Don’t sleep on the summer panfish bite! The lion’s share of panfishing occurs during the springtime when the fish are concentrated in the shallow waters and also in the winter, but summertime can be absolutely fantastic for bluegill and crappie. Just like other gamefish, they can make dramatic seasonal movements and you’ll need to find them first before you can catch them. Today, we’re joined by panfish aficionado Joel Nelson.
Troy Lindner: Joel, what is your strategy for hunting down summer panfish?
Joel Nelson: It’s really a great time when you start thinking summer because it’s a great way to get kids into fishing. Everybody’s off of school and it’s an easy way to take them out and get them into a lot of action. During the summer months, panfishing really revolves around deep weed edges, specifically, if you look at any contour map and find a main large lake point or sunken islands that’s covered with weeds, the odds are high you’re going to find panfish somewhere along them. The best depth of water is going to depend on the lake at hand. Some of our clear lakes and rivers are going to have areas with weeds down to 15-20 foot of water, but in dark water lakes, maybe in southern parts of the Midwest and beyond, your deep weed edge may only be 6-8 feet of water. You really need to spend time on the water body to comb these weed edges, using your electronics and really hunt them. On those hot sunny days, summer panfish may suspend super high in the water column and when this is the case, you can easily see fish on your electronics. Other times, they might be hunkered down on weeds. They can be really scattered, but you need to use your electronics to find them.
Troy Lindner: Some of our viewers have to be asking: What type of weeds are we looking for? Do panfish prefer one weed over others?
Joel Nelson: In my experience, I’ve really seen panfish relate quite heavily to cabbage. I really think cabbage could be the best of the best, but coontail and even milfoil are really close behind. These are the preferred weed-types of literally all gamefish species. You’re going to look for distinct wall drops and large inside turns. Those are really my favorite areas to concentrate fish, and sometimes hard bottom can be good – either sand or rock that a butt’s up against that deepest weed edge or a weed edge point. They can be great spots to find schools of panfish but another thing you have to do is really realize that these fish are moving up and down in the water column depending on the weather. During adverse weather conditions, panfish tend to bury in the weeds where you’re not going to see a lot of them. During warm stable conditions, panfish tend to rise high in the weeds and even wander out away from weed lines. As we get later into mid-summer and beyond, that’s when you really start to see fish push off of the weed lines and they become a lot easier to see on your electronics and a lot easier to target because of that.
Troy Lindner: What are your preferred presentations to find and catch those fish?
Joel Nelson: That really depends on the situation. I’ve been a huge fan of jig trolling, and I really think it’s a technique that people need to learn how to do. It’s one of those things where you just simply tie on a small jig, look off the weed lines, and toss that back behind the boat. Drag it along at a consistent speed through the area where you’re seeing fish on the electronics. That jig and plastic combination is really just something you hold off the side of the bait and let a fish hit. Speed and depth are really critical to this approach. You control your depth both by speed, but also by the weights of jigs. In an ideal situation, you’ve got multiple people in the boat and everybody’s pulling slightly different weights until we figure out the speed and the weight that presents the bait at the precise depth that we’re looking at. I generally like the bait, if we’re shallower and earlier in the season, kind of skipping over the weed tops, but some of these weed beds are really large and the fish in them are in relatively small areas. Once you dial down and find a part of the weed edge that the fish are at, you can really start employing a variety of presentations to get after them, That might be vertical fishing if it’s deep enough water. It could be as simple as casting up to an inside turn in those weed beds. Whether you’re fishing floats, small spin jigs, or even micro crankbaits, once you’ve get them dialed in from jig trolling, you can employ a variety of situations to catch summer panfish.