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.

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