Panfish on Really Small WaterBy Noel Vick - April 1, 2001
Unsafe black ice has vanished and our beloved bluegills and crappies frolic in predictable places. Classic shallow and stained-water locations host much of the activity. Wind protected bays and river backwaters rank high. Many of these venues are considered “community spots", where boats pile up and shore-casters line the banks. But if you don’t enjoy running with the Jones’, some fine-tuning is necessary to find that “spot on the spot", away from the masses. In the spring of the year, panfish chasers focus on the shallowest of shallows and the darkest water Mother Nature affords. They understand that stained and shallow places warm the quickest, attracting prespawn, and later, spawning panfish. Prespawners shallow-up to gorge themselves on emerging insects and schooling baitfish. Spawners come to perpetuate their species.
Go a step further this spring. Dissect your favorite waters and locate some Really Small Water.
Inlets are a good example of Really Small Water. Not the inflow of a well documented throbbing creek either, because these aren’t secretive. Rather, a trickling stream of warmed water, which had its origins as snow. Lake maps don’t reveal many seasonal springtime inflows. They’re exposed through careful shoreline studies and time on the water. Crappies and bluegills already know the whereabouts of such dwellings…
The seepage of water through a bog or wall of cattails is another find. Spring’s thaw strains rich and warming water into the main lake, and again, panfish are drawn to such locales.
Boat harbors, be they manmade or not, contain tepid and colored water, and accordingly, throngs of baitfish and buggy edibles. The average angler earmarks massive multi-slip resort and public harbors, but smaller one and two vessel private harbors often go untouched. Take care to not provoke lakeshore owners by snagging their pontoon’s upholstery or dock posts, but remember too that your state’s waterways are public domain.
River backwaters are common panfish lairs. Shallow and current-free expanses get hit all spring long, but you can avoid the boating-crowds by investigating further. Look for high water pools formed behind stretches of shoreline timber. I favor drifting along wooded stretches searching for hidden hollows of water – not true backwaters – which potentially hold fish. Most of these spots will be bone dry in another couple of weeks.
Beds of dead reeds and rushes, shoreline oriented or a freestanding island, also host early spring panfish. Big beds get noticed, so do smaller ones. But it’s not just an ordinary field of browned vegetation I look for. I prefer one with pockets…openings. You can find these concealed clearings by slowly motoring around an entire weed-mat. Crappies and bluegills love such hideaways, and many go unchecked.
Another commodity worth searching for is newly emerging vegetation within an expired bulrush or reed bed. Rest assured that a bed, or even part of a bed that features fresh growth, rests in warm and fertile waters. This theory also holds true with fields of lily pads. Take note of young lily pads budding from the lake floor.
Speaking of standing weeds, the inside edge – open water section between shore and where vegetation begins – is another overlooked producer. Panfish find warm water, wind protection, and a safe haven inside these gaps. And such places frequently occur on the main lake, where spring anglers seldom take notice.
Now that you’ve been introduced to some Really Small Water, I must give you the bad news… These are tough spots to hit. That is, hit with a lure, a jig to be exact. Pinpoint casts are the only way to access these fish. Tangling tree branches and snarling weed tips block passage to the best of the best. But with a little practice, some finesse, and the right gear, no bull or slab is unreachable.
I’ve all but abandoned the notion of attacking Really Small Water with a jig alone. Even with the lightest, most abrasion resistant line, paired with a long but firm rod and aerodynamically designed jig, it’s still an ordeal to reach fish. Any sudden gust of wind or turn of the boat puts your lure in harms way.
A bobber, that’s my solution. And not just any old model will do. The right bobber, or float as some call them, gives you precision depth control, and in this instance, added weight for improved casting distance and accuracy. Many anglers have turned to the Rocket Bobber. Powerful for its size, The Rocket Bobber casts for distance like nothing you’ve ever used. Need 30 yards into a headwind to reach the back of a boat harbor? No problem. Give the rod tip a snap and you’re in; keep the trajectory low for greater accuracy.
Casting distance is crucial because shallow-ranging panfish are easily spooked. Often, pods of fish scatter when a careless angler motors too close. It’s much wiser to visually identify a hunk of Really Small Water, back off, and launch a long distance assault. And the durable Rocket Bobber won’t explode on contact if you misfire and smack a rock or dock post.
I’ll conclude with this tactical suggestion… Think small when it comes to bait and lure selection. Frequently hyper-finicky, springtime panfish will shun gaudy jigs and large frantic minnows. Reach for a 1/64th-ounce jig or a miniscule ice-fishing lure. Go to tiny minnows, which I call “slivers", or wax worms and maggots, because they’re universally accepted. By design, the Rocket Bobber executes flawlessly with light jigs – no split-shot necessary – and announces even the slightest nibble by raising its tip. Pay extra care to your surroundings this spring. Panfish will be in their ordinary community spots, but with a taste of resourcefulness and stealth, you’ll find finer fishing in Really Small Water.