By Mike Frisch
More and more open-water is appearing across the Midwest every day! For those who love to fish, that means it’s time to start another season and for many anglers that means chasing panfish. Bluegills and crappies take center stage for many anglers now because panfish are legal for the taking, while gamefish are still protected in some states, Minnesota included.
Spring panfish anglers usually think shallow water and finding the warmest shallow water is often the key. Warm water attracts crappies and ‘gills as the first signs of life often occur in the warmest of the shallows, drawing hungry spring fish.
Shallow, dark-bottomed bays, marinas, and boat channels are shallow spots that will warm quickly drawing panfish.
Searching various shallow spots for warm water and fish is sound advice for the early season angler. I keep an eye on the temperature gauge on my boat’s sonar unit when going from spot-to-spot looking for the warmest water I can find. Shore anglers, though usually more limited in fishing spots, often do well this time of the year too as shallow areas that hold fish are often accessible from shore now too.
A small panfish jig tipped with a crappie minnow or waxworm and fished below a small bobber is a time-honored presentation many anglers favor. My favorite panfish jig has long been a 1/32-ounce Gypsi Jig in the pink/white pattern. This bait features crystal flash tinsel and a teaser tail that shallow crappies and big bluegills usually can’t resist.
Fishing this set-up a foot or two below a bobber, and casting it around shallow cover -weeds, brush, and timber – usually results in bites quickly when fish are present. Fishing the bait above the level the fish are holding usually works well as panfish are notorious for “feeding up.”
Using a small bobber will also increase the catch rate as a bobber that slides easily under water on the bite works better for finicky fish that may be spooked using a more buoyant float.
Jigs and minnows go together for many anglers. However, a jig/soft bait combination has become very popular panfish fare for many anglers too. Last spring, I sampled the new Mimic Minnow® Tuff Tube and was very impressed. The small 1 ½-inch tube comes rigged on a premium inner-tube jig, has a tantalizing wiggle, and is super durable meaning several fish can often be caught on one bait. This bait, in fact, often outproduced live bait last spring.
Regardless what jig/bait combinations are used, light line and a light action spinning rod and reel combination work great for presenting them. Three-pound test Floroclear works for spring panfish as it handles very well on spinning gear and is nearly invisible underwater to prevent spooking finicky fish.
Spring is here and it’s time to go fishing! Panfish offer some of the first angling opportunities of the year, and fortunately they are often cooperative now too. Using the tips just provided can probably help you battle some scrappy spring panfish this season!
As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoor adventure!
Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide and co-host of the Fishing the Midwest TV series. Follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more “fishy” information!
PHOTO 1 – Mike Frisch found shallow, warm water and this big crappie last spring!