Matt Johnson Outdoors
Where to Start for Springtime Panfish
Matt Johnson Outdoors
By: Corey Bechtold

Well  the spring  fishing  is
upon    us    and    we   ask
ourselves "What do I need
to    do    to    find     Spring
panfish?".        While     the
options   are   limitless  we
need    to  look   at   a   few
things.  During  the  winter
months weeds die off and
oxygen   depletes  so  fish
tend  to  search  for  areas
that   hold   good   oxygen
and  food  to  eat.   This  is
often deeper areas  where
there is the most oxygen in the system... This is usually a social
gathering of fish as they school up during the end of the Ice
season. As Ice starts to leave the lakes there is a surge of fish
heading to the shallows searching for food, taking advantage of
the new forming weed growth, and enjoying the warm, oxygen
rich, shallow waters. These panfish do this mainly to search out
spawning areas and gorge themselves before the rigors of the
upcoming spawn. These fish will hang near deeper water often
suspending during the day. As the day goes on and the sun
starts to heat the water after a cool evening the fish follow this
warm water in. The micro organisms start to come out of the
bottom where tiny minnows and forage follow, not far behind are
the Panfish. Then as the evening progresses and the sun starts
to drop the fish often drift back to where the warm water settles
feeding on insects and baitfish.  

Spring is a great time to take advantage of shallow migrating fish.
There are a lot of good options to fish these Panfish. Lets look at
a few. There is the standard flu-flu tipped with a waxie/minnow.  A
soft plastic bait fished on a 1/32 oz  or 1/16 oz jighead is a great
option. Flies on a fly rod of under a float.  And there are other
countless other combinations that can produce fish.  I have been
doing the majority of my Sunfish, Crappie fishing is done with
soft plastics like  Berkley Power tubes/ Power Minnows.  I tend to
go to the 2" minnow to try and up-size my catch.  If I am
searching for fish in the shallows I use 2 different techniques.
First is the cast and swing retrieve. This is where I make a cast
and then instead of reeling right away I lift the rod tip allowing the
jig to "swing" the bait back to me.  When the bait is about to make
contact with the bottom I reel in some line and repeat the
process. This is a great search technique. The second way I like
to use a float.  After a cast let the bait sit a few seconds and if you
notice the float slide to the side or move in any way, "set the
hook!".  Often times these shallow fish will grab the bait and start
swimming sideways with the bait not always pulling the float
under. If the fish don't take right away then a great triggering
technique is to "pop" the bobber. This gets the bait moving in
front of their noses and keeps it there.  Jig the rod a few times
and let it sit a few seconds then repeat if the fish don't take. Once
again I can't stress enough the importance of paying attention to
subtle changes in the float or your line.

There are some key areas to look for as well. Some places to look
for fish are areas with emerging weeds adjacent to deeper water.
Shallow muddy bottom bays are also an excellent place to look
for migrating fish. Fallen trees will hold fish as well. Look to areas
of the lake/bay where the water will warm first. A good depth to
start is 12'-15'. Fish will hold there till the water reaches their
comfort level.  When the water heats up a bit I look to depths of
4'-6'. This is when the fish often become most active feeding of
schools of baitfish and insects. But don't rule off even shallower
water. Fish will back themselves up in very shallow water
soaking up some of the warm sun after a good meal. After the
sun starts to drop most fish will head back to deeper water or
suspend over it for the night while a few will still actively feed in
the shallows.  

Spring, once again, offers a great opportunity to catch good
Panfish. We need to remember to respect our fisheries and
practice selective harvest. These big Panfish will be spawning in
a few weeks and the larger fish need to be there to fend off
predators and protect their young for the future of good fishing. I
teach my kids the importance of selective harvest and they know
already that we need to put those bigger fish back so that we can
have good fishing in the future!

Take care this season and Good Luck fishing!

Corey Bechtold
Corey with two slab crappies
Horseshoe Chain
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