By Matt Johnson
Mister Twister® Field Staff
Springtime panfish school-up and eagerly attack whatever you put in front of their stout little noses. Big bluegills, sunfish and slab crappie are caught throughout the Midwest at this time providing excellent action for anglers both young and old.
The springtime flurry doesn’t last forever, however, and soon these same aggressive fish will turn into wandering nomads, only feeding when there bellies tell them to. They are on a different path, a path that leads them into the dog days of summer…
Panfish typically hold shallow during the spring fling and at the time they are beginning their open-water move. The shallow water bite will last until thick weeds begin to sprout and fresh budding lily pads turn into thick mats of green and brown walls separating you from the underwater world.
These early summer lake conditions call for a new approach to panfish angling. Fish patterns will also dictate a change. Not only has your “hot spot” become unfishable, but the fish have found refuge in deeper water, although weed pockets can be an exception and shouldn’t be ignored.. Now’s the time to fish deep weed lines, open water, and mid-depth basins.
During the summer most lakes will sprout heavy weed growth. These surround a good portion of the shoreline and many will have both a deep and shallow edge. They will begin in four to six feet of water and end at a drop off. Some lakes will even have a deep edge along a flat or where a thick mat of weeds disperses into patches as the bottom composition changes.
No matter what form they take, these heavy weed lines will attract panfish. To effectively fish them, look for pockets in the weeds. Consider them “opportunities” instead of just spaces of nothingness. Any weed pocket can hold panfish. Panfish are abundant underneath the vegetated barrier and they scurry about picking off tiny morsels of food.
Some days you can set over one of these pockets and catch one fish after another. Why? To begin with weed pockets provide an excess of sunlight, which attract baitfish and other forage.
Mister Twister® Micro lures are perfect for targeting weed-dwelling panfish. The Micro Crawfish™ can be a “killer.” I also like the Nymph because it offers a unique, natural-appealing presentation that works well in the weeds. Nymphs and other insects are found in the weeds and it only makes sense that you “match the hatch.” I typically rig these plastics with either a plain hook -for neutral buoyancy - or with a jighead if I’m fishing deeper weed lines.
Many anglers stop pursuing panfish once the shallow water bite ceases, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Locating summer panfish shouldn’t be intimidating and many times the fish are located in areas you seek out when bass or pike fishing. Weeds play an important role in summer panfish locations and the presence of deep weeds make things just that much better.
Deep weeds and weed lines will draw in a huge smorgasbord of organisms for panfish to feed on, and in very high numbers. The cool water of the deep weeds is comforting to panfish and you can expect to find them there until the weeds change or the temps begin to drastically drop.
Classic summer panfish spots will remain true throughout much of the summer months and the panfish holding on them usually won’t go far if harsh weather presents itself. Deep weeds are a classic summer spot and should be a part of every panfish angler’s daily routine once the summer suns take form.
Weeds are very important, no doubt about that, and I usually seek out some form of weeds, whether it’s pockets or deep weed lines, but don’t let vegetation be your only guide to a day of success. Open water and mid-lake flats can equal victory on some days too.
This pattern holds true for crappies more than sunfish, but every body of water is different and locations can vary. Crappies will roam out in open water, and usually it’s the open water areas of a bay or the areas adjacent to deep weed lines and structure. Crappies like chasing down baitfish (much like the Micro Shad™) that are daring enough to adventure out into the open. The crappies know it’s an easy meal and that they have a huge advantage over their prey in situations like that. It’s not uncommon to find cruising pods of crappies out in 30 feet of water, suspended 10 feet off the bottom.
Crappie locations during the hot summer months can be very frustrating on some lakes, and the possibilities seem endless. In order to narrow things down, you need to grab a lake map and look for possible springtime locations (where the crappies were just recently at) as well as nearby deeper water. Figure out where the deep weed line is and where, if any, is there deeper structure.
Crappies will hold near and around deep structure during the summer, then when the opportunity presents itself they will slide out into the open water to feed. You will even find lakes where the crappies hold out in the open water for extended periods of time, and they won’t feel the need to seek refuge around deep structure. Cruising the break line and deep open water adjacent from shallow structure with the electronics running is a good way to locate a school of crappies. Once a school is located, it won’t take long to figure out whether or not they are hungry.
Pitching a plastic like the Micro Shad™ allows me to effectively mimic suspended baitfish. When rigged on a collarless jighead, the Micro Shad™ has the potential of giving off both an aggressive and neutral action. The collarless jighead offers just enough weight to drop the plastic, yet it’s subtle enough for a more “finesse” approach if the situation calls for it.
So this summer, keep in mind, panfish will utilize deep water just like walleye, bass and pike. Deep water shouldn’t scare panfish anglers, and having the willingness to target deep water during the summer months can really increase your catch. Some days it just takes patience and the motivation to look for meandering fish.
I’ve only touched on a few of the options that are available for panfish during the summer months, and don’t let these possibilities be your only resort. Fishing is constantly changing and we must change with it and adapt to the given conditions. Watch for pockets in the weeds, check for deep weed lines, and pay attention to your electronics for pods of schooling fish in deeper water while motoring from spot to spot.
By doing a few of these things you can eliminate some of the guesswork and wasted time spent on the water. But in the end, every day on the water is a good day if you have a fishing rod in your hand. Enjoy the summer and good luck!