Deep Panfish

Eric Engbretson Photo


As panfish like crappies and bluegills disperse into summer patterns, some remain shallow. Others use deep weedlines or cruise open water feeding on drifting veils of plankton, or on the pelagic minnows that follow this nomadic food chain. Open-water patterns tend to be in the top 15 feet of the water column, but some panfish go deeper yet and relate to structure.

In clear water, weedlines sometimes extend down to depths of 18 feet or more. Some bluegills and crappies go even deeper, to rockpiles, humps, ridges, and saddles that may top out from 18 to 35 feet down, sometimes deeper. Hard bottom with nearby transitions to soft bottom key this pattern.

In-Fisherman put a spotlight on these deeper panfish years ago, but despite repeated reminders to anglers, deep panfish remain neglected. Which is why, of all the panfish following all the patterns in any given lake, deep panfish tend to be the biggest fish on average.

Bluegills go as deep or deeper than crappies, if they can find a niche down there. That niche must include more than food. Oxygen is nice to have, too, and it’s not available below the thermocline in many lakes and reservoirs. The thermocline is a distinct boundary between warm upper layers and the colder layers of water below. Reservoirs, the Great Lakes, and deep, geologically young lakes tend to have dissolved oxygen below the thermocline all year.

A lack of big predators creates another draw. If oxygen is high in the deep layers of a lake with no pike or muskies, bluegills are not afraid to use deep structure if they can find food down there. But that kind of anomaly isn’t the only thing that draws panfish deep, and “deep” is relative. Humps that top out at 20 to 25 feet are deep, compared to most panfish scenarios.

Key spots are offshore in the main lake, and the more isolated the better. Deep panfish are structure-oriented, so the tactics of choice remain backtrolling and drifting with rigs, or vertical-jigging.

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