“For the record, this year was the worst for weather in my 37 years as a full-time, professional guide and fishing instructor.”
Ken Penrod’s year-end weekly fishing report echoes my take on this year. It’s been tough on local waters, with lots of rain, high winds and high and muddy rivers. But, as is sometimes said in football, maybe the best solution is to “take what they (the natural forces) give you.” Often that means going after usually accommodating panfish.
The most common species in our area are bluegill/sunfish, shellcrackers, rock bass and crappie in fresh water, white perch and yellow perch in fresh and salt water, and white perch, hardheads and spot in salt water.
All of these species are taken on occasion with lures and baits targeting other species, e.g., some of my biggest crappies — over 2½ pounds — have come on big, bass-sized spinnerbaits but special techniques are more effective.
One of the many ways panfish can be accommodating is that they be taken from shore as well as from a boat. My favorite method is fly fishing for bluegills with size 10 poppers and sponge “spiders” with 5-weight tackle with a floating line and 9-foot leader with a 3X or 4X tippet.
If the fish want something deeper, try a size 10 beadhead black wooly bugger. It can be fished even deeper by adding a clip-on sinktip section between the fly line and leader or by adding a tiny split shot about 6 inches above the fly. These tactics are most popular in the spring, but can work all year long.
Spin fishermen can nearly duplicate the effectiveness of fly tackle, cast when shoreline shrubbery restricts fly casting and cast farther. Ultralight to medium spin tackle can be used with 4 to 8-pound monofilament. The same surface flies and wooly buggers are tied on and a casting float clipped on 18 inches or more above the fly to give casting weight. A split shot can be added above a sinking fly to give more depth and casting weight or various small jigs can be used.
Some anglers tip their jigs with small pieces of bait like real or artificial grubs or pieces of worm. Trout Magic is a dart type jig with a short plastic tail that is a extremely effective lure for panfish and stocked trout.
A common and productive approach at some lakes, especially where trout are stocked is to fish from shore with a heavy float above Trout Magic or other jig to make casts of 100 feet or more. This gets the lure to the breaklines or weedbeds where the trout cruise and will also take bluegills and crappies closer to shore.
The specialized floats come in several styles — orange or yellow wooden, near egg-shaped models, foam floats in various shapes and colors with lead collars on bottom or slip floats designed to slide down the line to the lure or fly when cast and slides up the line to a stopper point set at a desired depth when they hit the water.
I take this approach a step further by casting with a 9-foot light-action rod designed for steelhead that allows for longer casts. It’s not uncommon to see specialized rods, including European-style rods used by panfish specialists.
Second Thought Panfishing
Most boat fishermen go out with multiple rods, to understate the issue. But there are limits, especially in small boats, canoes and kayaks. So sometimes I carry a cumbersome light fly rod but often do not even though most local lakes, ponds, reservoirs and rivers have healthy panfish populations.
The fly rod comes in handy when panfish are actively working or the bass and pickerel ignore your lures or the panfish decide these things are in the water for them to play with. But often I “only” have three medium rods rigged with 20- to 30-pound bite leaders. When fishing from shore I carry one or two rods. Since the leaders are too thick to go through the eye of the small flies listed above, the answer is to tie on a duo-lock clip, so the fine wire can attach to the small eye of the fly. Then use a clear, clip-on float and split shot as above.
This approach may sound crude. OK, it is crude, but the arrangement, with old faithful, size 10 beadhead wooly bugger has produced lots of freshwater panfish for me. And I’m no longer surprised when it takes bass and pickerel, too. One morning on Prettyboy Reservoir I took 4 smallmouth and 3 largemouth and several bluegills in an hour of working the shoreline with this rig. (My bassin’ buddy was not amused.)
If the Float N Fly rig hadn’t been around for years I would claim I invented it.
This approach is similar to the above but is used most often in brackish waters like the Magothy and Severn. We use light spinning tackle, braided line with bite leaders as above and small lures that appeal to a variety of species. Favorites are 1/8-ounce jigheads with white bucktail skirts and/or with 2-inch curlytail grubs or the same lures with a clip-on, gold offset spinner attached. (The latter is effectively a small Beetle Spin or spinnerbait.) The lures are bounced, dragged or swum along bottom.
Not only does this take the target species of pickerel, white perch and yellow perch but has even produced largemouth bass, stripers, bluefish, catfish and carp.