Tactics For Open Water Panfish

The truth is out there, found in the same general abyss used by panfish. But some panfishermen can't handle the truth. Panfish go deep. From postspawn through winter, most species of panfish suspend in open water, hold on deep structure, or populate deep basin areas at one point or another.


Rockpiles rising off the bottom of a 25-foot flat, for instance, are classic summer haunts for giant bluegills and crappies. But hunt panfish there in spring, or in early summer just after the spawn, and chances are the spot will hold perch, walleyes, or pike, but few panfish. So, until surface temperatures have topped 70F in spawning areas and until panfish have had time to disperse, humps, rockpiles, and other deep structural elements are poor locational choices for anglers. Timing is the first key.


July, August, and September are perfect times to probe deep open water panfish haunts. Even then, only a few panfish might position deep, like the minority that stays on deep weedlines, or the one that stays in shallow slop, or the minority that cruise open water, following wind-driven veils of plankton. Things like fishing pressure and forage density ultimately determine which pattern involves a majority, if any. But, because so few bluegill anglers hunt deep in summer, deep fish tend to be bullish in lakes where deep patterns persist.

Precise location is the second key. During the same time frame, crappies alternate between suspending off structure during the day and holding on it during low-light periods. Like bluegills, crappies also position on deep rockpiles, but more likely suspend up and away in morning and evening. And, like bluegills, crappies cruise open water, too, sometimes suspending over the deepest basins in the lake in search of plankton, or chasing minnows that also feed on open-water plankton. White bass will be nearby. And all species of panfish gather on deep weedlines, especially when the wind's been blowing into the area for several days.


Presentation is the final key to the final door. Put the right bait or lure on the right rig and it's lights out for deep panfish. Boat positioning, sonar savvy, and wind watching are all part of the game, components we've discussed at great length in past issues. Here we recap rigging options for panfish in various open-water attitudes, including tackle considerations, timing, and a few locational keys.

Bluegills and crappies aren't the only critters populating the abyss. Angling efforts and recent radio-telemetry studies in Wisconsin prove that perch also suspend in open water. And white bass are notorious open-water minnow rustlers. So, like it or not, big panfish are out there. And that's the truth.

Tricks Of The Panfishing Trade

1. Open-water drifting is easy, and productive from midsummer on. Sometimes the biggest panfish in the lake are out there, following wind-driven veils of plankton. Find suspended fish with sonar, or visually mark the densest concentrations of plankton. Drop unweighted or lightly weighted rigs back varying distances from the boat and drift slowly with the wind. Bait with worms, maggots, minnows, or Berkley Power Wigglers.

2. Rig for quick coverage over extensive humps or a series of reefs. Weighting systems like the Northland 1/4-ounce bottom bouncer or the Yellow Bird T-Weight are sensitive and keep the presentation vertical with 4- to 6-pound line. The bait or a tube on a bare hook tied on a loop knot (for freer action) stays near bottom. Drift with the wind or "slip" by fighting the wind with a drift sock or trolling motor. Try 3-way-rigging tiny floating minnowbaits, too.

3. Anchor along wind-blown weedlines and present slipfloats with tubes or baited jigs. Let the wind carry the floats across the open water in front of the weedline, then maneuver the floats into pockets, points, and clumps along the edge. Re-anchor often.

4. Move parallel to the weededge with the trolling motor, casting tubes and tiny grubs. Use 1/32-ounce heads on 4-pound line. Let tubes spiral down the edge. Swim small grubs over the weeds and along the edge. Work along bottom with brown-orange tubes and tiny plastic craws with 1/16-ounce heads.

5. Backtroll the weededge slowly with weedless rigs (plastic or wire hook guards).

6. Crappies suspend out a cast or two away from the weedline during the day. Search for them with small suspending minnowbaits on 4-pound line with a light 7-foot rod. Cast with the wind. Cover water. Work these baits with a light snap-snap-pause pattern. Concentrate your effort near open water within cups or big inside bends in weedlines, open water beyond areas where weedgrowth is densest or most diverse, or over flats adjacent to weedlines where the wind is blowing inshore.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Bass

Sensational New Softbaits for Bass

Steve Quinn - April 22, 2019

Steve Quinn talks new softbaits for bass from Berkley.

Recipes

Catfish Dinner with Homemade Chips and Tartar Sauce Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Catfish is meaty, juicy and holds up well in this soul-satisfying fried fish recipe with...

Walleye

The Lowdown on Walleye Hardbaits

Steve Ryan - May 28, 2019

The range of walleye hardbaits encompasses multiple categories and a dizzying number of lures.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

Minn Kota's Brad Henry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that there's much to like in the new Minn Kota Riptide Terrova saltwater trolling motor that comes with I-Pilot and an 87-inch shaft.

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Pure Fishing's Andrew Wheeler tells Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead all about the brand new Abu Garcia Virtual rod that integrates Bluetooth technology through a free ANGLR smartphone app.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers...

Other Fish

Best Carp Baits Today

Dan Johnson - June 29, 2018

To guide your carp quest, we've lined up the best carp baits that are easy-to-fish natural...

Boats & Motors

2- Vs. 4-Cycle Outboard Motors

Dan Johnson - April 16, 2018

Now more than ever, understanding each category's strong suits is critical to choosing a...

See More Stories

More Panfish

Panfish

Softbait Hacks for Hardwater Panfish

Cory Schmidt - February 27, 2019

Bites are one thing, but bites alone don't get it done.

Panfish

Tactics for Summer Crappie and Bluegills

Cory Schmidt - June 26, 2018

Deep water has undeniable appeal to the lake's largest specimens. It's always surprised me...

Panfish

Top Panfish Tackle

Steve Quinn - July 09, 2018

The old expression "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity" certainly pertains to...

See More Panfish

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×