, I do have my favorites. Twelve of them to be exact. I call them my Dirty Dozen.

I will readily admit that not one of these lakes is perfect in terms of always being productive. In fact, some of my Dirty Dozen occasionally go through a year or two that they are not worth much at all. However, because of their reliability over the years, they always get checked and are never crossed off of my list.

A couple of these lakes on my favorites list are early season locations. They are shallow, develop ice early and have fishable locations that are within walking distance of the landing. They are also close enough to home that I don’t have to drive long distances to spend a few hours on the ice.

Close to home is important to me. Although I will occasionally do a long day on the ice, I prefer to make shorter trips, get my fish cleaned and be sitting in front of the fire long before the sun goes down.

Timing is pretty important when it comes to choosing which lake I am heading to. Since a couple of them are relatively deep, it takes longer for the ice to develop. It also takes longer for the fish to congregate in the deep-water haunts that are popular a little later in the winter.

Jerry Carlson
Jerry Carlson

Flowage is another factor to consider. When a lake has water flowing through it, dangerous conditions can persist for quite some time. Testing the current areas is not something I want to do. I will happily be patient and wait for safer ice.

Because of the depth I am faced with on a couple of the deep lakes, I will do some retying before I ever get to the ice. When fishing in very deep water, the lighter jigs that worked well when fishing shallow don’t cut it in deep water. It takes too long to drop down to the fish and light jigs lose their feel in deep water. Tungsten does help.

I highly recommend the retying preparation be done at home. My fingers work much better in my workshop than they do on the ice. Having multiple rods rigged for the conditions I anticipate finding is very important to me. If I should break off or need a different appeal, having a couple of back-up rods rigged and ready often saves the day.

The last couple of years, I have found the small jigging spoons, like Clam’s Pinhead Minnow, are ideal choices for my mid-winter, deep-water crappies. They drop fast, show up well on electronics, and are very appealing to finicky fish.

Not all lakes are created equal nor do they operate on same timeline. Some are good early and then slowly dwindle in their productiveness as the winter wears on. Others seem to be at their

best a little later in the year when oxygen levels in the shallows go down and the panfish head to deeper water.

For this reason, I like having my options. I like having my Dirty Dozen favorite lakes and enjoy checking them out on an annual basis to see which ones are producing the best. And then, I plan my excursions accordingly. Fish are always biting somewhere.

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