For most folks, the mention of panfishing immediately evokes an image of lake or pond fishing. That’s understandable, as most panfishing is indeed done in these impoundments. Are they the only waters in which to find panfish? The answer is an emphatic “No!” Good panfishing can actually be found in many rivers and large streams, including those in this area.
While virtually all species of panfish can be found in flowing water somewhere, the most common and easiest to catch is probably the rock bass. They’re shaped basically like all other sunfish, but they are easy to identify by their bright red eyes. These fish will give you an impressive fight on ultralight tackle. True to their name, they like to hang out around structure, especially rocks, in the relatively still water away from the current. I can’t really recall of ever catching them in midstream.
Rock bass will hit both minnows and worms with equal gusto. For that reason, I normally use worms, simply because they’re cheaper. When there’s a school of hungry rockies around, you’re going to go through a lot of bait.
When fishing the rocky areas, it’s best to use as little added weight as possible. In fact, I try to use no sinker at all, opting instead to anchor close enough to shore to permit adequate casting. A sinker not only tends to spook the fish, but it gets hung up in rocks a lot, too. Minnows are best hooked through the lips. With worms, bunch them up a lot on the hook with a trailer behind. A #6 hook is about the best size.
Worms and minnows aren’t the only live baits that will work well on rock bass. Examination of the stomach contents will reveal insects, minnows, worms, crayfish and just about anything else that will fit down the fish’s gullet.
Artificial lures, especially small spinners and spoons, will also catch rockies. They aren’t really all that particular, but they do seem to favor the spoons and spinners. However, you probably have more than one thing in your tackle box that will work. Snags are a really big problem, though, due simply to the nature of the areas you must fish, and that can get expensive in a big hurry. You can lose a lot of lures in a relatively short time.
For my money, there is no better fighting panfish than these red-eyed little scrappers. In fact, they will often jump just like a smallmouth. They hit hard and fast, so you have to be alert. If not, they’ll clean your bait off in no time. Once you hook a good-sized one, you’re in for a fight. In fact, it seems to me like they fight better in flowing water than in lakes.
There’s a point here about rock bass that needs a bit of examination. For some reason, these fish have a reputation for carrying worms. Although I’ve caught a few with external skin parasites, which are removed with the skin, I’ve never caught even one with worms in the flesh. At one time or another, I’ve caught just about every other type of panfish with small, yellowish wriggling worms in the flesh. To call this a disgusting sight is to make a real understatement. Needless to say, those fish got buried in the garden. You have to draw the line somewhere, but I’ve never had any such problems with rock bass.
Both the Allegheny and Clarion rivers, as well as Redbank Creek, have good populations of rock bass. Get out there and get ‘em.