Never Fail Panfish Patterns

Never Fail Panfish Patterns

Classic fishing patterns can be counted on year-after-year. Classic panfish patterns tend to be defined or augmented by environmental conditions that recur naturally, or through common needs. Warming water and the need for cover are two prime examples.

Patterns are repeatable. They describe why fish go where they do, and how they behave while they're there. In summer, postspawn patterns are foraging patterns. Panfish go where the food is in summer, with one overriding caveat: They want cover if they can get it. A complete pattern also suggests the primary method for catching fish in that location. Alternatives may come along, so that's up to you and 40-odd million other panfish enthusiasts to figure out.

Sometimes a pattern is so logical you wonder why you didn't think of it before (if you didn't). Sometimes a pattern is just the opposite — obscure, counterintuitive, and occasional, like finding crappies suspended over 60 feet of water chasing a massive, once-every-five-year hatch of emerald shiners on an obscure lake. Sometimes a pattern is fleeting — connected to a bug hatch, the eggs of spawning fish, or another ephemeral event. Classic patterns, however, tend to last for weeks, even months.

I contacted experts North, South, East, and Midwest to learn which patterns recur every year, for perch, bluegills, and crappies. I asked them to share the patterns they find in their region, from all kinds of environments.


Big Lake Bluegills

Brian 'œBro' Brosdahl guides for bluegills year-round on some of Minnesota's largest lakes. 'œIn July, big '˜gills move into cabbage and coontail beds directly outside spawning reeds,' he says. 'œAverage depth is 10 to 12 feet. Weedbeds can be massive on big natural lakes, but don't be overwhelmed. The biggest bluegills hold tight to broad-leaf cabbage or coontail where it's thickest, on the deepest part of the outer edge. If those spots feature a rock, log, or hump, it adds fuel to the fire.'
Bro likes to pitch Northland 1/32-ounce Thumper Jigs and tumble-swim them down the outer edge of the tall weeds. Or he uses a plain jig, firetiger pattern, no plastic, and a chunk of crawler. 'œA 1/32-ounce Fire-Ball Jig slips through the weeds nicely. Once you find an active pod and sit on it, they come to rest right under the boat. I jig vertically with a 7-foot St. Croix PFS 70 LFX and Shimano Stradic 1000, filled with 4-pound Bionic Braid with a 3-foot, 6-pound Bionic Fluorocarbon Leader.'
Active bluegills in stable conditions typically suspend on the outside edge of a weedbed, over a log, rock, bottom transition, or other 'œspecial something' that intersects the weededge. After fronts, even the biters bury in the grass, but they stack tightly around that special feature. Find one and you may not have to move the boat for hours.

Farm Country Bluegills

Classic fishing patterns can be counted on year-after-year. Panfish classics tend to be defined or augmented by environmental conditions that recur naturally, or through common needs. Warming water and the need for cover are two prime examples.
Patterns are repeatable. They describe why fish go where they do, and how they behave while they're there. In summer, postspawn patterns are foraging patterns. Panfish go where the food is in summer, with one overriding caveat: They want cover if they can get it. A complete pattern also suggests the primary method for catching fish in that location. Alternatives may come along, so that's up to you and 40-odd million other panfish enthusiasts to figure out.
Sometimes a pattern is so logical you wonder why you didn't think of it before (if you didn't). Sometimes a pattern is just the opposite — obscure, counterintuitive, and occasional, like finding crappies suspended over 60 feet of water chasing a massive, once-every-five-year hatch of emerald shiners on an obscure lake. Sometimes a pattern is fleeting — connected to a bug hatch, the eggs of spawning fish, or another ephemeral event. Classic patterns, however, tend to last for weeks, even months.
I contacted experts North, South, East, and Midwest to learn which patterns recur every year, for perch, bluegills, and crappies. I asked them to share the patterns they find in their region, from all kinds of environments.

Great Lakes Perch

Steve Ryan is one of those 'œHave fish? Will travel' guys who loves anything with fins. 'œGreat Lakes perch are in high gear by mid-summer,' he says. 'œWith an abundant food, they take to grazing. But not all perch hit the same buffet. Anglers have options on how and where to pursue jumbos. The size of Lake Michigan allows me to ignore basin fish and concentrate on perch within casting distance of shore. Individual weed clusters within harbors, breakwalls, rip-rap shorelines, and the outside edge of primary weedlines are my main locations for perch in July and August, and I fish each one differently.' 'œHarbor weedbeds can be targeted from shore or from an anchored boat with a simple slipfloat or jigging presentation. Concentrate on older harbors with soft-bottom areas with large, irregular weedbeds. Newer harbors with sand bottoms support less weedgrowth and attract fewer perch. As quagga mussels continue to filter Lake Michigan, prime weedbeds can be found in depths of 6 to 16 feet. These weeds support a diverse menu of aquatic insect larvae, snails, and baitfish.'
Ryan uses a medium-light, 7- to 9-foot rod with 4- to 6-pound mono, a small slipfloat, and a minnow, piece of softshell craw, or 1- to 2-inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow. 'œA 6-pound braid like Berkley NanoFil or Sufix 832 increases casting distance, coverage area, and sensitivity,' he says. 'œI cast floats along the inside (shallow) edge of a weedbed during low-light conditions, but the deep outside edge of the weedbed becomes the key holding area after a big wind event or front.'

Meso Perch Patrol

One of the best perch guides in the Midwest has to be Tony Roach because he thinks his way to fish on big water, rather than taking them for granted. 'œMid-summer means finding big schools of perch in deep water adjacent to structure,' says Roach. 'œDeep is relative. 'œIn some lakes it's 20 feet, 40 in others, but my favorite summer spots are transition lines between rock and mud. That's where perch seem to find the best food options with the safety of deep water nearby — the best of both worlds for a jumbo in search of a meal. 'œTheir diet consists of invertebrates — bloodworms and tiny crayfish, as well as minnows. Perch find safety in numbers and the herd roams the edges of reefs, looking for food. I rarely see big schools of jumbos in the rocks for any length of time during July and August. Perch slip up over the rocks to feed and quickly retreat back to deep water. This is where I capitalize on the herd mentality. They're like gazelles roaming the savanna, in constant fear of the lions.'
Perch are notorious roamers out of necessity, he says. 'œThey live out their existence near the bottom of the food chain. To survive they roam. Herds can be tracked down if you know where to look. I use the 'œspot and stalk' method.
'œI start my search at the base of reefs where the contour lines start to flatten out. I find sweeping inside turns or deep pockets with rock on both sides. On big meso lakes, these transitions can span for miles. I use the graph to find schools, and pitch on them immediately, hitting reverse on the trolling motor to stay above them while the jig sinks. We work it until the school moves, then repeat the process.'
I was fortunate enough to do this with Roach last year, and he likes to drop a small Northland Puppet Minnow or Rapala Jigging Rap with 6-pound mono, or sometimes he uses a dense spoon like the Northland Macho Minnow. If perch are negative, he jigs vertically with a Northland Fire-Ball Jig baited with a small minnow. The key is searching the flats with electronics, focusing on the depths they're using.

Reservoir Crappies North

'œAfter spawning, crappies in northern reservoirs filter out into the same habitats as summertime largemouth bass,' says bass pro Joe Balog. 'œThey collect where channels swing up against main lake points, and where sunken timber intersects channel banks. When active, crappies suspend off the ends of those trees.
'œThe best pattern generally exists in the upper end of a reservoir, where water is a bit stained and channels are 8 to 15 feet deep,' he says. 'œSearching 40-foot depths in the lower reservoir wastes time, but when the main channel in the upper end of a reservoir is 10 feet deep, likely the only deep water around, find wood adjacent to the channel and you find crappies.'
Balog searches with his Humminbird 1198 side-imager. 'œIdle the channels, find brush, and look for crappies suspended above the tree limbs,' he says. 'œYou can easily spot them on the Humminbird. If you don't see any, run to the next spot.'
Balog checks aggression levels with a small crankbait, using a slow, steady retrieve with a #5 Rapala Shad Rap or Norman Deep Baby N. 'œIf crappies won't bite that, or if I just catch a couple, I get close to them and fish a tandem twister-tail rig. I rig two 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jigs with 2-inch grubs 2 to 3 feet apart on 4-pound line. I cast to the trees or brush, let the rig fall, then lift-drop it back to the boat. Crappies hit on the drop. Sometimes, in a deep spot, you can get right over them and fish vertically. Watch '˜em on the screen and hold on '˜em. It's like drop-shotting for bass.'
Great anglers and guides appreciate classic patterns — those that occur predictably. Now's the time to find those predictable perch, crappies, and bluegills wherever you live.

Southern Reservoir Crappies

Todd Huckabee, renowned crappie guide from Oklahoma, looks for crappies in the hottest time of year to do the opposite of what northern anglers expect of them. 'œThe bottom line on all southern lakes like Eufaula, Oklahoma, or Truman in Missouri,' he says, 'œis this: Once the water reaches its warmest point, thermoclines develop, pushing crappies shallow. In many cases, they run all the way to the back of creek arms, into 6 feet of water or less, back to areas where they spawned.
'œThey're readily catchable,' he adds. 'œLate July into August is a great time of year for crappies, my favorite time to guide. The pattern's simple. Look for wood in shallow water — fallen trees, standing timber, brushpiles and you find crappies. Location can vary, though. Some days they're all in laydowns, other days in stumpfields. Sometimes they use the shade of trees standing on the bank — especially where willow branches hang to the water's surface.
'œLocal experts have recognized this pattern for some time, but shallow wood has become the focus of tournament anglers as well. The best spots are only 3 feet deep, but I start each day reaching in and jigging vertically with 1/4-ounce jigs and 2-inch Yum Wooly Beavertails. If that isn't working, I pitch 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs tipped with the same plastics. Make a short pitch to the shady side of cover and let the jig swing by them, using 10-pound mono.'
Warm is relative, Huckabee says. 'œAt Truman, the water might be 89°F at its max. Whatever it is, once the water drops 10°F, the thermocline begins to dissolve and that pattern vanishes.'

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