I’m as guilty as the next hardcore angler when it comes to accumulating an excessive amount of gear. I have tubs of spoons, flasher-flies, and other salmon gear, plus other tubs packed with lures for bass and walleyes. My boat has a fine trolling motor that not only features autopilot, but can interface with the sonar and GPS unit to follow a specific depth contour as I fish around a lake. Even my panfish tackle tends to be of the snooty, super-refined sort, with two-pound test braided line on expensive, long, graphite, ultra-light rods.
It only takes a morning of fishing with the members of Michigan’s Van Buren County Senior Services Fishing Club to remember that a lot of that stuff is just plain unnecessary, especially when targeting panfish from shore.
The club’s men and women get together every couple of weeks during the summer, alternating between local lakes and the pier that juts into Lake Michigan at South Haven. They start at a civilized hour–around 8 a.m. They fish, enjoy each other’s company, and then have a nice lunch and maybe fish some more.
I caught up with the group on a warm summer morning when they gathered at Maple Lake in Paw Paw. Most of the folks showed up with just one rod each. Some were equipped with push-button spincast reels, others with underslung spinning reels. One gent brought his fly rod, and lofted feathered creations of his own design onto the water. Everyone else soaked worms below bobbers.
And they caught some fish, mostly bluegills, several large enough to put on ice in a cooler for a fish fry later.
Although one lady named Joyce appeared to have a better technique than most others, catching bluegills and sunfish with more regularity than her friends, there was neither bantering nor any feel of competition. These folks simply wanted to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing.
Here are some tips for your next Michigan shore fishing adventure.
Look for areas where weeds provide cover from predators and create their own food chains. Fishing the edges of these weed beds and small clearings within them will often produce the most bites.
Ponds and lakes that have inlets and outlets can provide excellent fishing spots at both. At the inlet, concentrated food from the creek provides a moving buffet and the outlet acts as a funnel the concentrates invertebrates that panfish eat.
Flats with access to deeper water within casting range can also be good spots, especially during the summer. Focus your efforts on these edges, which are used by fish as a travel route and a resting area between feeding forays up on the flat.
Gear and bait
Experts say bluegills are one of the most “line-shy” species that swims, so light line–six- and four-pound test–can engender more bites. Real serious bluegill anglers add a fluorocarbon leader, which are touted to be invisible underwater.
When adding split shot below bobbers, it can pay big dividends to add weight until the slightest pressure from a fish biting below pulls the bobber under. This allows a fish to take the bait without feeling any resistance, which encourages your quarry to hang on longer so you can set the hook. It’s also a good reason to use the smallest bobber you can cast.
Speaking of hooks, many panfish experts swear by red worms and like a long-shank hook in size No. 8 or 10. This hook style allows you to hook the worm through its nose and run a good chunk of it up the shank before bringing the hook point out, covering the hook and leaving a good bit of worm to seductively wiggle. This method of hooking the bait makes it difficult for fish to steal it without contacting the hook point.
One final tip: try fishing a live bait with no weight every once in awhile. Sometimes panfish will bite more readily if the bait is slowly and naturally falling towards bottom instead of suspending.
All that said, it’s probably best to not overthink the process of bank fishing for panfish. As the anglers of the Senior Services Fishing Club know, a hook, worm, bobber, split shot, line, and a red worm with a pole or rod and reel to get it in the water is all you need. Add a folding chair for comfort and a cooler for beverages (and to take your fish home) and you’ve got everything you need to enjoy a summer day by the water.
Images by Dave Mull