What... No Bait? Panfish Plastics

What... No Bait? Panfish Plastics

I was late. Chris Beeksma patiently waited for over an hour while I made my way through one small town after another.

It took almost 4 hours to go 140 miles, proving to me once again there is no easy way to go through eastern Minnesota into western Wisconsin.

"It was taking so long to get here, I didn't think I should stop for bait." That was my excuse, anyway. Not that I really cared, but I asked anyway. "Did you guys bring any waxies?"


"No."


"Maggots?"

"No. We use panfish plastics pretty much all the time," Beeksma said. I asked which plastics. "Gulp, Pin Point, Northland — we use all kinds."

I've often stated in print that livebait is not a required substance for panfish, especially in winter. The one problem is, which style? Maggots, waxworms, and minnows are

crutches and, just like everybody else, I often lean on them too hard. The choices are simple, the methodology is simple — everything is easy with bait. That's why our brains are getting smaller. Even the adult neanderthal had a larger brain than the average man today, but archeologists recently concluded that human skulls dating back about 25,000 years or so held significantly larger brain capacities. The brain began getting smaller with the development of agriculture, suggesting the easier we make things on ourselves, the less brain we require. (Imagine how quickly our brains must be atrophying here in the computer age.)


I digress. The point I was making is that it can take time to sift through all the options with plastics today to find the one that excites the most aggressive responses. When panfish are being suicidal, it doesn't matter. But sometimes, the right plastic shape — like the right color, or the right scent — makes all the difference.

The jigs in the top photo are  TC Tackle Girdle Bugs (406/683-5485). Beeksma and I find them invaluable in the search for bull 'gills and slabs year 'round. The little rubber legs add a dimension the fish never see in lures this small, and the variety of available colors allows you to match any water condition, mood, water color, or amount of light penetration.


The second photo is a box I always carry on the ice, filled with Custom Jigs & Spins Wedgees in all available colors. They don't bleed, which is cool — you can pile all the colors in one box or plastic bag. But the great thing about the Wedgee (and the old Pin Point Pin Tail, which our friend John Paulson was using) is that long, tapering point that almost reaches the realm of the microscopic. It quivers on the drop like a swimming "thing," and won't stop quivering on the pause. The method I use to run it on the hook is on display with another of jig artisan Tim McFadden's TC creations on the Customs box. It's not easy, but if you can thread one on so it lays straight on the shaft of the hook — wow. Panfish love it.

How did we present it, and how did we do?  We'll cover that in tomorrow's post.

Postscript: I apologize to all surfers who have tried to contact TC Tackle and failed because I've been linking you up to a dysfunctional website. Please contact Tim McFadden (TC Tackle) directly by calling 406/683-5485.

3 Devils Lake, North Dakota

This ever expanding perch mecca is again on the upswing for trophy-size perch. North Dakota Fish and Game reports that the lake's perch population is at the highest level since 2003. With strong year-classes from both 2006 and 2007, perch in the 10- to 14-inch range will make up a large percentage of the catch this year. Contact: Guide Jason Mitchell, 701/662-6560, fishdevilslake.net; The Perch Patrol, 701/351-3474, perchpatrol.com.

9 Lake Michigan, Indiana

Big water means plenty of opportunities to intercept roving schools of jumbo perch that can number in the thousands. High winds in spring have reduced angling pressure during the last two spawning cycles, and 2013 should be a banner year for fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. The prespawn bite starts in deep water over clay bottom during early spring, with fish moving to shallower rock and weededges in summer and fall. Contact: Capt. Ralph Steiger, 219/688-3593, captainsteiger.com.

7 Finger Lakes, New York

Perch thrive in these 11 glacier-formed, deep, clear waters. Multiple lakes in close proximity allow for lake-hopping for beautifully colored perch. Seneca Lake draws much of the attention, but perch over 12 inches are in all of the lakes. Contact: Capt. John Gaulke, 607/319-0450, ­fingerlakesanglingzone.com.

4 Glacial Lakes, South Dakota

With more than 50 lakes near the town of Webster, each year sees different lakes peaking for perch in the 9- to 13-inch range. Fertile waters from recent flooding help to ensure consistent good year-classes of perch. Bonus fish include a nice mix of crappies, bluegills, walleyes, and pike. Contact: Guide Cory Ewing, 605/929-3894, ­waubaylakeguideservice.com.

1 Interlake, Manitoba

Situated between the mammoth waters of lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba, local fisheries range from natural valley lakes of 30 square miles, to shallow inland lakes of modest size. Fantastic perch fishing runs from early December through ice-out. Plenty of perch hit the 12-inch mark in these fertile lakes, and there is a good shot at 14- to 15-inchers. Contact: Dino Branfield, 204/362-2945, nelsonvilleoutfitters.com.

10 Lake Erie, Ontario

Along with its 'walleye factory ' moniker, Lake Erie produces more perch than any other lake in North America. A hot bite exists in fall along Erie's north shore. Once fish are located, 50-fish daily bags are the norm. Manmade structures, including midlake gas wells and underground pipelines, concentrate massive schools, making the fishing reminiscent of the Gulf of Mexico. Contact: Capt. Frank DiMarcantonio, 905/933-4834, niagarasportfishing.ca.

8 Lake Gogebic, Michigan

Despite being the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula and producing more state angler award fish than any other fishery in the area, this trophy perch fishery somehow remains under the national radar. While not a numbers fishery, perch surpassing 2 pounds are caught each year, both during the open-water and hard-water seasons. Contact: Barry Drews, 906/842-3361, ninepinesresort.com; Gogebic Lodge, 906/842-3321, gogebiclodge.com.

5 Lake Simcoe, Ontario

Abundant freshwater shrimp and other small invertebrates allow this heavily fished lake in southern Ontario to continually produce good numbers and sizes of perch. While ice fishing generates the most angling pressure, some of the biggest fish are taken shortly after ice-out in shallow bays around Beaverton. Schools of big perch roam deeper water throughout summer. Contact: Guide Greg Klatt, 416/580-2541, profishntanglingservices.com.

6 Lake St. Clair, Michigan

Lake St. Clair provides incredible summer and fall fishing for numbers of 8- to 12-inch perch. Target them just outside thick vegetation in 6 to 18 feet of water. By fishing shallower water, deep-water mortality among sorted fish isn't an issue. One hundred- to 200-fish days are common. Contact: Capt. Steve Jones, 586/463-3474, ­­fishpredator.com.

2 Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota

A big-water favorite in central Minnesota, this year-round fishery puts out jumbos averaging 12 inches, if you know where to hunt them, and fish in the 15-inch range aren't out of the question. For those willing to put in the work to locate a mess of jumbos, the rewards can be huge. Contact: Guide Tony Roach, 763/226-6656, roachsguideservice.com.

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