The large number of different panfish species and the variety of habitats they live in make for a wide range of presentation options—livebaits, lures, pushing, pulling, float-rigging, drop-shotting, dock-shooting, spinner-rigging, spider-rigging, dipping, doodling, and more. Burger King may have ditched its “Have it your way” slogan years ago, but with panfish, you can always put in your custom order for the kind of fishing you want to do.
One presentation option that hasn’t had much coverage lately deals with tailgunner rigging for panfish. Topwater is an exciting game for so many species from smallmouths to muskies, and panfish deserve their fair shake, too, to strut their topwater stuff. At times the air-water interface becomes a major feeding zone, ravenous panfish corralling baitfish or picking off bugs and other vulnerable goodies that gather there.
We’ve covered now and again dropper rigs, or tandem rigs, or you may have heard of them referred to as tailgunners. These rigs pull double duty—a topwater or subsurface lure towing a smaller, tantalizing tidbit. “I’ve been giving fish the drop for decades and it never gets old,” says In-Fisherman Digital Editor Jeff Simpson. “Whether conventional fishing, fly-fishing, or ice-fishing, a dropper line offering a secondary lure has proven deadly on shallow panfish and bass.
“The simple recipe is a primary floating lure combined with a smaller panfish-size bait off the back. I like to rig several options before heading out. Most days I prefer the subtler action of a floating minnowbait, like the Bagley Minnow B04, but a small spit-bait, chugger, or popper works well for creating a more surface commotion.
“I remove the rear treble and tie a leader to the rear hook eye,” he says. “This reduces tangling, and the large bait is still equipped with a belly treble for larger predators and any giant panfish that strike it. Inevitably, some of the biggest panfish I catch attack the larger bait. That’s not to say I don’t catch brute panfish on the dropper, but it’s impressive to hook a large panfish on the bigger lure.
“The larger lure also serves as a casting bubble, enabling you to deliver the smaller lure a long distance. Maybe most importantly, the larger lure serves as an attractor. Every time you twitch, crank, or pull it, the disturbance attracts both predators and panfish. A floating lure also serves as a strike indicator or bobber if a fish takes the bait on the dropper line.
“If panfish are taking flies on the surface, I use a floating ant or small popper and tie a 4- to 6-inch leader of 4- to 6-pound fluorocarbon or mono to the tail. Heavier lines work best with such a short leader. I’ve tried superlines, but they’re so limp they tend to tangle and knot more frequently than flouro or mono. If it seems fish won’t rise, I switch to a subsurface option, like a slow-sinking nymph. Again, my go-to minnowbait is often something similar to a Bagley Minnow B04, which is big enough to entice bass and big bluegills. With panfish biting subsurface, I might use a slightly longer leader, say 7 to 9 inches, to get them to bite. And, instead of a fly, I use a 1/64- or 1/80-ounce jig, like a Clam Pro Tackle Maki Mino, which gets deeper faster.
“I like a 61⁄2-foot light- or medium-light-power rod and a small to medium spinning reel with 6- to 10-pound line for these applications, depending on cover and conditions. With lighter lures, I opt for 7-foot ultralight rods and thin, tough, 6-pound superline.
“Every cast is a guessing game about what’s going to happen,” Simpson says. “On top, or on the drop? When you are on a school of fish, hooking is inevitable.”
Tailgunners and more. Lot’s of other presentation options, too, outlined in this Panfish Guide, to add to your repertoire this season.