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Fall panfish: rise and shine.

Fall is one of the nicest times for panfishing in New York's western Finger Lakes area. Here, as the fall foliage begins its color collage, one can find solitude in a crowd. From Geneva at the north end of Seneca Lake, west to Perry on Silver Lake, smells of ripening grapes surround an angler, adding to the pleasurable experience. Call it Indian summer or "panfishing paradise," October and early November days provide anglers with fishing opportunities as colorful as the surrounding hillsides.

Part of the beauty of this time of the fishing season is the relative quiet. Many anglers leave after the busy summer season--cottagers close-up, pulling their boats and docks ashore; and hunters head for the hills to begin their favorite season. Additionally, launch sites and public access piers see fewer rod-and-reel bearing souls in the fall, and any launch fees are lifted.

But while the rest of the World may be slowing down, fish remain very active and catches can often be as good or even better than those from your summer outings. All in all, it's a great time to be fishing.

Angling for panfish (perch, crappie, sunfish and bluegills) during fall months requires different methods than spring fishing. While springtime panfishing basically focuses on staying close to the outside edges of weeds, fall fun can be found all over--both at and away from weed edges. That makes for more moving and less reliance on "hotspots." Although that weed edge which held good bluegill for two or three weeks last spring might still be productive, it could just as easily be void of activity in the fall. So be sure to move around in your search for hungry fish.

Typically, panfish are active in the shallows along weed edges when water temperatures lower. When this occurs, shore and boat anglers alike get their best catches by using a bobber to suspend small jigs and live bait above the weeds. Shore anglers should move along docks, piers and shoreline accesses to locate schools of fish. Boaters should also locate feeding schools by drifting or motoring along weed edges.

Universally associated with "taking a kid" fishing, panfishing can be as simple or complex as you wish.

Depth finders and other high-tech gear can help you locate and catch fish, but cane poles still catch lots of panfish. Low-tech bait like worms--though the insulation-lined containers they come in aren't low-tech anymore--still provide good live bait attraction. From simple cork to the more refined pencil floats, bobbers still signal fish bites.

As for boating, you don't need an expensive rig. A simple check on shoreline weed growth, a view of existing weed edges, and a willingness to move around can put anglers onto panfish whether you're fishing from a pram, canoe, rowboat, kayak or a big motor boat.

Depth is an important factor in fall fishing. Although bluegills and sunfish move closer to weeds as the water temperatures drop during the fall, they may feed at depths anywhere from two to twenty feet. To make it easier to fish a variety of depths, try using a slip-bobber system. Slip bobbers allow anglers to set a stop on the line to adjust the depths at which terminal tackle will suspend below a bobber. In other words, a slip-bobber system lets an angler feed line through the center of the bobber to a desired depth.

When fishing in the fall, light line (preferably 2-pound test, though 4-pound will suffice) combined with a small jig or a hook affixed with fresh bait will put many a lethargic panfish school into action. Although there are numerous live baits that work well, I've found that using minnows produce the best catches of perch and crappie, and grubs produce the best catches of bluegill and sunfish. Another good bait to try is a waxworm. For me, this cream white grub, about twice the size of a mousy grub or spike, becomes magnetic magic during most outings.

In the western Finger Lakes area, anglers have their choice of productive spots for fall panfishing, including:

Keuka Lake--Although Seneca Lake is considered legendary for its monster perch, during the fall months it's Keuka Lake that produces some great catches of perch. Anglers are often rewarded by fishing off a point, or along weed beds.

Canandaigua Lake--With its channels and protected back waters at its north end, plus its numerous weed beds and stumps in the south end, Canandaigua Lake often has nice schools of crappie, perch and some oversized sunfish in shallow waters.

Honeoye Lake--Although this lake has just about every panfish species, it's the huge, bull-sized bluegills that bring boaters back to Honeoye all four seasons of the year. During the fall, the preferred tackle used here includes both the slip-bobber and a crappie rig with two or more hooks above a weight (lead or jig). This allows the angler to fish close to bottom in deeper water.

Conesus Lake--Known for its high numbers of northern pike, Conesus Lake also has good fishing for panfish. Perch are found in the deeper water, near weed cover; and bluegill and sunfish can be found along the weedline.

Silver Lake--A small lake, Silver Lake holds a surprising number of large sunfish. Long noted for its perch, and more recently for its walleye abundance, anglers generally overlook fishing along the weed edges found on either side of the lake. Here, anglers are rewarded with sunnies and bluegills.

Access to the western Finger Lakes area is fairly easy since all launch sites remain open throughout the fall. However, boat anglers should keep in mind that workers at some sites will remove docks as the freezing season approaches. A few access sites have good panfishing near the launch ramp, making them excellent sites for fishing from a canoe or rowboat. For example, Honeoye's ramp, located on the southeast corner of the lake off East Lake Road, sits within 100 yards of the south basin weed bed. Conesus Lake has a ramp on its eastern shoreline within yards of good weeds. And Silver Lake's relatively new state launch on West Lake Road places boaters just above the south embayment and gradual, step-like drop-offs that hold panfish throughout the fall season.

So no matter where you go in the western Finger Lakes area, you'll find good fall fishing for panfish. For more information on fishing here, including lake maps, check out DEC's website at:

Outdoor columnist for the Buffalo News, Will Elliott lives in Lancaster.
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Author:Elliott, Will
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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