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Into the Outdoors: Panfish and How to Catch Them

May is a wonderful month for a lot of reasons, some of which I mentioned last week. Here’s another one. As the water heats up in May, so does the panfishing. Ever since I was old enough to fish, I loved fishing for panfish, and I still do to this day. I think it’s because of the fast action. As an old geezer now, I still get excited when that bobbers shoots beneath the surface. This week, let’s look at some popular panfish and some ideas on how to catch them.

We’ll start off with crappies. Both black crappies and white crappies can be found in Pennsylvania, with the black being the most often found in these parts. Actually, white crappies are not actually white. They just have fewer black markings than their cousins. My absolutely favorite way of fishing for them is with fathead minnows and a bobber. If they are around, they just can’t seem to resist fatheads. Ultra small lures will also catch them, especially tiny twist tail jigs suspended below a bobber. When you hook one of these little scrappers, be careful when reeling it in. It’s easy to pull the hook out, hence the nickname of papermouth.

One of the best crappie outings I ever had took place on Oneida Lake a number of years ago. Old Bub and I were fishing from a little bridge on a road that crosses the lake to meet up with Rt. 38. We hauled in big crappies one after the other. It was a real honey hole. When we went back a couple of weeks later, it had been dredged, and the water was only a few inches deep.

Next up is the yellow perch. These little cousins of the walleye are probably the best eating of all panfish. They are usually found in deeper water than the other varieties of panfish. When it comes to lures, I have caught a fair number of perch on tiny red and white Dardevle spoons. Tiny Red Eyes are good producers as well. I, of course, lean toward live bait. Very small fatheads and worms will always appeal to hungry perch.

When it comes to fighting ability among panfish, I would have to give the number one spot to the rock bass. On light tackle, these red-eyed scrappers will give you an impressive tussle. They are also very aggressive hitters. I have heard that they have a marked tendency to carry worms. I have never found this to be the case. They can be caught on a variety of small artificial lures, although I prefer minnows and worms. They are found in rivers and streams, as well as lakes and ponds. If you get into a school of these critters, your stringer will fill up quickly.

Of course, no look at panfish would be complete without touching on bluegills and pumpkinseeds. For our purposes, we’ll look at them as one, as their habits are similar. The biggest difference lies in the fact that pumpkinseeds are by far the most colorful of the two. My only success fishing for these has been with live bait. Here’s a little tip. Both these species have small mouths, so things like small grubs and pieces of worms work best. If you use full sized nightcrawlers, they will just nibble it down to a nub without getting hooked.

There are numerous ways to prepare a catch of panfish for the table. My personal favorite is to coat them with Zatarain’s and fry them in a bit of olive oil.

If you haven’t done any panfishing for awhile, you really should. Not only do you get some great eating, but it brings back good youthful memories.

Ironically, I came across this VERY old photo. It depicts Old Bub holding our combined panfish catch for a day.

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