Tactics For Suspended Panfish
July 06, 2012
When sonar shows suspended panfish at various depths in the water column -- vertical suspension -- the bite can be torrid. Crappies, white bass, and bluegills suspended like that are in a chewing mood.
Typical of this scenario, however, is that fish aren't biting at all levels. One or two key depths tend to produce the most fish. Finding the bite zone requires staggering rigs at different depths. One of the best ways to do this is to drift with multiple jig rigs. By fishing with two or more jigs on one line, one rod can cover two or more depths at the same time. Multiple rods can cover the entire water column at two-foot intervals.
There are several ways to stagger jigs up and down along the main line. One of the most common is to tie two loops into the main line at two- or three-foot intervals from the end, for attaching short (6- to 8-inch) loop-end leaders. The end of the line can hold a larger jig or a bell sinker, with lighter jigs tied to each leader.
An even easier method is to use a three-way swivel. Tie on a short leader and jig to one eye, a longer leader and heavier jig to the other eye. The long leader can be 3 to 7 feet long, depending on the length of the rod and the amount of spread desired. Additional weight can be added on the long leader a foot or so above the lower jig, to keep the rig more vertical while drifting and to cover depths more precisely.
Another method is to attach leaders up the line with surgeon's knots. To add a leader with a surgeon's knot, tie a one-foot piece of leader to the main line and trim one end of the knot to leave two ends. The end of the main line can extend 24 inches or more below the nearest tag leader. Tie a heavier jig (1/16- to 1/8-ounce) to the bottom of the rig, depending on wind and depth. Add lighter jigs (1/64- to 1/32-ounce) to the shorter leaders up the line, attaching as many leaders and jigs as the law or common sense dictates. Several other methods can be used, but one of these three should suffice in most situations.
After identifying and marking an area holding vertically suspending fish (with markers or electronic GPS buoys), use the wind or an electric trolling motor to drift or slowly troll through the area, dangling multiple-jig rigs at various depths where fish are showing on sonar. Concentrate on the highest fish first. I start with plastics and hair jigs, usually a slightly different color on each leader. Crappies seldom require bait at this time of year.
Multiple jig rigs are designed for vertically suspending fish, but similar dropper-style rigs can be modified for scattered fish suspending horizontally or vertically, on structure or off. The basic three-way rig is the most versatile. It employs a three-way swivel on the main line, with a short or moderate dropper to a bell sinker off one eye and a longer leader to the bait, which could be a spinner rig, a mini crankbait, a jig, or just a baited hook.
Modifications of the three-way rig include replacing the bell sinker with a crankbait on a slightly longer dropper. The crankbait dives to a known depth with a specific amount of line out, making it possible to work depth ranges more exactly. Trailing along on the other leader above the crankbait could be a tiny panfish spoon, a jig, or a baited spinner rig. On 4- to 6-pound line, the crankbait could be size-specific for bass or walleyes, such as a Storm ThunderStick Jr. or a Mann's Stretch 10. (Mini cranks won't pull the rig deep enough to work anywhere below about five feet.)
Most rigs are used for covering water. Then, again, some rigs are oddballs. The welding rod rig is a tool for fishing vertically from a stationary position over deep, heavy brush. A welding rod is flattened on both ends, holes are drilled in it, and swivels or clips are attached to the holes. The hook goes right on the clip. This rig drops straight into brushpiles, submerged trees, and dense tangles of logs. And it pulls crappies straight out again, not allowing them to wrap the line on the way up.
The other extreme is in open water devoid of cover, where a tiny diver planer like the Big Jon Diver Disk gets tiny lures and rigs down and out, off to the side of the boat at a controlled depth, on lines as light as four-pound test. These little tools are much easier to use and much more effective than most folks think possible at first glance.
In most other situations, after finding shallow concentrations of panfish in or out of cover, pitching mini cranks, jigging with bait or plastics, fly-fishing, or bobber fishing might prove more efficient. When panfish scatter along weedlines or flats, or suspend in open water or (egad!) both, it's time to rig up and drift or troll.