Double-Duty Panfish: Potent Pairs For Summertime

Double-duty lures for panfish have been around a long time. Spreader rigs for perch that present two or more minnows at slightly different levels appeared long ago. Fly-fishermen have, for centuries, attached extra flies up the leader for brown trout, a practice borrowed by many who fly-fish for sunnies. Tying in droppers with surgeon's knots and presenting two, three, or more tubes for crappies on each line is popular with tournament fishermen.

Extra baits on the same line produce the illusion of a school of minnows or hatch of insects, which triggers a behavioral response. With the exception of fly-fishing techniques, most "double-duty" rigs are designed for drifting or anchoring and presenting baits at different levels on a vertical plane. The goal is to cover more of the water column with the potential for hooking more than one fish at a time.

New-wave double-duty rigs have a different goal in mind: Attract panfish to a smaller bait with the disturbance caused by a larger lure, while creating the potential for hooking larger predators in the process. A short leader attached to a surface lure or floating-diving bait holds a tiny jig, fly, soft-plastic stickbait -- even a baited hook. The larger lure acts as both attractor and float. This is a horizontal tactic -- providing much faster coverage than double-duty rigs of the past.

Bluegills and crappies are notorious for going after larger lures. Minnowbaits, crankbaits, and surface lures designed for bass deposit some pretty nice panfish specimens into my boat every year. And who hasn't been plagued by bluegills pecking at big plastic worms and dragging them off bottom by the tip of the tail? Panfish sometimes spook from a larger lure, but when they're obviously drawn to it, why not take advantage of the situation? When panfish move to larger lures, they bite a dangling "extra" without fail. When they bite, the larger lure moves.

By the same token, who hasn't had a largemouth or pike attack their bobber while panfishing? Happens all the time. Well, what if the "bobber" has a hook on it?


In-Fisherman Editor Jeff Simpson has been playing with double-duty creations for years. "Any type of floating crankbait or topwater will work," he says. "How you modify it is up to your own imagination. The larger lure serves as a casting bubble -- allowing you to cast for distance -- then acts as an attractor and a float. Floats and bobbers act as attractors, too. Anything that makes a surface disturbance attracts more panfish than most anglers realize. The lure acts as a bobber, or a strike indicator, while performing its normal function as a lure for bass, pike, or any fish that will hit surface lures. Leaving the belly treble on the bait will hook these larger fish, even though your main target is panfish."

Simpson uses this technique primarily behind floating minnowbaits, poppers, big deer-hair surface flies, and bunny-strip flies. With lures, he removes the rear treble and ties a leader to the hook anchor (rear hook eye). "If panfish are taking flies on the surface, I use a popper and tie a 4- to 5-inch leader of fairly stout 4- to 6-pound mono to the tail," Simpson says. "You need fairly heavy line because a short leader like that doesn't offer much shock absorption. Otherwise, big bluegills will get down into heavy weeds or wood and break the dropper. When they're hitting on top, I might use a surface fly. If they won't rise up to feed, I switch to a subsurface version, like a wet fly or slow-sinking nymph behind the popper.

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"If panfish are hitting a little deeper, I opt for a #7 floating Rapala, big enough to entice the occasional bass, but not too big to catch a bull bluegill. With minnowbaits and panfish biting subsurface, I might use a slightly longer 9- to 10-inch leader. And, instead of a fly, I use a 1/64- or 1/80-ounce jig, which gets deeper faster. When sight-fishing for bedding bluegills, for instance, you can see that they won't rise up for a fly. An 8- to 10-inch dropper gets down and invades their territory. Defensive instincts take over. A lot of times, they're just trying to move the thing away from the nest. When that happens, I use a white jig with a white plastic body so I can see it disappear."

Simpson uses a 6 1/2-foot light or medium-light-action rod and a small to medium spinning reel filled with 6- to 10-pound line, depending on cover and conditions. With lighter lures, I opt for 7-foot ultralight rods and a thin, tough 4-pound line like Stren Magna-Thin. But when bluegills and crappies hover around shallow woodcover during prespawn, it's sometimes necessary to upgrade to 8- or even 10-pound test. Even that might be too light when smallmouths enter the equation, and a floating minnowbait twitched on top is a proven, classic killer of all the black basses during prespawn.

Whatever main line you're using, just clip off a piece big enough to make the 4- to 10-inch leader before tying on the main lure. The combo can be fished relatively fast to cover water and find fish -- another huge advantage. But it also can be fished slowly at whatever speed is necessary to trigger the most panfish possible. A minnowbait like the F7 Rapala (3 1/4 inches) imparts a unique action to the trailing "tailgunner" fly or jig. In fact, it might be impossible to duplicate that kind of action with anything but a double-duty rig.

When the lure is retrieved for a short stretch, it pulls the tailgunner down and throws it side to side -- but only slightly. The longer the leader, the more subtle the action. Pause the lure and, of course, the tailgunner rises. Twitch the minnowbait on top, and the tailgunner rhythmically rises, swings to the side, and drops. "Some days, a light twitching action on the surface attracts most of the strikes," Simpson says. "Other times, a higher percentage of strikes occur during a dead pause."

When the wind is up, the jig is constantly moving as the lure bobs in the waves. Sometimes this is a positive, sometimes not. Small crankbaits designed for panfish, like the PRADCO Creature series -- the deep divers in particular -- allow you to cover even more of the water column vertically, then float it back up for the twitching tactic on the surface. On windy days, however, the long, slow rise back to the surface can entice more strikes than twitching on top, so you have to maintain a tight line.

"Bigger baits select for larger bluegills," Simpson says. "Crappies, too. The attractor is the thing. A slightly bigger minnowbait or popper won't dissuade a giant bluegill or crappie from approaching. In fact, the opposite occurs. With trophy-caliber panfish around, the biggest fish at times will select the crankbait over the smaller jig or fly."

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