Fishing for Panfish

Angling for panfish is a classic American pastime sure to bring a rush of memories for anyone who has ever taken up a rod or fried some up in the pan for which they were named. The term, “panfish”, does not refer to a certain species of fish. Rather, panfish pertains to a diverse group of smaller fish that may be found in various geographic locations and caught with light tackle.

The definition of what is considered a panfish is as diverse as the group itself.  Here, we will talk about 3 common types of panfish, their locations and quirks, and baits that may be used to successfully fish for them. We have found more fishing success when knowing the habits – and habitats – of the fish we wish to catch.

Bluegill Fishing

Bluegills are a common panfish since they inhabit lakes and ponds as well as streams and rivers. Bluegills tend to travel near the bottom of the water reservoir they inhabit in winter but may also be found near the shallow areas in spring and summer.  These distinctively-colored fish often like to shelter around underwater plants and structures.

There are a variety of baits to use to successfully catch bluegill. Whatever bait you choose, be sure to treat the line with finesse. We find the bluegill a little skittish if we swing or jiggle the bait too much since they are very curious and seem to study the bait before biting.

The bluegill has a small mouth, so using smaller bait is preferred. Trigger X has a series of plastic panfish baits that fit well in the bluegill mouth – such as the Trigger X Flap Tail Grub, Wingding, and Nymph. The vibrant colors and flexibility of these baits mimic well the small aquatic insects and fish they typically feed on.

We find worms and wax worms in hues of brown and yellow are very popular for bluegill fishing. When choosing bait and tackle, remember that these fish do have such a small mouth. Therefore, choose a smaller hook such as a Number 6, ultralight rods, tackle and a light line between 2 and 6 lb test.

Crappie Fishing and Baits

Crappie are a tasty and popular panfish with a very diverse diet. Crappie fish travel slowly in large schools usually just over the deeper water.  Typically, the smaller and more aggressive crappie travels higher in the school and we must go a little deeper to access the larger ones (3). They feed at dawn and dusk at which times they may approach the shoreline.

Since they have such a diverse diet, many types of baits can successfully be used with crappie fishing. Here are some of the more popular types of lures that we have used:

  • Wax Worms – Time tested classic works great for for crappies.
  • Spikes / Euro Larvae - we keep a variety of colors since different colors seem to work on different day
  • Crappie and Flathead Minnows – especially when used with trolling methods or slip bobbers.
  • Crappie Spinner Lures and Jigs – Keep these on hand when the above does not seem to work. The movement and light reflection seems to work well to catch the attention of the crappie.
  • Plastics – Hard plastics are made to resemble small minnows, grubs, worms, or leeches. Soft Plastics give the movement in the water that the crappie seems to prefer.
  • Flies - Flies that mimic bugs, mosquitoes, larva, or others are also very popular.

Yellow Perch Fishing

The delicious yellow perch (A cousin of the walleye) can typically be found near the shore where sunlight down to the sediment allows plenty of plant growth and cover. They tend to congregate around underwater weeds, among reeds and around structures such as sunken pilings or docks. Prime fishing times for yellow perch coincide with their feeding time just before dark.

Tackle and bait for these tend to fall in the same category as Walleye Tackle. Yellow perch feeding habits are a function of their age. By one year of age, yellow perch have turned from microscopic food sources to larger midges and mosquitoes. Adults tend to feed on crayfish, freshwater shrimp, and other younger fish.

We find that the Ultralight tackle and a 4- to the 6-pound line are best for this yellow perch. If you are fishing near the shore, make sure you have a bobber to keep the bait from entangling in the water weeds. Pair these with a 6- to 8-sized hook and you are ready to catch some of this tasty panfish.

Keep in mind that if you have fished for walleye, you can use some of the same bait and tackle as there is quite a bit of crossover. Here are some gear and baits we have found beneficial in yellow perch fishing:

  1. Jigging gear – especially in the deeper waters. For example, try the Crappie Thunder or Rapala Jigging Rap, or, you may use a drop shot rig.
  2. Drop Shot Rig - Split shot with a single hook and some live bait.  
  3. Plastic baits – Baits that resemble the color and shape of minnows are attractive to the yellow perch. This panfish seem to prefer plastics that have a quivering end piece or tail since they are very attracted to the motion.
  4. Tear Drop Jig – since perch often sit on the bottom near the shore, a jig combined with a hook is often ideal. The tear drop jig combines a hook with the weight of drop shot, with the attractive shape and color of a minnow.
  5. Live Bait – Night crawlers or worms are a good choice for perch bait. These are inexpensive and stay on the hook well.
  6. Wally Diver – Designed for the walleye, this bait works well for the yellow perch also. It has a bright minnow shape combined with a double hook.

In Conclusion

Panfishing is an enjoyable type of fishing that is ubiquitous in the United States. Angling for panfish is a great way to introduce children and young adults to the world of fishing. But, all ages can enjoy this pastime as panfish are easy to catch and plentiful in most rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes.

Not only are panfish easy to find and catch, but the reward is a delicious fish meal that will fill any hunger. This category of fish can be enjoyed in all seasons and areas. Best of all, all you need is some lightweight tackle and multiple types of bait or lures that can be used for many types of fish.