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Into the Outdoors: Panfishing

I have been sort of “nibbling” at the topic of panfishing lately, so I thought I would dedicate this week’s column to my favorite form of fishing.

A lot of angling attention is focused on walleyes in May.  There is, however, another great thing about the month, and that’s panfishing.  These little scrappers get their name from their great taste and their ability to fit well in a frying pan.  While panfish can be caught in good numbers just about any time of year, they seem to be especially aggressive in May.  They’re easier to find, too.  As the water warms, the fish move into the shallows.  Let’s look at some specific panfish species, and some baits and techniques for catching them.  

The crappie might very well be the most popular of all panfish.  Both white crappies and black crappies are found in Pennsylvania, although the black crappie is probably the most common.  My favorite bait for these fish is a small fathead minnow, hooked through the lips with a number 6 or number 8 hook.  If the fish are suspended over fairly deep water, I usually use a quill type bobber.  If they’re really deep, or in the shallows, I eliminate the bobber.  One small split shot is usually enough to facilitate casting.

If you prefer to use artificial lures, small jigs and spinners will do a pretty good job for you.  Yellow and white curl tails are probably the best. They’re convenient, as you don’t constantly have to be baiting up.  Even so, for me, there’s something pleasant and nostalgic about heading for the lake with a bucket of “minnies.”

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call  both bluegills and pumpkinseeds “sunfish,” as their habits and habitats are pretty much the same.  Redworms are probably the best bait for these little critters.  If you use nightcrawlers, break them into pieces, as a whole crawler will allow the fish to get a free meal without getting hooked.  Maggots and mealworms are also good baits, but I’ve seen nothing to beat redworms. As for artificials, very tiny spinners, jigs and spoons, such as the Dardevle Skeeter will often produce.

The yellow perch, a small cousin of the walleye, is much sought after as table fare.  These fish tend to prefer deeper water.  Small minnows are the best bait, followed by worms.  Perch aren’t very good fighters, but they make up for that on the table.  

The rock bass is one of the most common and frequently caught panfish in both the Allegheny and Clarion rivers.  These red-eyed little fighters will hit minnows and worms with equal gusto.  Aggressive by nature, they will also hit a wide variety of small lures.  True to their name, they are usually found in rocky areas.  

When it comes to panfish tackle, the lighter the better is a good rule of thumb.  My favorite outfit is a tiny rod with a little Zebco spincasting reel.  I also sometimes use an ultralight graphite spinning combo.  As for hooks, number 6 and number 8 are the way to go.  Hooks are sometimes taken for granted, but, when you come right down to it, they are the most important piece of tackle.  Lately, I’ve been using Tru-Turn hooks for most of my panfishing.  The unique shape does, indeed, make it easier to hook fish, so fewer will get a free meal on you.  They also make red-colored hooks, which simulate bleeding on the bait.  It’s easy to think that a hook is a hook is a hook, but these ones are really better.

Just about any way you cook them, panfish are a meal fit for a king.  Personally, I think they’ re the best when you coat them with your favorite coating and fry them in a skillet.  Prepared this way, they make one of the best fish sandwiches ever.  Add a little macaroni and cheese to your meal, and you’re all set.  

Panfish provide lots of fun and good eating.  They are a great way to introduce young kids to fishing, and to bring out the little kid in yourself.  You have to love them for that.

Next week, we’ll do a little follow up on poison ivy and its evil cousins.

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