Panfish Tips for Spring

I enjoy the winter.  Hunting, ice fishing (when I can) and the outdoor shows are all great.  It all makes the cold weather season pass quickly.  But I’d like to share with you that one of the favorite pastimes for me and so many others is going after panfish.  With that in getting ready for spring, I’d like to share a few things that may help you catch more and bigger gills or crappies.  None of this may be new to you, but hopefully it will be a reminder of going back to the basics.

There are all kinds of baits one can use.  Small live baits like waxworms, mousies, butter worms, catalpa worms will all work.  Any kind of grub is good bait for panfish.  If you like to use regular worms like redworms or nightcrawlers, they’ll work to.   For crawlers though, remember that gills will grab them and run.  They’ll take the bait and dart off into the weeds or cover to take the oversized bait down bit by bit.  Using your fingernail to cut the worms up into shorter pieces works, but if you have a small knife and something to cut them on, you’ll have a neater cut and most of the attractive juices of the worm will stay inside the body instead of being smeared all over your boat seat or under your thumbnail.

Crickets are good baits.  They’re available at bait and pet shops.  Crickets fished straight lined or below a bobber will work just fine.  There is such a thing as a cricket hook, but in most stores, they’re more commonly called a panfish hook.  They’re a normal in size, like a #6 or #8 thin wire hook but has an extra long shank.  The reason for the long shank is to keep some of it hanging out of the fish’s mouth so you can get it out after you catch it.  Panfish love to devour their food and get themselves “gut hooked” sometimes.

Minnows like fatheads and shiners will get crappies and the bigger more aggressive bluegills.  Keep the minnows in cool water.  Now, in the spring that won’t be a problem, but come summer time, a few ice cubes dropped into the minnow bucket will help maintain a cool temperature.  Dropping a bucket over the side of the boat into the lake can shock the minnows and kill them.  Any attempts to change or add water should be done with small amounts at a time.  Remember, dead minnows make good catfish bait so don’t throw them out.  Freeze them for a future trips.

Small plastics work too.  My favorite is the Cubby’s Mini Mite, an icon in the plastic bait department.  It’s the ideal plastic bait for panfish.  But some guys like to use small twister tails.  For me, the main colors are either white or chartreuse.  Why?  They just work well for me.  Other anglers swear by the blacks, browns, blues, reds and other variations of color.  Your best bet is to have confidence in a color and have a good assortment.

For panfish I prefer the two extremes when it comes to a rod.  I learned to like the long ten foot rods for fishing vertically over structure.  When fishing from a boat you won’t be crowding the structure or casting shadows that can spook the fish.  You just reach out with the long rod and catch fish.

Short rods are good for casting, especially when fishing from shore from under and around a lot of trees and bushes.  By short, I mean four and a half and five foot rods that are light and ultra light action.  The 6 to 7 footers are okay, but that’s about it.

Rigging baits is simple.  You can use a small slip bobber or even a fixed one if the bait does not need to ride deep into the water.  Straight lining for vertical jigging or casting are other ways to go.  If you’re fishing deeper water, you may have to add some split shot to the line when you need to get the bait down along the bottom.  Sometimes a slow fall to deep water gets your bait picked off by smaller gills that are higher up in the water column.  Heavier winds and waves also will just not allow you to work a bait properly.  Add a split shot to get you bait down there.

Keep your baits like the Mini Mite or other jigs horizontal on the line.  If the knot slides to the front of the jig, the tail end of the bait will point downward.  When that happens, it’s not easy for fish to take that bait in their mouth.  Same deal goes for hooking minnows.  Hook them in the back if you’re fishing them below a bobber.  If you’re casting and retrieving the minnow on a jig, hook it through the chin and nose.  You have to make it easy for the panfish to suck the bait into their mouths.

I hope this helps put a few more panfish at the end of your line this spring.  This kind of fishing is fun and simple.  It’s one of the best for getting kids involved.  Don’t forget to practice catch and release.  Keep the ones you’ll eat and know the limits as they change from lake to lake.  The best deal about fishing for panfish is that they can be caught in virtually any body of water and that makes great fishing not that far away.

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