Here's a "Brimful" of tips to improve your angling success for early season panfish.
Virtually every pond, lake, river and stream throughout the country harbors a bountiful supply of these prolific species. Landing a bucketful of bragging-size panfish usually requires little more than a trip to your favorite local fishing hole, locating a likely looking spot and presenting one of a variety of popular baits.
My father used to say that the dinner bell is always ringing when it comes to panfish. The only real trick is finding their kitchen table. After more angling years than I care to admit, I've found this bit of wisdom to be almost always true.
It's a rare day indeed when a few of these fish cannot be enticed by a piece of worm or a tiny artificial lure. Voracious panfish are almost always willing to help in your efforts to bring home enough tasty filets to feed the entire family.
Most panfish anglers prefer to concentrate their fishing efforts in the months during and following the spawn. During these times, panfish can be caught quite easily and in large numbers. But, pre-spawn panfish are no different.
Locating Pre-Spawn Panfish
Unlike other gamefish species, these little scrappers seldom venture far from their spring and summer haunts. A brief understanding of their simple habits is the key to early season angling success.
To the delight of anglers, panfish tend to be a social lot. They are often found in groups of 20 or more fish. Depending upon the clarity and depth of a particular fishing hole, panfish are most often found in relatively shallow water.
During the spawn, they can be located near clusters of nests in one to six feet of water. In shallow water that is fairly clear, look for small circular spots fanned out on the bottom. This is most dramatic against a sand bottom that is covered with residue such as fallen leaves or grass. Spawning activity peaks during late May or early June, and continues to a lesser degree throughout the summer months. Though panfish, prefer to nest on a harder bottom of gravel, they will also use one of mud, silt or sand.
When not nesting, panfish will usually be found in deeper water adjacent to or near their traditional nesting areas. During the morning and evening hours, they will normally move into the shallows to feed on insects, small fish or other aquatic organisms. Although their assortment of foods is less varied during the pre-spawn months, the same generally holds true.
Areas near boat docks or fallen trees are terrific midday spots to search for pre-spawn panfish. Shallow water areas, especially those containing aquatic vegetation, are best during the morning and evening hours.
Tackle and Baits
When it comes to baits, almost every panfish angler I know has a particular preference. Some anglers like to keep things simple, using a small piece of a garden worm or night crawler. However, crickets, meal worms, wax worms or a small piece of shrimp are all equally effective panfish baits. One annoying characteristic of panfish is their tendency to swallow the bait, and the resulting difficult hook removal process. If you use long shanked Aberdeen hooks, this problem is less of an annoyance.
Fans of artificial baits also enjoy excellent success tempting early season panfish to the hook with a variety of small baits. Lady bugs are a great surface bait that immolates one of their favorite foods. Since bugs make up a great deal of a panfishes diet, fly-fishermen experience excellent results using a variety of flies such as nymphs in various colors. Just prior to the spawn, small poppers are particularly effective lures for panfish, and you have the added benefit of watching the action on the surface.
Tiny jigs, ranging in size from 1/32- to 1/16-ounce, also yield good catches. Color again is a matter of preference among individual anglers, but most importantly, the fish like to pick colors as well. I have enjoyed excellent success using a black plastic jig body containing just a touch of chartreuse, but the key is finding what color the fish want to hit. With a bucket of Cabela's Panfish plastics, you've got more than enough colors, and you won't run out any time soon.
No matter what type of tackle you prefer - spinning, fly-fishing or even a simple cane pole - one of the most important keys to panfishing success is scaling everything down a size or two. Light lines, small hooks and tiny bobbers are standard tools among experienced anglers.
Cane poles rigged with a quality four to six-pound-test monofilament line account for a large number of panfish each year. Cabela's telescoping panfish pole is an excellent choice. Its light action magnifies the fight of these bantam weight brawlers and it's easy to store in a trunk for those impromptu excursions. Small hooks, size eight or ten, work particularly well under most conditions. Bobbers should be just large enough to suspend the bait and tiny sinker off the bottom.
Four-weight fly-fishing equipment is ideally suited for panfish angling. An assortment of number 10 to 14 flies will usually fill the bill for a day on the water.
I prefer to use a five-foot ultralight spinning outfit with a quality four-pound-test monofilament line. A few tiny spinners and jigs make up the remainder of my panfishing arsenal. In extremely clear water, I will often add a four-foot length of two-pound-test leader.
Since pre-spawn panfish, especially the larger ones, tend to be found in slightly deeper water, I often look for drop offs and channel banks near spawning areas. Using a tiny jig to thoroughly search these areas is my preferred method for quickly locating fish.
Once I have them pinpointed, it's time to get down to business using one or more types of live bait. Though pre-spawn panfish have voracious appetites, they can be pretty finicky at times. This is why I seldom limit myself to only one type of live bait. For artificials, when panfish get particular, adding a little squirt of Berkley's Powerbait Jelly will increase strikes dramatically.
On more than one occasion, I have found a particular bait to be productive one day, only to return the next day and find the fish desiring something else. An angler might not be able to beg a bite using redworms when, only the day before, they had boated a cooler full of pan-sized bluegill. Take plenty of options in size, color and style, and don't forget a sharp filet knife. If you want a meal, there will be plenty of work to do.
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