In shore-fishing terms, people seek panfish more than all other warmwater species combined in North America. Fish-and-game agencies tend to construct fishing piers where panfish are the most likely targets. And, wow, do those piers see traffic.
My list of favorite shore-fishing spots: 1) Docks, where friends can pop a few cold ones and watch bobbers; 2) Areas surrounding public beaches, where I can wander off after a dip while the family recreates; 3) Small lakes accessible only on foot; 4) Wild shorelines in state parks; and 5) Anywhere boats aren't feasible.
Shore-fishing is an art. The two primary keys to panfish success from shore: 1) A versatile rod that can toss bobbers, small lures, or jig-plastic combos with equal aplomb; and 2) Being able to efficiently pack enough tackle to meet any situation.
My old Plano shoulder pack is 11 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 8 inches tall fully loaded. Tiny and light as it is, the equipment in that pack could catch panfish anywhere in North America under any conditions. To list everything in it would require most of this Panfish Guide, yet it holds only one 10.75- by 7.25-inch Plano ProLatch 3500 StowAway or Eagle Claw 04050-002 Utility Box.
It has three pockets for plastics, scented softbaits, and terminal tackle in baggies. Yet it holds 7 different sinker options, about 150 jigs, 5 different float styles, dozens of hooks in a variety of sizes and types, 15 ultralight crankbaits, hundreds of plastic and softbait bodies, and all the terminal tackle required to tie and ultimately lose countless rigs of every type. Not to mention a few swimbaits, spoons, bladebaits, and spinnerheads.
Jigs are zipped in small baggies by size or type. Some go in fly boxes along with fluorocarbon leaders, tools, scent products, glow-lights, and safety-pin spinner arms in the outer mesh pocket, safe in a few Eagle Claw 4-cell utility boxes. Compact, efficient, versatile, and — best of all — light. Shoulder this pack and it will put panfish on the bank anywhere, any time.
Unfortunately, it's no longer available. Plano replaced it with one even better — the SoftSider Waist Pack (4456-60). The main pocket holds the same 10.75- by 7.25-inch utility boxes, but the two billows pockets hold even more plastics along with several jars of Berkley Gulp! — which I consider absolutely essential for shore-fishing. Hard to carry enough livebait unless the car or cabin is near, and Gulp! often works as well or better.
Most days, most of the time, shore-fishing is float-fishing. Reeling deep to shallow makes swimbaits, jig-plastics, and lures tough calls unless fishing from a long dock or pier or the shoreline is dominated by sand or gravel. Depending on the makeup of the lake, I tend to arrive rigged with a small fixed float like the Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble or a small slipfloat from Thill, Eagle Claw, or Cast Away. If depths of 8 feet or greater can be reached, go with a slipfloat.
My rod choice is the St. Croix Panfish Series PFS80LMF2. If an 8-foot rod seems too long, consider that pads, reeds, and maidencane often stand between you and the main lake. On some shorelines, it might be better to choose the 10-foot PFS100LMF2. Long rods are great for directing line around cover or holding it high off the lily pads.
I tend to view the 8-footer as a compromise — easier to snake through brush on shore and long enough to keep line out of trouble when casting. A light spinning reel like the Pflueger Patriarch 9525 filled with 4- to 8-pound braid is a perfect match. Braided line casts farther and does a better job of setting hooks, ripping through weeds, and offering sensitivity. And it stays on top better. After an hour or two, mono starts sinking into the weeds between angler and float.
Fishing piers are social spots — great for gathering information, getting to know fellow anglers, or sharing good times. I suspect, however, that most In-Fishermen don't prefer much company outside a companion or two. When fishing piers are unoccupied, I may stop and cast a line but we hoof it along shorelines with waders or wade wet most of the time.
The greatest invention ever for shore-bound anglers might be Google Earth. Zoom in on a lake or reservoir; find the accessible shorelines (e.g., parks or public land — with the help of a paper map); and read the water. Look for points, deep (darker) water bending in close to shore, and deeper depressions on big shallow flats. Those are the spots to target. In the case of depressions, the water might be too shallow even on the main-lake side for boats to approach. Pure gold. Hydrographic maps reveal points and spots where deep water bends in close, but boats can't reach some of those isolated depressions.
Travel light on wild shorelines. As weeds thicken by mid-summer, shorelines with no rock or gravel can be impossible for anything but float-fishing and dapping techniques. No sense carrying much tackle. A few floats, hooks, swivels, split shot, and a leader spool zipped into a baggie fits in a cargo pocket. Wear tough pants with cargo pockets that resist tearing in brush.
Now you need Old Reliable. The Eagle Claw Belt Bait Box holds plenty of crawlers, waxworms, maggots, or redworms for hours of fishing. It's been around for decades. Products last that long for a reason. The Belt Box is durable; slides onto your belt for easy access; closes tight; and has hard sides to protect bait from being smashed. If cargo pockets offend your sense of style, the Belt Box carries lures, jigs, and floats, too. Already wearing a SoftSider Waist Pack? Put a Lindy Grub Getter in one of those billowy pockets.
For crappie minnows, nothing beats the Maumee Tackle Quick Minnow. Tip it up, one minnow slides into the chamber. Tip it down and slide the minnow into your palm without losing a drop of water. It's light, durable, and comes with a long, adjustable shoulder strap.
Shore patrol is all about efficiency. Carry a spool of 8-pound fluorocarbon for tying leaders. Use Aberdeen hooks. Straighten them out and get back on point, soldier.