After enduring a long, cold spring, Mother Nature has finally turned up the temperature warming our rivers and lakes. Rising water temperatures also means increased growth in aquatic vegetation and the beginning of a pan fish feeding binge. For anglers looking to catch panfish, the search moves from shallow shore breaks to cabbage, milfoil and other aquatic vegetation. All small aquatic critters swimming become fair game for bigger predators. Hiding near vegetation is the safest place for the hunted.
Mid-summer is an excellent time to search and fish for panfish. When the summer heat makes it more difficult to catch the elusive walleye, the pan fishing can be fantastic. Skilled pan fish anglers have long known that the best place to find sun fish and crappies is along vegetation drop-offs and the inside pockets of the various plants. This is where the pan fish hide, find food, and where they are most comfortable hunting themselves. Most sunfish prefer to keep near plants to feed. They can also be found deep along the outside edge of vegetation in depths of thirty feet, but they are usually close enough to dart back into cover if needed. Crappies do suspend over deep water during daylight and move back into vegetation towards evening.
I like to search for pan fish in two ways; slowing trolling along the outside edges of vegetation with a bobber and waxworm or artificial bait, or casting into the cabbage, milfoil, or bull rushes with a small jig tipped with an artificial lure that will stay on while pulling it through the various plants. Once I find the fish, I stop and work the area over until I determine the quality and quantity of fish in that area.
I like to fish with two-pound test line and bobbers or light jigs. I also prefer to use tungsten to get my bait down more quickly. The bigger fish are usually in the deeper water and a slow drop usually means that the smaller fish will rob the bait before it gets down to the bigger fish. Ice fishing jigs are some of the best for summer fishing because they are easy to find with tungsten designed lures.
Waxworms are excellent bait for sunfish. There are also many very good artificial lures on the market and crappie minnows are best for live bait fishing for crappies. There are also many good artificial lures on the market that catch crappies.
Just about every lake in Minnesota has a population of pan fish. The exception being small lakes that might freeze out during the winter months. I like to keep sunfish in the nine-inch range and crappies in the ten-inch range. I also encourage anglers to release the big pan fish they catch. Sunfish over ten inches and crappies over thirteen inches are real trophies. It is a great idea to let those big fish go to live for another day. The pan fish bite is on, get your pole, get out there and catch some.