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Tricks for Early Spring Panfish

By Dave Duwe - May 1, 2012
With the unseasonably warm March and cool April all attention has turned to hitting the lakes for some open water fishing. With gamefish season closed, my fish of choice is panfish. The opening day for gamefish in Wisconsin is the first Saturday in May.

April and May is actually a great time to fish. The weather can be quite comfortable and the boat traffic is much less than in summer. And the fish can be very active in pre-spawn location. The fish of choice for me are the bluegills and the crappies.

In spring I tend to find the active bluegills in less than 3 feet of water. I will search for the warmest water in the lake. I choose locations like the backs of bays or channels and I look for soft muddy bottoms as they seem to hold more fish compared to harder sand bottoms, the softer bottom holds more water warmth. The softer bottom also contains more vegetation which provides both food and shelter for the bluegills. On some occasions it can be hard to find the bigger bluegills, they tend to move a lot depending on the weather. The prime locations don't seem to change from year to year, so if you found them in a particular spot last year, there's a good chance that they'll be back this year.

This time of year, the preferred bait is leaf worms or waxworms. I will use a small Thill fixed spring bobber and an ice jig. I like a tear drop or Lindy Fat Boy. A tear drop provides a vertical presentation, while the Fat Boy presents the bait in a horizontal manner. By presenting the bait in two different dimensions, it doubles your chances of catching the fish. You want to use the smallest bobber you can get away with that will keep your bait off bottom. When fishing really shallow water, your bobber will seldom go under. The slightest movement or twitch indicates the fish has bit and that's when you need to set the hook.

The water clarity in spring is usually some of the clearest water of the year. I choose to use no larger than 4 lb test Silver Thread. My rod and reel choice is an ultralight in a 6 ft length with a Mitchell Advocet reel.

Bluegills are pre-spawn and can be very vulnerable this time of year, so be careful not to over harvest and keep only what you will eat.

Like the bluegills, crappies are also in a pre-spawn stage. In spring I usually find the crappies much deeper than bluegills. I start looking for them in 6-8 feet of water in the emerging weed flats. They have a tendency to be very nomadic and are truly a bite that is here today and gone tomorrow. Due to the fact that I am fishing for them in weeds, a bobber is almost always a necessity. To eliminate the bobber would mean you have to move the bait too fast to keep it out of the weeds. With this depth of water, I will choose a Thill slip- bobber with either a small fat head minnow or small plastic fished beneath. Crappies do suspend in the water column so you will need to adjust your presentation to the mood of the fish. I like to start about 1 foot to 18 inches above the weed growth. I will use the same rod and reel combination that I use for bluegills.

Clear water again makes it challenging, I have found that long casts are a must so the fish don't get spooked. Keep moving to find a feeding school of fish. Because these crappies are pre-spawn they can be very big so keep a small net handy.

Some good fishing can be had on many Southeastern Wisconsin lakes. My favorites are Tripp Lake and Delavan Lake, both in Walworth County and Fox Lake in Dodge County.

With winter behind us, it's time to get the boat out and spend some time on spring panfishing.

Author Dave Duwe
Dave Duwe
Full-time guide Dave Duwe owns and operates Dave Duwe's Guide Service, featuring the lakes of Walworth County, WI. Dave has been guiding for over 20 years and is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's best multi-species anglers. Dave is an accomplished outdoor writer and seminar speaker. He is a member of the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association and Walworth County Visitor Bureau. Sponsors include: Lund Boats(Jerry's Sport Service Inc.), Mercury Marine, Arkie Jigs, and Vexilar Marine Electronics, a pro-staff member of Minn-Kota trolling motors,Hummingbird graphs, Cannon downriggers, Lindy, Pure Fishing and All Terrain Tackle. For more information, please check out Dave's website .
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