With spring upon us another exciting panfish season is underway. Crappie, perch, sunfish and rock bass are all great sport on light tackle from ice-out to autumn. Here are some preparation tips to jumpstart your success along with a sampling of tactics to try this year.
Recuperating from the Ice
More so than other species, most of my panfish gear gets year-round action. Although the space between ice-out and the beginning of open-water fishing can be short, it’s important to invest time getting organized so that you start the season off right.
Preparations include transferring tackle (like jigs and soft-baits) from your ice fishing trays to open-water boxes. Also inventory your tackle and replenish what’s been depleted from the previous year.
If your ultra-light reels are pulling double duty, be sure to service and lubricate them as well. While you’re at it, add fresh line. Use ice thread as backing to get more bang for your buck from a filler spool.
Shake-Up the Standard
Once the tedious task of getting your gear organized is accomplished, take some time to reflect on the upcoming season. A great way to re-energize your panfish adventures is to experiment with different presentations beyond your standard go-to offerings, such as jig and float set-ups for example. Below are some effective but sometimes overlooked panfish tactics that work all season long.
Pitching to Weeds
It’s not uncommon for largemouth anglers to occasionally land quality panfish, like crappie, when targeting bass on deep weed flats. Part of the reason the bass are where they are is because of forage abundance, including various panfish species.
Working weed flats with light powered rods might seem like a snag-fest, but the right approach will curtail hang-ups. The key is using short, precise casts to place weedless jigs into openings, like pockets and cuts. The Lindy Veg-E-Jig or Northland Weed Weasel are great options to pluck out perch and crappie from the weeds. Use a slip bobber if fish are suspended in the vegetation.
When working outside edges bucktail jigs are an awesome choice. Their tied-on bodies take loads of abuse, which commonly results from ripping them free from hang-ups.
Consider a straight-down approach when fish are actively feeding in deep water areas, like flats or humps. Jigging minnows and rattle spoons between 1.5 to 2-inches are two popular options. The ruckus these baits produce is excellent at calling-in fish and then stimulating them to bite. Aggressively working these lures discourages smaller fish from striking, while simultaneously appealing to the appetite of larger panfish.
When faced with fussy or neutral pannies a drop-shot rig is a great option to coax bites. It’s extremely sensitive and easily transmits the lightest panfish peck because the sinker’s separated from the hook. Also, as the hook’s tied directly to the main line you can make subtle soft-baits come to life with the lightest rod shake. Two to three inch grubs, finesse worms, leeches and minnows are all great artificial options.
Another bonus of the rig is that with an appropriately heavy sinker you’ll always maintain bottom contact, helping you stay in the zone when fish are feeding near the floor. On a soft bottom, the sinker will kick up a silt cloud mimicking the maelstrom created from active bottom-feeders, like perch. This is a sure-fire way to attract curious panfish.
Whether you vertically jig or drop-shot in deep water you’re in for some line twist. To eliminate this headache, tie on a quality, micro-swivel a few feet above your lure.
From spring to fall, slipping out for an hour or two during the week to target panfish from shore is one of my favorite stress-relievers. I encourage you to do more of it this season. Regardless of whether your homestead is urban, suburban or rural, there’s often a stream, river or lake in close proximity you can cozy up to from shore and wet a line.
To me, part of the fun of shore fishing is its spontaneity and simplicity. The best way to set yourself up for success is being organized so you can quickly grab your gear and go. I keep a small tackle tray stocked with my shore-fishing favorites. It sits in a weathered backpack that carries some release tools and a few other odds and ends. Within minutes I can shoulder the bag, grab a rod and be out the door. Don’t discount the fun of tying on an old pair of running shoes and getting your feet wet on a hot summer day.
Although catching panfish is a hoot in and of itself in spring and early summer, it also has perks for multi-species adventurers later in the year. Getting the boat out early provides plenty of time to troubleshoot and repair problems caused by boat-storage gremlins. Come walleye and pike opener, I fish with a lot more confidence knowing I’ve already put my rig through the paces chasing panfish.
Spring fishing also helps you brush up on important skills. It’s a great setting to practice launching your boat, controlling it in various conditions, re-familiarizing yourself with your electronics, and acclimatizing your muscles to important fishing movements like casting and standing balance.
Rushing streams and the earthy smell from a thawed frost line signal the start of the open-water season. Celebrate the arrival of spring by getting your boat and equipment organized early and enjoy some panfish action while charting a course for a great overall multi-species year.
By Tim Allard