By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
It’s often hard to decide what season and species of fish is our favorite.
The biggest walleyes and saugers of the year are often caught just after ice-out when water still freezes in the guides of our St. Croix rods. Late spring is a great time for bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, and muskies, one of our favorites.
Many anglers hang up their fishing gear when the weather turns hot, though walleye fishing at night can have some of the best action of the year. But daytime anglers believe fishing during the summer is tough. Lots of food in the water translates to narrow feeding windows. Some think a trip to the lake may be a waste of time.
If that’s your view, think again. Panfish can offer some great summer action for older anglers and kids alike. It can be the best time of year to hook kids and grandkids on the sport by catching crappies and bluegills. And scaling down the size of the gear can make the fight worth the time.
Bluegills and crappies also have other advantages. For one, they inhabit many lakes and ponds, so there are usually plenty of opportunities to fish for them close to home. For another, they’re often overlooked by other anglers so you have great spots to yourself. Catching a walleyes can be a bonus because they’re often located in the same places as the panfish.
Find and Catch Big Panfish
Finding fish usually isn’t hard. Finding the biggest fish in the lake is the challenge. The process starts with finding lakes with solid panfish populations plus a good quantity of predators like bass or muskies. Check with your state’s Department of Natural Resource biologists. They know the honey holes. If a lake is out of the way and a little harder to reach, that’s even better.
Check out the lake map to find the weeds, then look for weed edges that offer something different, such as a point, an inside turn or gaps in the midst of plant life, or a transition from one kind of plant to another. GPS will help map the weed edge to locate fish-holding twists and turns.
Work a Lindy Rig slowly along the edge. A number 6 or number 8 Aberdeen hook works best with NO-SNAG sinkers. Use a longer, flexible 7-foot rod to avoid pulling hooks out of thin mouths. Use 4- to 6-pound-test Silver Thread line. For bluegills, use a small leech and small minnows for crappies.
Target 10 feet on shallow lakes to 20 feet on deeper, clear lakes. Move slowly in S turns to check deeper water nearby. Walleye will often be five feet deeper or so than the panfish. Big crappies are often nearby, too. Watch your sonar because crappies might be suspended.
Jigs also work on weed lines. Try using Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub or Watsit jigs. The Watsit features tiny flippers that cause a slow fall which keeps it in the strike zone longer. Experiment with colors. Add a piece of a nightcrawler or a wax worm. If the fish appear to be stacked in one area, switch to a slip-bobber rig.
Fish may move off the weedline to deeper water at