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South Williamsport, PA
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What Depth?

There are a lot of factors that are a part of a successful fishing outing, and it’s not just what bait or lure you are offering but where and how you present it. In this piece, I’m referring more to the warm water species like panfish and bass, particularly when fishing lakes and ponds. We

There are a lot of factors that are a part of a successful fishing outing, and it’s not just what bait or lure you are offering but where and how you present it. In this piece, I’m referring more to the warm water species like panfish and bass, particularly when fishing lakes and ponds. We just spent an entire ice fishing season fishing in lakes in some of the deepest water we could find, and for good reason, that’s where the panfish were holding. Since the ice has disappeared, we have been hitting some of the same water, and we are still fishing deep, and that’s because that’s where the fish are still holding.

Let’s zero in on a real favorite of many fishermen, the crappie. We took crappies all winter long in deep water, and over the past few weeks, we are still probing the depths for schools of crappies. Crappies will eventually migrate to shallower water, usually around mid to late May when water temperatures reach the 50s. Spawning takes place when the water temperatures reach into the low 60s. There is no question about it; when crappies are in their spawning grounds, the fishing can often be fantastic. During the spawning period, the crappies will be around wood structures, rock piles, and even near shorelines in and around vegetation and lily pads. Concentrate your fishing in two to six feet of water. Eventually, as the water warms, most crappies will move to deeper water again.

Perch, another highly sought-after panfish, will actually head to shallower water to spawn before the crappies — that’s usually in April. After spawning, perch too will usually head back to deeper waters. So, what’s “deeper” water? Well, that depends on where you are fishing. If you are fishing a large pond, for instance, the deep water may only be ten or twelve feet, but if you are fishing a big lake, you may want to concentrate your efforts at 18-25 feet, assuming the lake offers that depth. If you are fishing Lake Erie or up in the Finger Lakes, you may have to fish in 30 or 40 feet of water to find summer perch.

What makes all this even more challenging is that the perch and crappies may be at varying depths in the deeper water. My wife and I and some other fishing friends have been fishing a lake where we are spending all of our time in 18-25 feet of water; some of the fish we are taking are right on the bottom, but a good many of them are in schools suspended at various depths over the deep water. The trick is to find the right depth and then get your offering to that location; that, by the way, is where a sonar unit becomes a very valuable piece of equipment. Granted, in a few more weeks, our strategy will change, and we will move to the shallower coves around structures to target crappies, but as the summer months roll around, it’s back to the deep water.

Bluegills will hold deep in the winter months but come June; they hit the shallows to build spawning beds; these beds are often very visible in one to three feet of water. While some bluegills will move back out to deeper water in the warm summer months, there’s still a good chance that you can take a good number of gills even in the relatively shallow depths.

Bass in lakes and ponds will move to the shallows to spawn, but some will often stay in two to six feet of water, especially if suitable cover exists. I like to fish the mid-depth range as summer approaches, that six to twelve-foot range, but I won’t hesitate to go deeper if I’m not having success.

The point is don’t be afraid to move to different depths as the seasons change depending on which species you are targeting.