Targeting Spooky Spring Panfish
As the weather starts to break and winter becomes visible in the rear-view mirror, anglers turn their thoughts to the next fishing season. For most of us, that means spring, ice-out panfish.
I wouldn’t consider myself a panfish addict by any means, but I do love to eat crappies. Because of this, I will target this species on occasion for the entire open water season. However, my favorite time for chasing crappies and gills is shortly after the lakes become ice free.
For most bodies of water in the ice belt, spring will bring the best water clarity of the entire open water season. This is an important fact to consider when fishing panfish and one that is commonly ignored.
Crappies and bluegills are feeding on invertebrates in shallow water at this time of the year and spook easily. Couple this fact with extremely clear water on many lakes and you have the recipe for some very difficult fishing conditions.
On one outing last spring, my wife and I found ourselves looking for crappies on an extremely clear lake. It was a beautiful day to be outside and about the time we located some shallow fish, other boats began to show up.
Wanting to get in on the action, they would quickly move to any spot where we caught a fish. Naturally, the proximity of their boat would spook the fish we were catching so no one caught anything. This happened time and again.
Although a few fish were caught by others, most people had limited success, including us. Anglers were fishing too close to their boats and moving too often. They clearly did not understand how spooky these shallow water fish were.
It was a couple of hours later when the other half dozen boats moved off to try other locations that we started to catch fish again. The panfish never left, they just needed their environment to calm down.
I have experienced similar scenarios time and again when fish are shallow. Spring panfish get nervous in shallow water when pressured by boat activity. This spookiness is compounded in ultra-clear water.
The message here is to keep noise to a minimum when fishing shallow. Approach the area with the electric motor, not the outboard. If you drop an anchor, slide it gently into the water. Sound is magnified many times in the water so small noises become big ones to the fish.
Fish far from the boat. Distant casts are essential in the spring. Long rods and light line will increase your ability to make these long casts.
The spring, ice-out period is a great time for panfish. Angling success will increase substantially when you understand and respect the spookiness of these shallow water fish.