Timely tips for summer panfish.
Guide Brian "Bro" Brosdahl of northern Minnesota pursues panfish year-round and is tuned to the shifting location and disposition of crappies, as well as bluegills and perch. "In northern lakes, crappie fishing can be good all summer, though many anglers give up once fish leave shoreline cover," Bro says. "But while crappies shift deeper, they remain near cover most of the time, not out in no-man's land, as can happen during winter.
"Many of our best lakes are large, waters like Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass, and Bemidji. And of course, Red Lake is huge, and the good news is that crappies are coming back strong there. But to find fish in those types of situations, you must cover water efficiently to locate groups of fish. One of my favorite methods is casting a spinnerhead jig, such as a Northland Thumper Jig or a ReelBait Flasher, rigged under a fixed float. Fish the outside edges of cover, casting it to the edge, then working it back.
"The float helps you slow the presentation a bit. Without a float, you have to reel these jigs quickly to keep them up out of vegetation or muck. Moreover, when you pull the float, the lure moves forward, and it settles as you stop the retrieve momentarily. Crappies respond well when you make them chase."
In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange is not one to settle with standard setups for catching fish, whether it's walleyes, bass, or red-horse suckers. For summertime bluegills he's come up with a rig that can be fished at various depths and around cover or in open water, tempting bites from the biggest fish around.
"While a standard drop-shot rig with drop-shot sinker on the end of the line and short-shank hook set some distance above works okay, I've found an alternative that lets you cover more water and also offers bait or lure options to the fish," he says. "Instead of a sinker, I tie a leadhead jig to the tag end of the line to pull the rig down, then tie a #214 Eagle Claw gold Aberdeen hook 8 to 15 inches above it. Depending on the size of bluegills, I generally use a #4 or #6 hook."
Stange alters the hook, bending the eye at about a 30-degree angle with pliers so the hook sticks out horizontally when tied with a Palomar knot. "That hook is fine wire so it keeps livebait lively," he says, "and its length also allows you to easily remove it from the fish's mouth."
Finally, he tops the rig with a Thill fixed float, such as a small Thill Center Slider or Pro Series Slip Float. "It's easy to cast this rig some distance to place it next to trees, docks, or to the edges of vegetation.
A long spinning rod, such as Fenwick's two-piece 10-foot HMX model, rated extra-light, works great. Mix and match small soft-baits in minnow or invertebrate shapes with the real thing. You can dial in their preference in bait, as well as the best depth."
In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt is an avid multispecies angler and travels the country in his roles as writer and as product specialist for Johnson Outdoors and Aqua-Vu. "When fishing reservoirs in summer, I've found that big marinas often are excellent spots to waylay crappies and sunfish," he says, "but most anglers idle out of them, heading for distant spots. But you've got to be impressed by the amount of floating cover available in marina coves--hundreds of yards of floating docks in many cases, some lined with tires and anchored with cables, anchors, and the like--very fishy water.
"Marinas often are enclosed by riprap walls, offering a variety of depths, along with baitfish and invertebrates that cling to the algae-coated structures. Flip small jigs into the shade underneath and let them fall, or if you're a good dock shooter, you're set. At times, too, fish, particularly bluegills, hold along the edges and you can slowly troll jigs or mini crankbaits parallel to the edges.
"In large marinas, it can pay to run your side-imaging unit along the outside to find out what's beneath docks and boats. Schools of crappies show up like little light blobs on my Humminbird, grouped by the dozens in the shade below. The bigger the school, often the faster they bite.
"Favorite baits include Bobby Garland's Slab Slay'R, Baby Shad, and Stroll'R rigged on Mo' Glo Jigheads. Their new Dock Shoot'R Pull Tabs make shooting a lot easier, too."
Wet-wading Small Waters
Frequent In-Fisherman contributor and panfish expert Jim Gronaw finds some of the best fishing in small waters during summer. "I primarily fish waters in the Mid-Atlantic region," Gronaw says. "This area is rich in j ponds and small public lakes that don't have developed accesses. In years with lots of rain, big blue-gills often hold shallow well after the spawn. Moreover, we have monthly spawns around the full moons of May, June, and July.
"The water's warm and wet-wading is fun and highly productive. I use 12- and 13-foot telescopic poles with the line fixed at the end. The line should be 1 or 2 feet longer than the pole of 10- or 12-pound test. I use Gamma Clear Polyflex with a Frog Hair Strike Indicator from Black Knight Industries, pegged in place with neoprene stops above and below. It's easy to adjust depth and makes a subtle setup that you can gently lob into spots.
"When the fish aren't spawning, I look for areas where bugs have blown into the pond and collected on the surface. I've had great success with a Berkley Gulp! Angle Worm, rigged wacky-style on a #8 or #10 Aberdeen hook, letting the wind drift it across shallow flats. I've done well with waxworms, crickets, and garden worms, but it's hard to beat a cream-colored Angle Worm. Also, I wear subdued clothing or camo and keep a low profile when wading. Scan for fish with polarized glasses and avoid casting a shadow on fish that you find. It's a blast when you get used to the system."
Tandem Jig Rig
In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan has found that it's hard to beat a tandem jig rig for postspawn crappies. "One of my favorite setups is a 1/16-ounce white Slab Jiggie Jig tipped with a Berkley Realistix Minnow or Slab Jiggie Minnow, with a 1/32-ounce VMC Boot Tail Jig,"
Ryan says. "Tie the Slab Jiggie with a loop knot at the top of the rig, with the Boot Tail Jig tied 18 to 24 inches below. Then set a Panfish Series Rocket Bobber above."
He fishes it on a rod at least 7 feet long rod, which helps propel it long distances to cover water whether you fish from a boat or on shore. "Work the rig with an active stop-and-go retrieve," he says. "To get the pair of jigs rising and falling, give the Rocket Bobber two quick rips once it hits the water, then reel up slack. Allow the jigs to settle as the Rocket Bobber floats on its side. After a bit, retrieve a few feet of line, then give a couple more rips. When the bobber tips up, you have a bite. Cover water in this fashion to quickly locate active crappies. In addition, the contrasting materials and sizes of the jigs offer multiple types of action, with the Slab Jiggie's bulk and natural feathers and the Boot Tail's pulsing action and subtle profile."
Strolling for Deep-Water Bluegills
In northern natural lakes, the biggest bluegills often move to offshore structure once spawning is completed. The big boys may share bodes with walleyes, rock bass, and smallmouths. When you graph fish on these spots, you have to drop a line to see what's down there.
Cory Schmidt has discovered a super-simple but effective way to work the outer edges of deep weed-lines, hard-bottom humps, and deep flats where bluegills hold and feed.
"Strolling slowly along with tiny spinner rigs weighted with a bullet sinker is fun and deadly," he says. "On a 2- to 3-foot leader behind the weight, I rig a #1, #0, or #00 Colorado blade ahead of a few beads and a #8 or #10 octopus hook. Bait with a Berkley Gulp! Micro Leech, Grub, or other softbait. I pull it along at .5 to 1.5 mph, varying speed to see what fish prefer and also to keep the rig fairly close to bottom.
"Panfish, especially big bluegills and perch, seem to appreciate the thump of a Colorado blade. You mainly cross paths with grown 'gills in these areas, but if you feel 'machine gun' bites on the bait, pull it away, as you've come across a group of small ones."
In some systems, summertime perch remain around vegetation, feeding on minnows and invertebrates. Steve Ryan has discovered that these fish can be lured from cover with a weighted spinner rig, as he plays on the competitive nature of this species. "I use 8-pound-test superline, such as Berkley NanoFil or Sufix 832 Performance Braid as a mainline, then run a 6-foot leader of 6-pound fluorocarbon with a Prescott Perch Trap Spinner and a Water Gremlin Rubbercor Sinker. I tip the spinner with a piece of nightcrawler, crawfish tail, or small Gulp! Alive! bait.
"Using the trolling motor, move along the edge of vegetation or over deeper beds, at speeds of .6 to .9 mph. Adjust the weight of the sinker to keep the spinner near the edge. I use a moderate-action rod, such as the 7-foot 1-inch 13 Fishing Envy Black A Series. You need a lot of flex in the tip to allow perch to chase down and solidly bite the bait before they feel any resistance. When you feel a tap, allow the rod to bend back, then give a sweeping hook-set." Ryan has found that this rig often lures a posse of perch that compete to reach the bait.
by STEVE QUINN WITH IN-FISHERMAN STAFF AND FRIENDS