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The Hunt for Fall Panfish

I know it’s fall, and that means hunting seasons are in full swing, but a lot of us diehard fishermen aren’t quite ready to give up our fishing endeavors just yet.

There’s a good reason we’re not ready to hang up our fishing rods since there are still some great fishing opportunities available through the fall. There are still some great bass and walleye fishing prospects, and with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in full swing with their fall trout stocking, there are again some great trout fishing possibilities, but you don’t want to overlook the panfishing potential either.

I like fishing for just about all freshwater fish, but bluegills, perch, and crappies also garner their fair share of attention. In my early days of fishing, it was all about bass, pike, and trout, but over time I found that pursuing panfish offered its fair share of skill and enjoyment as well. On top of that, other than walleyes, panfish are about the only other fish that find their way onto our dinner plates.

Years ago, I thought bluegills were a summertime fish; I thought they could only be caught in farm ponds during the warm days of summer. When I started ice fishing back in the 60s, it became apparent that bluegills and their close relatives, the pumpkinseeds were also quite catchable even through 12 inches of solid ice in the dead of winter; basically, they are catchable year around. The same can be said for the other popular panfish like yellow perch and crappies. While all of these panfish can be caught year-round, what does change, however, is the “where and how” you pursue these fish as the seasons change.

The “where and how” seem especially apparent when it comes to crappie fishing, probably because crappie fishing has become so popular with so many anglers. If you have ever fished for crappies during the spring and early summer, the action is usually pretty steady, and the place to be is in water, usually under six feet and with some kind of plant or woody structure. Of course, this is also a good place to get some bluegill action. While the bluegills may linger in the shallower water further into the summer months, the crappies will leave the shallows and head for the deeper, cooler water, and this is where they will be until the following spring. Finding and catching crappies in late summer and now into the fall can take some serious searching, and sonar equipment is highly recommended. It’s also highly likely that your more successful fishermen will be fishing from a boat and covering a lot of water.

Case in point, my brother and I recently hit a local lake with crappies as a main goal. We covered a good bit of water using sonar to locate schools of crappies, and even when we found them, we had to work at getting strikes; the schools moved, and we had to find them all over again. We also managed to pick up some bluegills and perch. Fall panfish can be caught, but you may have to work a bit harder. Even with sonar equipment, it might also be a good idea to troll slowly in search of active fish. During the summer and even now during the fall, it’s probably best to concentrate your efforts in deep water; we had our best success in 20 to 30 feet of water.

Remember to go lightweight; we use ultralight spinning rods with small open-faced spinning reels and about the four-pound test. I use the light braided line on the reel and attach about six feet of fluorocarbon to the business end; this line setup is much more sensitive to the light strikes coming from panfish 30 feet down. Small jigs with a one to two-inch artificial grub or tube are a good choice.