Gerald Almy: A dozen tips for summer panfish

Gerald Almy

When trout streams are low and bass seem to have a case of lockjaw, it’s hard not to look for a more appealing group of fish to go after. One of the best answers I can think of is to concentrate on panfish.

Quarries like crappies, bluegills, yellow perch, redbreasts, and white bass are almost always willing to grab a lure, fly or bait even on the hottest days. They’re the perfect choice for those days when you want to take it easy and enjoy a relaxing day on the water–yet still come home with a cooler full of tasty fish to fry.

You can catch them on rivers, small streams, impoundments, and ponds. And because of that, they’re great quarries for taking youngsters along who are more interested in consistent action than catching a trophy.

Here are 12 proven tips to help you score on a variety of panfish this summer.

1. Excellent catches of sunfish can be made with trout flies. They don’t have to be fancy, and many fishermen like to save flies that trout have chewed up and use them on panfish. Patterns such as the Royal Coachman, Humpy, and Adams are effective when fish are striking on the surface. If they’re feeding deeper, switch to a Hare’s Ear Nymph or a wet fly such as the Black Gnat. Sizes 8 to 14 are best for the small-mouthed panfish.

2. Chartreuse jigs are top offerings for white bass in 1/8-1/4 ounce sizes. Try a variety of retrieves, starting with slow steady reeling. If that doesn’t produce, pause part way back and let the lure drop for a few seconds like a wounded minnow. For a third approach, try reeling a few feet, then twitching, reeling, then twitching.

3. One of the top spots to find crappies in summer is around bridge pilings. These concrete spans offer shade and structure for the fish to hang out next to and great spots for them to ambush baitfish that swim past. Start by working the pilings closest to land first. Then probe those where the creek or river channel drops off into deeper water if they don’t produce. Use marabou or plastic tailed jigs or small live shiners suspended beneath a bobber.

4. Try to time your fishing trips for periods just before a front blows in. Panfish of all species tend to feed avidly during the few hours before a storm system or weather change moves in. Just be sure to get off the water before lightning or high winds arrive.

5. If you’re having trouble locating white bass, try trolling. This lets you present the fish with several lure choices at one time and probe a variety of depths. Top offerings include silver spoons, small crankbaits, diving thin-minnow plugs, lipless crankbaits and jig-spinner combos. Motor slowly through areas where humps rise up off the lake floor and over points, drop-offs and creek mouths in depths of 8-24 feet.

6. Sponge rubber spiders are one of the top fly rod offerings for bluegills. But often the legs are tied too long. This makes them tangle on the hook and encourages fish to grab the tails without getting the hook in their mouths. If legs are more than 1/3 inch long, trim them back to that length with scissors. They won’t tangle and you’ll draw more solid hookups.

7. One of the best baits for yellow perch is a small live minnow. If you don’t have any or run out of bait, try this trick. Cut a thin tapered strip of white belly meat from one of the fish you’ve already caught. It should be 1/4-1/2 inch wide at the end and taper for 1-2 inches to a thin tip. This offering also works on crappies, bluegills, rock bass and pickerel.

8. When panfish action is slow, try slapping the water with your paddle. This may sound ridiculous, but the commotion imitates feeding fish and at times will attract nearby crappies, bluegills and white bass to your offerings.

9. One of the top lures for bluegills is a grub with a short stubby plastic body. Fish it slowly–just fast enough to keep it off the bottom. Part way back, pause briefly to draw strikes from trailing fish. Use 1/32-1/8 ounce versions in brown, green, black, smoke, motor oil, or purple.

10. Try chumming if fishing is slow. Keep egg shells from your breakfast, crumple them up and sprinkle overboard. Oatmeal and cornmeal also work. The slowly descending tidbits will flutter through the water and draw in both baitfish and panfish.

11. Light rods are best for panfish, but avoid an action that’s too stiff in the tip. A slightly limber tip keeps bluegills from spitting out the lure as quickly when they feel the tension from the rod and line.

12. When fishing lakes, try these spots for panfish: inlets, outlets, points, coves, weed beds, areas with fallen trees or brush, underwater humps, springs, rock piles, flats and drop-offs.

When these tips pay off for you, be sure to keep a few fish for a meal or two. Panfish species are prolific breeders. It usually helps keep populations in balance with the habitat when anglers keep a few fish. I like to deep fry them dipped in batter or fry them lightly in lemon, garlic, and butter.

That’s the final reward for a summer panfish outing. There’s a reason they’re called “pan” fish: they’re delicious!

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.