Early Season Panfish

By Bob Jensen - May 1, 2003
In some Midwest states fishing seasons are in effect in the spring. Some states protect walleyes, bass, and pike at this time of year. However, for those who are anxious to wet a line, panfish are the perfect target. Many lakes and ponds have excellent numbers of panfish. Best of all, panfish can be very easy to catch soon after the ice goes out. Here's how you can take advantage of those panfish for the next few weeks.

Panfish will be most active in warm water, so it pays to search out the warmest areas in the body of water being fished. Begin looking in bays or canals. These areas generally warm up faster than the main body of water.

If you are limited to the main body of water, begin your search in the northwest corner of the lake. This section receives the full brunt of the sun and will warm up faster.

Look into the water and see if there are signs of life present. Small fish or bugs will often indicate if the larger fish will be present. Small bugs or minnows attract the larger fish that we are looking for.

Small baits on light line will be most productive this time of year. If you're after crappies, you can go a little larger. Bluegills and sunfish like smaller baits. Compare the size of a crappie's mouth to a bluegill's and you will see why. The crappie will have a much larger mouth.

Either a Fire-fly or Gypsi jig will be good to start with. The sixteenth ounce size will be the largest jig you'll want to use, and a 1/32nd or 1/64th ounce size might be even better. Crimp a split-shot onto the line about a foot above the smaller jigs.

You will want to tip the jig with something to add incentive for the fish to bite. Some anglers like the action that a small minnow can provide, but many anglers prefer a Power Wiggler or a Power Natural Maggot. Action isn't real important this time of year, but smell and taste are, and that's what the Wiggler and Maggot provide.

Some very accomplished panfish catchers feel that color is pretty important. Many of the bugs that are hatching at this time of year are black, and that just happens to be a very productive jig color right now. However, chartreuse or pink are also excellent colors, and there aren't many bugs that color. Experiment with color and see if the fish show a preference.

Line diameter is important for two reasons. First, it's much better to cast small jigs on light line. The small jigs simply cast better on light line.

Secondly, panfish can be line-shy especially in clear water. You will get more bites on light line. Four-pound test Trilene XL is about the best line out there.

Remember to make long casts. Fewer fish will be spooked by doing so.

Now is a great time to take advantage of these hungry panfish. Keep a few of the medium-sized ones for the table, but put the rest back. Panfish are just as susceptible to over-harvest as any other fish, and at this time of year they can be over-harvested quite easily.

There are few things more enjoyable than an afternoon on the water catching panfish. Get out now and find out for yourself.

Author Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen is the host of the Fishing the Midwest television series, a series of television fishing shows that highlight fishing locations and techniques throughout the Midwest. He also writes a syndicated fishing column and does fishing seminars throughout the Midwest. He is a former fishing guide and tournament angler. Visit Bob's web site at www.fishingthemidwest.com.