Rigging Early Fall Panfish

In early September, while Midwestern lakes remain relatively warm, a pair of productive panfish patterns hold water.

One hinges on shallow flats, the other on steeper breaklines. And last weekend, my two sons and I took advantage of both scenarios during a late-morning multispecies trip on a central-Minnesota lake.

After a quick but unproductive series of trolling passes for pike along a windswept shallow weed edge, we shifted gears and set our sights on panfish.

First stop was a slow-tapering main-lake shoreline. Thick weeds tapered off at about 8 feet. Sonar scouting revealed an abundance of blips a bit deeper, and our ensuing assaults with controlled drifts and careful backtrolling passes proved that many of the marks were hungry bluegills. Depths of 10 to 13 feet yielded the most ’gills, while anything deeper produced pint-sized perch. Every so often, the occasional crappie showed up in the bluegill zone.

To keep things simple, we all used identical setups—downsized live-bait rigs comprised of a panfish-size hook, small floater to keep the bait just off bottom, and a ¼-ounce slip-sinker for easy bottom contact. Tipped with a 1.5- to 2-inch chunk of nightcrawler, the rigs attracted a steady string of bites.

Our second stop was a steep break connecting an offshore weed hump topping out at 4 feet with deeper water. From about the 14-foot mark down to around 19 feet, where the break leveled out, we spotted clouds of fish close to bottom. We dropped our rigs and quickly discovered the fish were crappies, which snapped up the bits of crawler as fast as their sunfish cousins had in shallower water.

To be sure, vertical jigging with a small spoon or horizontal-hanging leadhead might have produced fish, too. But in the interests of keeping things simple, we deployed the same rigs and did just fine.

North American Fisherman Top Stories