During much of the year, successful panfish tactics usually revolve around stealthy approaches with live larvae and nymphs, or artificials that move little, if at all. Things change, however, when summertime water temps approach their peak. Metabolisms shift to overdrive and panfish diets expand to include worms, adult insects, small fish and other meatier fare.
Smart anglers make sure their arsenals are stocked with lures that mimic this type of forage and use tactics aimed at panfish that are willing to pursue and capture larger prey. An added benefit is that fast-moving artificials often trigger bites from the biggest panfish in an area.
Grubs, the juvenile stage of countless insects, are a year-round favorite among bluegills, sunfish and crappies. But while they’ll often sit, sniff and contemplate eating during the cold months, warm weather puts panfish in beast mode. Soft plastics that move and dart on the retrieve, and have tantalizing appendages, are a top choice this time of year. Bass Assassin’s Panfish Assassin Bodies (above), with a stout, torpedo-like body that tapers into the tail section, fit the bill perfectly. Pin one to a 1/16- or 1/32-ounce jig head and twitch it along weedlines or through bedding areas. If an active approach fails, try a slow, steady swimming retrieve, or suspend it under a slip float and move it slowly through the zone.
Small minnows and fry often end up on a panfish’s menu, and like-size in-line spinners are great imitators of this forage. The No. 0 and 00 spinners in the Mepps Panfish Kit are sized right for sunnies and crappies, and the tiny spinning blades catch sunlight, creating the illusion of smaller fish on the move. They’re especially effective in water ranging from slightly colored to slightly murky, which keeps panfish from getting a clear look at the lure. And if panfish are actively feeding, a slightly bulkier, hair-dressed version of the diminutive spinners can work even better.
Miniature poppers, crankbaits and stickbaits all have a spot in any summer panfish lineup. An undersized popper twitched over a school of active fish, or a bedding area, is likely to trigger reaction or defensive strikes from agitated panfish. And if they reject a surface approach, a tiny crankbait run through their midst is sure to spark reaction. The Classic Critters Kit from Rebel contains a variety of panfish-size hardbaits, one of which is the unique and popular Crickhopper. There’s a reason why bait shops across the country sell millions of live crickets every year – sportfish, including panfish, love ’em. Twitched on top or sub surface, the Crickhopper perfectly imitates a struggling terrestrial.
Panfish, especially big panfish, have a lust for meat during the summer months, and artificial lures are a good way to take advantage of it. Remember, though, that oversize panfish are a fragile resource. Keep a bunch of average size fish to satisfy your own appetite for fresh meat and then let the bull sunfish and slab crappies go.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s.